A significant issue for sparkling wine production for small wineries is they are technically hard to make. This is true not just in terms of the base wine, where the winemaking needs to be impeccable, but also riddling. Winemakers crafting traditional method wines must consider whether to add a dosage. Sparkling wine bottling also requires specific equipment unless it is going to be done by hand, which does not scale.
Recently, two custom crush facilities in Washington have significantly improved their sparkling capabilities. One is Walla Walla Wine Services, located in the town that gives the company its name.
Established in 2016, Walla Walla Wine Services is a custom crush and custom bottling facility owned by Michael and Lauri Corliss (Corliss, Tranche, San Juan Vineyard). Cameron Parry, who joined the company in 2021 and brings experience at Groth and Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, serves as general manager and director of winemaking.
“It is a high touch facility,” says Parry. “We’re targeting a fairly high tier clientele.”
In addition to automated riddling systems, the company has a state-of-the-art bottling line for both still and sparkling wine. It also has the capability to do neck labels, which are particularly important in the sparkling space, and has a crimper for sparkling capsules.
“We have one of the nicest bottling lines on the west coast,” Parry says. “It was designed from the beginning to have tirage bottling in mind.”
In 2022, the company added a disgorging line. This, along with the company’s other capabilities, allows many parts of sparkling wine production to be automated.
Parry says local producers have expressed significant interest. However, there are cautions as well.
“It’s a financial commitment to get into the sparkling space,” Parry says. “It’s so much more handwork and so much more labor. Nothing is fast about sparkling production.”
Four Feathers Wine Services in Prosser, meanwhile, originated as a custom crush facility to support Ste Michelle Wine Estates. Though that partnership continues, the company has also diversified into a full-service facility for other companies building and scaling Washington wine brands. Four Feathers expanded its efforts to include sparkling wine in 2020.
“Our company has always chased the hard thing to do,” says Rebecca De Kleine, general manager and director of winemaking. “Sparkling is not easy. It’s highly technical, but it fits within our model really well.”
The company has automated riddling systems. It also has a newly added disgorging line.
“We have a bottling line, a canning line, a bag-and-box line. Adding the disgorging line just made a lot of sense,” De Kleine says.
Four Feathers is unique from most custom crush facilities in that it has 3,500 acres of estate vineyards. Fruit for its sparkling wine production, which at present is largely Chardonnay based, comes from the cooler sites within its vineyard portfolio.
The company is also adding a shiner program, where wines are tirage bottled and can be custom labeled. Overall, De Kleine says that demand for sparkling services has been high.
“It’s been incredible growth. I expect we’ll see more Washington wineries have sparkling available because of what we can do for them.”
Treveri Cellars, established in Wapato, Washington in 2007, is dedicated to sparkling wines. Owner Christian Grieb agrees that producer interest in sparkling wines is increasing, but he says there are reasons to be cautious as well.
“Despite the market being open to sparkling wine, it’s highly competitive. It’s highly branded,” he says. “Also, the sparkling wine market is growing at 5% a year, but we’re only 5% of the wine market.”
The market’s focus is also rapidly changing. Grieb notes customers are asking an increasing number of questions about winegrowing and making practices – whether the grapes are organically farmed, what type of glass is used, and what the contents are in the bottle.
“A lot of companies that we’re talking to, environmental factors in winemaking are very big in their decision-making,” Grieb says.
Overall though, with winemakers loving to explore, sparkling wines performing well in the marketplace and facilities expanding their capabilities, growth in production in Washington seems a near certainty. Of course, that by no means makes the wines a sure sell.
“If I were to give any advice to people looking at a sparkling program, really plan it out well,” Grieb says. “Figure out what your target is with the product and what you’d like to achieve with it. Don’t just jump in because it seems like sparkling is trending.”