Note: I received the wines described in this post as samples from Breathless Wines; the notes and opinions I’ve included are my own.
During the month of February, our #winestudio group went all-in on woman-owned wineries. Our first excursion was into the world of Amy Bess Cook, who founded WOW Sonoma, a force heralding the female powers behind one of America’s most celebrated wine regions. What began as a directory of Sonoma wineries with a woman owner or managing partner, has since expanded into a direct-to-consumer wine club and fund-raising operation. It’s an example of girl power taken to the next level! You can read more about WOW Sonoma and how to jump aboard its fast-moving bandwagon in my recent post.
One of the wineries featured in the WOW Sonoma program is Breathless Wines, founded by three sisters in honor of their mother. Sharon Cohn, Cynthia Faust, and Rebecca Faust wanted to create a living tribute to their mom, Martha, who passed away from Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1). Alpha-1 is an inherited condition that affects the liver and lungs, and which is often diagnosed when an affected person seeks treatment for other health problems like emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
“Breathless Wines is about celebrating moments in life – big or small – that take our breath away,” says Sharon Cohn, in an interview with Wine Country This Week. It’s the sisters’ way of honoring Martha, whose life philosophy was to dream big, living life to the fullest and never taking a single breath for granted. In that spirit, Breathless Wines is active in the local community, hosting events for multiple charities throughout the year. They also donate to the Alpha-1 Foundation, a cause that was near and dear to Martha’s heart.
A Fourth Sister
Winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster is the honorary fourth sister, bringing years of experience and accolades to the Breathless Wines operation. In 2013, she was recognized as Winemaker of the Year by the North Bay Business Journal, an award that honors the best in the trade from Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and the greater Bay Area. Her wines, too, have garnered much attention: Wine Enthusiast awarded 90 Points to her Breathless Brut; her Blanc de Noirs received the Gold Medal in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and Gold/Best of Class in the 2014 Grand Harvest Awards; and her Brut Rosé took home the Gold Medal and 92 Points from the 2014 Pinot Noir Shootout.
Breathless Wines does have a specialty – traditional method sparkling wines, made in the same way as the famous sparklers from Champagne. They use the same grape varieties as well, sourcing fruit from Carneros, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and the North Coast. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier turn into traditional Blanc de Blancs, Brut, Brut Rosé, and Blanc de Noirs bottlings, as is customary in Champagne.
An interesting addition to the Breathless Wines line-up is their Moscato, made from Muscat Canelli (96%) and Chardonnay (4%). Similar to the famous sweet sparkling wines of Asti, it boasts citrus and floral aromas and delicate perlage. They also make a wine called Ratafia, which is a 100% Pinot Gris-based apéritif made by drying grapes in the sun and then moistening and fermenting them in the spring. Ratafia is traditional in Champagne, where it is made primarily from Pinot Meunier, and spends two years aging in oak barrels.
As part of the #winestudio program, we sampled two of Breathless Wines’ offerings:
Breathless North Coast Brut (12.5% abv; $25 suggested retail price)
A blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 46% Chardonnay, and 4% Pinot Meunier, this wine has delicate aromas of apple, pear, and citrus, with a hint of brioche and light toast. Flavors follow that profile, with notes of grapefruit, Bartlett pear, and toast. Perlage is fine and consistent. It’s a crisp, delicious traditional method sparkling wine at a very fair price. I’d be happy to drink this wine again – and again.
Breathless Blanc de Noirs (12.5% abv; $30 suggested retail price)
As a blanc de noirs, this bottling is heavier on the Pinot Noir (70%) with the balance made up by Chardonnay (30%). There are notes of fresh raspberry, as well as citrus and chalk. The toasty brioche notes are more prominent here, a testament to its 38 months of aging. Blanc de Noirs is my favorite style of sparkling wine, and this one sure didn’t disappoint. Pick up a bottle to celebrate your next big moment – or perhaps just the next moment.
Sisters Celebrating Their Mother
The Breathless Wines philosophy of taking no experience for granted really resonated with me. And I love the way the sisters have chosen to honor their mother’s spirit by making wines to celebrate all of life’s moments, big or small. My sister and I drank these two wines together, the evening after our mother’s memorial service.
It had been a very long day, tiring yet gratifying: surrounded by people who had come to celebrate Judy’s life, we wrestled with our grief one moment, only to find ourselves laughing over a funny anecdote the next. It was an up-and-down day and, at the end of it, we were drained.
We drove back to my sister’s house (the same one in which my mother was raised) changed into our sweats, lit a candle in one of my mom’s stained-glass lamps, and opened the Blanc de Noirs. As we relaxed (thank goodness for the wine!) we reminisced about life with Judy – the good times and bad – and found ourselves laughing as only sisters can. And then crying as only daughters can.
After a couple of hours, we opened the North Coast Brut, and made a few more toasts to the woman who created us, shaped us, and inspired us. Of course, we poured out a little wine for her, too. We knew she was there, laughing and crying along with us, as we celebrated every moment.
There’s more to tell about February’s #winestudio experience: a visit with Julie Pedroncelli-St. John of Pedroncelli Vineyards, and a glimpse into the Bolgheri outpost of the Gaja family, led by Gaia Gaja. Blog posts on each are in the works. Stay tuned!
If you’re a wine lover but are not yet familiar with the #winestudio program (a woman-owned business, by the way) run by maestro Tina Morey, click here immediately! Each Tuesday evening at 9pm ET, Tina leads a wine safari in which we learn, directly from winemakers, the hows and whys behind their prized bottles. It’s unlike any traditional wine program I can think of, and I mean that in a good way. Wine professionals, journalists, educators, and marketers join the on-line discussion, making it the most dynamic program out there. And we manage to have a pretty good time while we’re at it. Interested? Tune in via Twitter, following the hashtag #winestudio.