Michelle Locke on June 20, 2016 1 Comment Bubbles are big – the market for sparkling wine has been steadily increasing for decades, with consumption reaching close to 20 million cases in 2014, according to The Wine Institute. And more than half of those bottles — popped open to celebrate everything from major milestones to making it through another Monday — were made in the USA. It’s a sparkling success story that stretches back centuries, peopled by dreamers and innovators and soaring from disastrous days to flashes of good fortune. And it all began in Ohio. The Early Days Sure, you might think California when you think domestic fizz, but the first American sparkling wines came from the Buckeye, not the Golden, State. As the 19th century dawned, Cincinnati lawyer and temperance movement supporter Nicholas Longworth, was looking for a lighter alternative to whiskey, the popular alternative to water which back then could very well be hazardous to one’s health in its natural state. He began making wines from the Catawba grape, a hybrid grape created by crossing American Labrusca grapes with the European Vitis vinifera vines traditionally used to make Old World wines. The first wines tasted musky, which is common with wines made from American grapes so Longworth tried removing the skins from the juice before fermentation and created a sweetish pink wine that was an improvement. In 1842, an accidental sparkling wine was created when some of the wines spontaneously fermented in the bottle and the results were so encouraging that Longworth hired French winemakers to teach him how to create bubbles on purpose. By 1859, Ohio was the biggest wine producer in the states and Longworth was producing more than 100,000 bottles a year. But in 1860, the industry collapsed when disease struck, destroying thousands of vines. Sparkling Catawba faded, but Longworth is remembered as an important figure in American wine and sparkling wine in particular. The Basics It’s no surprise Longworth turned to France for instruction on making sparkling wine; they are past masters at the art. Click Here to Shop For Sparkling Wine on Amazon There are two major ways wine gets its fizz and the most expensive and labor-intensive way, known as methode traditionelle, or traditional method, was perfected in the Champagne region of France. In this method, the wine is made and bottled and then a small amount of sugar and yeast is added and the bottle is secured with a crown cap, similar to those used on beer and sodas. The yeasts consume the sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide, which has nowhere to escape and turns into bubbles. The second, less-expensive method is known as charmat, or tank, method. The same secondary fermentation takes place, but it’s in a pressurized tank, not in the bottle, which produces larger bubbles and is generally considered to be a less high-quality wine although it can make for very pleasant drinking, think Prosecco. Sparkling wine can be made from any grape but the great sparkling wines have traditionally been made with the grapes of Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. And while all Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wines are Champagne, that’s reserved for wines actually made in the French region and producers there have waged a vigorous campaign to stop producers in other places of the world from calling their sparklers Champagne. In the United States, a trade agreement bans putting Champagne on wine labels, but a loophole grandfathers in brands that were doing so before 2006. They can use “champagne” provided they add the region of origin, e.g., “California champagne.” Rise of the Modern U.S. Sparklers One of the U.S. producers that does use the “California champagne,” labeling – and strongly maintains it has every right to do so by tradition – is Korbel, which was founded in Sonoma County in Northern California at the turn of the 20th century by the three Korbel brothers, immigrants from Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. Prohibition closed down production but after repeal in 1933, the next generation resumed bottling. The winery was later sold to the Heck family, current owners, and sells more than 1.3 million cases annually. A new chapter in California sparkling wine opened in 1965 when Jack and Jamie Davies bought the historic, and rundown, Schramsberg Winery in Calistoga, at the northern end of the Napa Valley. Their plan was to renovate the property and make sparkling wine, but not just any sparkling wine. They wanted something that could compete with the world’s best. In 1972, their efforts were rewarded when the Schramsberg 1969 Blanc de Blancs was served at the “Toast to Peace” in Beijing at the meeting of Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, a huge step for domestic bubblies. American sparkling wine had arrived, and no one knew that better than the great Champagne houses, which began investing in California. Franco-American ventures included Domaine Chandon (Moet et Chandon), Roederer Estate (Louis Roederer) and Domaine Carneros (Taittinger). Other producers of note include Iron Horse Vineyards, J Vineyards, and Gloria Ferrer, which was founded by the Ferrer family of Freixenet S.A., the Spanish cava producer famous for its black bottle. (Cava refers to Spanish sparkling wines produced using the traditional method.) Beyond California California makes a lot of great sparkling wines, but it doesn’t have a lock on the market. In the Finger Lakes region of New York State, sparkling Rieslings have won acclaim including the Dr. Frank Celebre. The rising wine region of Washington state also has a number of sparkling wine producers including the well-known Chateau Ste. Michelle. And while you might not think of New Mexico when you think of wine, Gruet Winery, founded in the 1980s by Frenchman Gilbert Gruet, has made a name for itself both in terms of quality and price, their vintage Grand Rose, which can be found for around $50, has been ranked as an equal with French bottles costing double the price. Glossary Blanc de Blancs — Made exclusively from white grapes, often Chardonnay. Blanc de Noirs — Made with 100 percent red grapes. The skins are removed before fermentation, leaving the wine clear. Brut — A dry style, and the most common type of sparkling wine, with between 0-1.5 percent residual sugar. Even drier is Extra Brut, from zero to 0.06 percent residual sugar. Confusingly, Extra Dry is sweeter than Brut, with 1.2 to 2 percent residual sugar. Sec has between 1.7 and 3.5 percent residual sugar and demi-sec has 3.3 percent to 5 percent. Doux is the sweetest (and a dessert wine) at 5 percent or more residual sugar. NV — Non-vintage, typical of a producer’s entry-level sparkling wines which may contain wines from multiple vintages blended to meet the house style. 4 Fun Facts About Sparkling Wine The pressure inside a bottle of sparkling wine is about 90 psi (pounds per square inch) – about three times the pressure in a car tire. Sparkling wine corks can go as fast as 40 mph when popped. That’s why it’s recommended you cover the cork with a towel and gently twist the cork out of the bottle. Less wine is likely to escape, and nobody puts an eye out. Win-win. Sparkling wines come ready to drink, but if you are going to wait a while, they should be stored on their side to prevent the cork drying out. The key to storing sparkling wine is keeping it a consistent temperature, ideally around 50°F. To help you achieve this, it is wise to use a wine cooler or cellar where you have precise control of the storage climate. It’s estimated there are about 49 million bubbles in a standard sized bottle of sparkling wine.