Korbel Champagne Cellars Review
Address: 13250 River Rd. Guerneville,California 95446.
Phone Number: 707-824-7000
Tasting Hours: 10:00-4:30
Region: Sonoma Coast AVA, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley AVA, California
Reviewer: Denise Gangnes
Review Date: 3/18/2012
Reviewer: Denise Gangnes
The story of how three Bohemian brothers came to America and carved a 125-year legacy in the champagne business certainly seems like reason enough to pop a bottle of bubbly. And its probably sufficient to warrant a trip to the outskirts of the Sonoma Valley for a tour of this giant in the winemaking business.
History:  This massive operation on the edge of the Redwood Forest more closely resembles a factory than a winery. The Korbel brothers forged a career in lumber manufacturing, but when the timber industry toppled, they turned to farming and eventually experimented with growing Pinot Noir grapes. Their first shipment took place in the 1890s and the rest is history. The Korbel descendants sold the business to the Heck family in the 1950s resulting in expansion of a facility that boasts tens of thousands of tourists annually.
The Experience:  The informative 45-minute tour and the extensively manicured grounds alone are worth the half-hour drive from the nearest city of Santa Rosa. Tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable. Following a video of the Korbel history, visitors learn about dosage and riddling while tasting champagne in the factory and (depending on the day) viewing production. This size of operation affords the luxury of waiving the charge for tastings after all, whats a few pours when you produce a million cases a year? We shared a total of six champagne tastings, which take place like clockwork in their ample but aged tasting facility.
The Wines:  Finnish-born Paul Ahvenainen was named Senior Winemaker in the late 1990s and oversees the 1.2 million bottle operation, which includes 11 varieties of champagne and a smattering of still wines and brandies. Prices range from $3.99 for a 187 ml wedding favor pint-sized bottle to $10 for a basic sparkling to $90 for the double-magnum brut. If you thought only French vintages were allowed to label their vintages as champagne, thats mostly true. Nearly all U.S. sparkling wine makers use the Sparkling moniker on their labeling Korbel is the notable exception. The parent company also owns Kenwood, Valley of the Moon, and Lake Sonoma wineries. Servers were eager to remind us that Korbel has been served at the last six Presidential inaugural celebrations (feel free to brag that you and the president drink the same bubbly).
Insiders Tip:  One of the jewels of this facility is the deli just a few feet from the tasting room. The ample selection includes a delicious array of gourmet salads, sandwiches and desserts to be devoured on a patio snuggled under the redwoods. Summer tours can fill quickly, so consider coming early in the day and working your way back to town (or the ocean) via the smaller, boutique wineries. Touring of the gardens and the Korbel family home require an RSVP, so call ahead before making the drive.