“I enjoy the challenge of making both Pinot Noir and sparkling wine,” says winemaker Steven Urberg, who’s been with Gloria Ferrer for 15 years. “They’re challenging wines, and that’s what makes it satisfying. It’s a game of balance—fruit, texture, elegance and acid. Sparkling, in particular, has a very delicate palate to work with. Too far in any direction and you lose what makes it so special.”
If this sounds to you like a scientist trying to perfect a secret formula, you’re not far wrong. “In the early ’90s, I was in grad school at UC Berkeley studying chemistry,” says Urberg, “but I spent a lot of weekends and most of my free time in Napa and Sonoma. On a winery tour, our guide mentioned that the winemaker had studied at UC Davis, and a light bulb went on.
“After I graduated I took a job at Hess Collection, but I also went back to school at UC Davis to learn more.”
Urberg delved deep into the wine world, with positions at a number of outstanding wineries in California, before landing at Gloria Ferrer. “It was the right fit,” he says. “It’s nice to move around—to learn different methods and experience different perspectives—but this was the place for me. It still is.”
Located in the Sonoma County portion of the Carneros AVA, Gloria Ferrer produces 10 different sparkling wines as well as a Chardonnay and several Pinot Noirs. Asked if he has a favorite, Urberg responds, “I actively work to avoid having a favorite. I try to avoid ‘cellar palate’ and keep an open mind about the styles I want to represent and varieties I have to work with.”
With 335 acres of estate vineyards as well as long-term contracted fruit to work with, Urberg’s practice of “keeping an open perspective,” seems the right tack to take. “I have 60 tanks of base wine [for sparkling wine],” he says. “That represents different vineyard blocks, varietals, clones and rootstock. That’s a lot of possible combinations and diversity of character. I want to find the best possible expression for each wine.”
I was once at party where the question was asked, “If you could only drink one type of wine forever, what would it be?” Many started mulling their answer: Cabernet or Merlot? Chardonnay or Viognier? Red or white? But for me, it’s an easy answer: sparkling—and Gloria makes some of my favorites, including Blanc de Noir (bright strawberry, cherry, lemon and cola with a lush palate), Va di Vi (satiny smooth with a rich, ripe a palate and a lasting finish) and Carneros Cuvee (Gloria Ferrer’s flagship sparkling, it’s deliciously complex and “represents the ultimate statement of our sparkling house style,” according to the winery website).
In 2015, the winery debuted its remodeled Visitor Center with a visit from its founder and namesake and her husband, Jose. The couple traveled from their native Spain to christen the new space, which is nearly one-third larger than before, open and airy, with multiple places indoors and out. The large terrace overlooking the estate vineyards now features a shade canopy to protect visitors from the elements (and is sectioned to create a small, pet-friendly area), while a newly created Vista Room and private terrace welcomes wine club members and VIP guests for more intimate tasting options by appointment.
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