Iron Horse Blog
Winemaking at Iron Horse is a passion and brimming with romance. It's a family effort spanning three generations. Winemaker David Munksgard (pictured below in his "mad scientist" lab) has been a part of the vineyard family for the past 20 years. He plays a leading role in determining the outcome of exceptional Iron Horse wines and bubbly.
I had the pleasure of touring the property with David one sunny afternoon in Green Valley. The first thing that sticks out is David’s emphasis on the importance of the “place.” After an ebullient hello and a pop of Wedding Cuvee to celebrate my recent marriage, he informed me that the Iron Horse estate has the most sought after land for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in all of California.
The unique conditions - cool nights and nearby ocean influences, make each of the exclusively estate bottled wines rich with the special flavors, specific to the vineyard and never the result of “recipe winemaking.” Don’t get him started on his “special sauce” or his tireless drive for balance, quality, and class in a bottle.
David starts out every day in a personal paradise. He arrives in the vineyards at 6AM and conducts a sunrise walk through. The winemaking process is about getting on an intimate level with the grapes from beginning of their life cycle ‘til the wine is corked and “laid down” to age. David even admits to whispering motivational words to grapes. And when he returns to his "desk" -- this delicious view below awaits him....
His efforts are grounded in the superior vineyard farming style implemented by Partner and Director of Operations Laurence Sterling. The vineyard has been slowly replanted over the past eight years by 10-15 acre increments. In certain blocks, the row direction was changed to get the most even sunlight with computer generated simulations guiding the proper orientation.
Laurence’s responsible farming has had ripple effects beyond superb wine, even the creek which cuts across the property has begun spawning salmon again. I’m not surprised to see this commitment to doing what’s right pop up again and again. As a keen Iron Horse observer, this pervades all decision making, regardless of just how challenging it might be.
David’s roots are on the East Coast, where European wine is the template. Burgundian wines and French style sparklings are his jumping off point - a style that matches the Sterlings’ love of French tastes/culture based on their history as past French residents! The combined French influence is evident in Iron Horse wines, especially as they age. Flavors also originate from the site and from his deep understanding of his audience - the Iron Horse fans. He works with team members in blind tastings and solicits consumer feedback from visitors at the tasting room to facilitate consistent improvement and innovation.
To better understand the sparkling winemaking process, David walked me through pivotal points which illuminated the intense work, oversight, time and patience required:
Step 1: August is dedicated to hand picking pinot noir for sparkling, followed by chardonnay. Each vineyard block is kept separate until blending time.
Step 2: Fermentation.
Step 3: In February, David starts assessing blend options. He plays with the blends based on smell, visuals, and of course tastes. He consults the team through “blending sessions” and notes that he has to separate from his own preferences at this point. His priority is to determine proper taste for the different occasion and label. (Note - David’s toughest critic is his wife whose all time favorite Iron Horse Sparkling is Russian Cuvee)
Step 4: After the sparkling blends are chosen, they’re put into stainless steel then refrigerated to
force crystals to form so they won’t form in the bottle. You’ll find these “cold stabilization” tanks with ice on the sides!
Step 5: Seven days before bottling day, he grows a yeast culture. One day before bottling, he adds sugar. The product is bottled for the secondary fermentation creating bubbles and then aged for three to eight and even 15 years for the future magnums of Joy!
Step 6: The riddling process and disgorging process remove the spent yeast. At this point, a dose of David’s “special sauce” is added - this secret ingredient determines the degree of sweetness to dryness and sets the style of each of the Iron Horse bubblies.
Fun Fact! Even the Iron Horse corks have been specially curated. The vineyard partners with one family in Portugal - David says they’re the best in the business! Signature cork shown off below by the wonderful Wine Club Manager Kevin Vanderhoff.
If you ask David to name his favorite bottling - you won’t find an easy answer. His passion for all of his creations drives the Winemaker’s Choice Club option where David selects his two favorite bottles each month to answer the question of “what’s the winemaker drinking.” Sometimes he’ll spotlight “hidden gems” which he and the cellar master might stumble upon by accident in some forgotten corner … a discovery prospect which I found very romantic!
He does make a few recommendations:
Summit Cuvee, commemorating the history making free climb by two brave climbers and Iron Horse friends in Yosemite in January. Some have called it his “masterpiece,” the special sauce (aka liqueur de dosage) is a deliciously distinctive flavor with notes of caramelized cream soda like.
Russian Cuvee, the “ideal toasting” sparkling, always at the ready, chilling in his fridge at home.
Ocean Reserve, made in partnership with National Geographic. $4 a bottle goes to National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative to help establish marine protected areas and support sustainable fishing.
And Summer’s Cuvee, a limited production, seasonal pop that he dreamed about for years before actually developing. The new vintage has just been released!
Pictured below... bottles always line his desk and the Tasting Room shelves just outside.
He also enjoys working with longtime Iron Horse special partners, like Charlie Palmer, Michael Mina, Commander’s Palace, and Disney where Iron Horse is the official wine in the theme parks and on board their cruise ships. These friends have a long standing trust in the irresistible allure of the vineyard flavors and David’s winemaking prowess.
David, a poetic and gentle soul at his core, explained sweetly “You want to fall in love with the wine.” This reflects our winemaker’s self-assigned mission to create the perfect sip which anchors you into a memory and an experience. He speaks about overhearing brides in the Tasting Room reminiscing about Wedding Cuvee on their special day and is filled with emotion. That’s what he works for. That pairing of a beautiful moment in time punctuated by the specially crafted and perfectly corresponding bubbles.
For more fun with David, Iron Horse offers very special “Truck Tours” of the vineyard on Mondays, by appointment only. And I must warn you that these tours are becoming legendary at Iron Horse. A recent “Truck Tour” resulted in a proposal and a pop of a champagne cork with David as a co-conspirator.
He began a private tour with a glass of bubbly & an unsuspecting future bride accompanied by her prince charming. David led the couple to a barrel conveniently placed in his favorite area of the vineyard where he strategically stopped the truck to point out the beautiful view of the winery - handed off a bottle of Wedding Cuvee - and stepped aside for the magic proposal to occur in the glow of fizzing Iron Horse bubbles. I think it goes without saying . . . she said YES.
Book your own romantic memories by clicking here . . .
-Interview with D. Munksgard as told to Tarin Teno
At Iron Horse, we wear our Pride on our sleeve…. and on our bottles, celebrating diversity with our 2010 Rainbow Cuvee. This second vintage of the vibrant, limited production bubbly delivers the celebratory experience that so perfectly pairs with this 45th anniversary of San Francisco Pride in our urban backyard ... and at the White House annual LGBT reception held June 24.
We are honored to be recognized as one of the top 6 most gay friendly winery in California.
On Saturday June 27, radio host Joel Riddell will be broadcasting live at the heart of the San Francisco festivities on Talk Radio 910 including a pre-taped interview about Iron Horse and the creation of Rainbow Cuvee. Stay tuned for more information on how to listen in.
San Francisco Pride occurs on June 27 - 28. The theme this year is “Equality without Exception”.
Here are some insider tips if you’re planning to attend.
1. Wear sunscreen.
2. Get to the parade early … it’s usually five people deep along the route.
3. Use Uber or take the bus. Do not try to park down there.
4. Obey the rules on nudity. (There aren’t any!)
5. Best bar for people watching, Twin Peaks at Castro and Market. It’s all glass and has a balcony.
6. Tune in to Dining Around with Joel Riddell on Saturday 1-3pm on iHeartRadio, Talk Station 910, KKSF.
7. For after the parade on Sunday, go to Disco Daddy at the SF Eagle. It will be the closest you can get to the spirit of “old Pride”. Sylvester, Dianna Ross, Grace Jones and the Village People will be channeled. $5 at the door, this is the best deal on Pride Day and walking distance from the parade.
8. Go see City Hall light up at night in the rainbow colors.
9. Get up to date on the “Alphabet Soup”. It’s not LGBT anymore. The latest is LGBTQQIA, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Ally. By the way, Iron Horse is an ally.
10. Make sure you have your Rainbow Cuvee chilling at home. You’ll be ready for it when you get done.
The idea of Rainbow Cuvee is thanks to our friend and Direct to Consumer expert, Sonyia Grabski, inspired by the beauty of Gay Pride Flags fluttering in a June breeze.
The strong symbol and graphic direction provided the official colors which were carefully integrated with the Iron Horse brand by our label designer Mark Berry.
Mark presented six design variations to start the process. And in playing around with print techniques, our team discovered the option of an iridescent foil on the rainbow border. This element adds the festive and dynamic feeling that we wanted to convey the delicious flavors within and the larger message of our times.
For an insight into the design process, check out these interesting photos, showing the embossed base colors and the final foil stage.
Supplemental Reading for those who like a little FAQ FUN:
The Betsy Ross of the Rainbow Flag was San Francisco designer Gilbert Baker. It was first unfurled in 1978 at the Gay Freedom Day Parade. Legend has it that Baker was inspired by Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” and the Stonewall riots that happened in New York shortly after Garland’s death.
The world's largest Pride celebration is in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
For a look back at attitudes and conventions before the Stonewall riots, here is an excellent article by David Dunlap in the New York Times.
It’s important to remember how much has changed in just the last decade … and exciting to celebrate that we are at a major tipping point in the march towards marriage equality, when the strength of national support has raised hopes of a Supreme Court ruling on the rights of same-sex couples to marry across the country.
Here's to the freedom of being yourself!
Here at Iron Horse we strive to catch every wave and today happens to be World Oceans Day - celebrated every June 8 across our blue planet. Now officially recognized by the United Nations, the date was originally proposed in 1992 by Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
Water has been a big topic for us this year. So it should come as no surprise that we are passionate about our ocean - the "heart" of our world. It connects us, regulates the climate, feeds millions of people, produces oxygen, is home to an incredible array of wildlife, provides important medicines, facilitates trade, and is so very beautiful. It’s imperative that we assume the responsibility to care for the ocean as it cares for us.
There are many ways to show some ocean love:
Cut back on using disposable plastic bags
Enter the UN’s photo contest
Go to the aquarium
Get involved in a community beach clean up
If you are lucky enough to be near the water, dive in
Just tweeting about the day spreads the word and gets people interested
Be mindful about your food choices. Educate yourself about sustainable seafood choices starting with this piece from Chef Barton Seaver here
Leverage the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch - a great resource
For the past five years, we’ve gone one step further to merge the oceans we love with what we do best. We will be toasting with our special 2010 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs, which we produce in partnership with National Geographic.
$4 per bottle goes to NatGeo's Ocean Initiative, helping establish Marine Protected Areas and support sustainable fishing around the globe. It is a great source of pride that our contribution comes to about $220,000 in five years ... and counting.
The first vintage was welcomed with the inspirational Barton Seaver. As explained in this 2010 article here, the National Geographic fellow came to taste with us.
In one video, Barton elaborates on the nearby ocean’s impact on Iron Horse "meroire"… he also conveniently presents a grill-friendly pairing recipe where sustainably farmed seafood appropriately takes center stage. The must-watch video is here.
Barton was an ideal partner in the creation of this cuvee and his words on the topic encapsulate the larger mission of our efforts perfectly:
"The oceans are in all of us and are in all that we hold dear. The wine with which we celebrate World Oceans Day was in fact grown in deposits of ancient marine life, the juice of the grapes itself a product of our oceans and a testament to the power of the oceans to sustain our reality."
In fact, Barton believes how we eat and drink is the first step towards environmental responsibility. He has been known to explain, “Deliciousness is the first line of environmentalism.” And of course the ocean plays a major role in our signature Iron Horse winemaking. The nearby Pacific (only 13 miles as the crow flies) is the driver of our special microclimate that allows us to make unparalleled Sparkling Wine with bright acidity and brilliant aromas.
Today, take a moment to meditate on the ocean’s role in everyday life.
Ocean Day Fast Facts:
Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97% of the Earth’s water, and represent 99% of the living space on the planet by volume
Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods
Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5% of global GDP
Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions
Oceans absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming
Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 2.6 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein
Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people
As much as 40% of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities - pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats
As you digest these bubbly fast facts do what Mother Nature would want…. pair them with a special bottle of bubbles. Each sip of 2010 Oceans Reserve Blanc de Blanc is made even more wonderful with the knowledge that you’re donating to a beautiful blue cause.
World Oceans Day Organization here
Q&A with National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala here
Bio of Barton Seaver, chef, author and National Geographic Fellow here
The National Geographic webpage dedicated to our Ocean Reserve Sparkling here
Iron Horse being served this week at National Geographic’s Explorers Symposium in Washington, DC. Event details here
As one of the Iron Horse Social Media Angels, it’s my very good fortune to be able to investigate some of the most intriguing vineyard practices, trends, and history and blog about them. With summer unofficially underway, it’s time we chat about a little thing called Wedding Season.
For those of you preparing to get married or attend a wedding in the next few months - congrats! You’ve just self opted into a series of showers, bachelorette or bachelor parties, rehearsals, receptions, and maybe a few hangovers.
Whether you’re a member of the bridal party, a guest at the VIP table, or second cousin twice removed - you’re probably wondering how to “win” wedding season. Iron Horse has you covered.
Nothing says marriage like the sound of a sparkling bottle “pop” and the smooth, crisp experience of toasting with Green Valley bubbles. Leverage our Wedding Season Gift Guide to help you mark once in a lifetime moments from engaged bliss to wedded celebrations and first, 25th and 50th anniversaries.
For the groom-to-be who has it all - Shower him with a 2004 Brut LD Magnum as he embarks upon his own “stag do.” Everything about this selection is special, from the eight plus years of aging to the very limited availability.
For the calorie counting bride-to-be - Brut X offers a bone-dry finish that is as wonderfully expressive as the bride will be after enjoying a bottle during bachelorette weekend games. The dosage is gown fitting-friendly and sugar-free.
For the dangerously-in-love couple - Wedding Cuveé. Need we say more?? If this bottle’s name and chic label doesn’t grab your attention, the description will. The rich, creamy bubbly has a perfect rose hue making it dangerously easy to sip and our most romantic choice. For maximum sparkling impact - gift your favorite betrothed couple with the Jerobaum (Important Note: this writer must confess bias - I kicked off my wedding weekend by popping this bottle in the back of the church.)
For the power couple - Russian Cuveé is one of the preferred toasting wines at the White House for five consecutive Presidential Administrations.. It has been on the menu at many of the most important historic milestones of our time, including the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings which ended the Cold War. So why not usher in the era of peace and love, wedding bliss with these bottles?
For traditionalists- Classic Vintage Brut is our most deliciously vintage option and the favorite of Iron Horse cofounder, and arbiter of exquisite taste, Audrey Sterling. The perfect pinpoint bubbles will please even the most “attentive” of brides. Catering teams will have no problem at all pairing the delicious flavors with a crowd pleasing seated dinner.
For LGBT couples - Rainbow Cuveé is a limited edition, vintage Sparkling Wine meant for everyone who believes in love, justice and equality. It’s the perfect option for any and all unions - a toast to the right to love with a very beautiful bottle, which we are very proud was served at the White House LGBT reception last June.
For the first year survivors (or should we say achievers) - Summit Cuveé. You’ve made it through the most perilous trails and lived to tell the tale! Rejoice like Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell after their amazing, unprecedented and inspiring Yosemite climb without ropes in January. This rich and delicious limited edition will pair perfectly with the top tier of any wedding cake! (Writer note - this is equally as delightful for celebrations of any/all peak moments!)
Stay tuned to the blog as we dive further into wedding season. I’ll be sharing real life love stories hot off the “wedding-wire” - each featuring sweet “I Do’s,” sweeter couples, and Iron Horse bubbly as their special guest. In the meantime, the entire Iron Horse family encourages you to share your own #ironhorsewedding moments by using that hashtag and tagging us on all social media channels. Cheers!
Wine is fashion in many ways. There are clear trends.
Right now, bubbles are “in”. And we are enjoying every minute of it!
According to Tim Fish in the upcoming June 15 issue of Wine Spectator:
“This is an exciting moment for California bubbly. Sales have jumped in recent years, and the state's producers continue to push the envelope on quality, developing new niche bottlings while preserving their reputation for value.”
The consumption figures above from the California Wine Institute are are real through 2013. We then continued upward with our “expert extrapolation” that we will cross the 20,000,000 case mark this year.
For a comprehensive study on the rise of bubbles, I recommend reading: Corks Popping as Sparkling Wines Sales Surge
This surge has several contributors. One is Prosecco. For many, that fruity, user-friendly Italian wine is a gateway to more complex bubbles.
Another is the mass appreciation for handcrafted, small batch drinks across the board in categories like wine, beer, cider, and spirits. Two representative examples are limited edition Iron Horse cuvees: 2010 Summit Cuvee & 2010 Rainbow Cuvee.
Summit Cuvee commemorates the unprecedented free-climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California - the realization of a dream and an inspiration. Only 300 cases have been produced.
Rainbow Cuvee celebrates marriage equality. This is our second vintage of this special, small production bubbly. We are very proud that the inaugural release was served at the White House LGBT reception last June. Total production is just 250 cases.
Rosés are a special niche. Ours is very striking, both in color and taste. It’s a dark rose, bottled in clear glass. Originally awarded 93 points by Robert Parker, the 2007 vintage now has six plus years less aging. The most recent disgorging is 5/4/15.
Serious fans increasingly call for ultra brut or no dosage, like our Brut X, which is a 500 case production.
Most exciting to me is the breadth of interesting bubblies today. Not just Grande Marques, and even beyond Grower Champagne, the next “big thing”, according to Wine & Spirits Magazine is “Somm Sparklings.”
Wine & Spirit’s Associate Publisher Samantha Groseth has this to say on the topic:
“Some of the most interesting intelligence we gather from our Annual Restaurant Poll comes in the wines that most excite sommeliers. In 2015, we heard a lot of chatter about sparkling wine, and not just grower Champagne — sparkling wine is on the minds’ of America’s sommeliers, whether it’s from the Loire, California, Finger Lakes, Italy or Jura.”
Iron Horse was included in this category at the debut Somm Sparkling Table at Wine & Spirits’ annual Top of the List Tasting. A true honor. There were about a dozen to taste, right next to the Grand Central Oyster Bar station - Herman Wiener Blanc de Blancs no dosage, from the Finger Lakes, which is poured by the glass at NoMad, Gruet from New Mexico, Raventos, Domaines de la Berjorie and Baumard, both cremants de Loire, Murgo Etna Rosso, from Sicily, that was very unusual, Banfi, La Marca Prosecco and La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti.
It was Iron Horse and Roederer Estate from California. Ours was certainly the most fun table at the tasting.
Going back to Tim Fish’s article in Spectator, Tim makes the point that the bubbly business is increasingly year-round:
“Many people think of bubbly in connection to Christmas and New Year's Eve, but it's also enjoyable as a summer drink. Sparkling wine has always been about summer for me.”
My family and I are very proud that Iron Horse ranks among Tim’s personal favorites on his blog.
IRON HORSE 2010 Classic Vintage Brut, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, $42. 91 points. Supple and richly styled, with tart apple and spiced hazelnut aromas leading to Meyer lemon, brioche and zesty cinnamon flavors.
IRON HORSE 2010 Russian Cuvee, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, $42. 90 points. A plush style, with a lingering hint of sweetness balanced by solid acidity. Offers accents of ripe Meyer lemon, toasted cinnamon and almond brioche
IRON HORSE 2010 Wedding Cuvee, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, $42. 91 points. A serious bubbly but fun to drink with lively and floral raspberry flavors.
More and more people now think about bubbly as a wine … to be enjoyed year round with food. As we like to say here at Iron Horse: #notjustforbreakfastanymore.
It’s not every day I start off the week with an Iron Horse “shout out” from the Office of the First Lady. I’m proud to announce that our wine - 2007 Russian River Cuvee - will be poured at Tuesday evening’s State Dinner for the Prime Minister of Japan.
As I’m sure you know, an invitation to a White House state dinner is one of Washington's most sought-after “tickets”. VIP guests resplendent in black tie and designer gowns dine on an impeccably concepted four-course meal served by America's most famous kitchen.
The news that Iron Horse has a ticket as a featured VIP beverage came during an 11AM EST press preview for the State Dinner, led by Michelle Obama (ending speculation over which “patriotic tasting wine” would be chosen). Find the menu announcement here. The guest chef is Masaharu Morimoto. The tables will be decorated with cherry blossoms that symbolize the friendship between the US and Japan … and each place setting will have a set of red lacquered chopsticks.
The First Lady unveiled the menu along with the Obama state china service which she had a hand in designing. The china introduces a special blue inspired by the waters of Hawaii being called “Kailua blue” and the service was made by Pickard China, of Antioch, Illinois. The President was born in Hawaii and Illinois is the First Lady’s home state. Find the Architectural Digest spotlight on the china here.
Iron Horse is “at home” in the elegant State Dining Room during this Obama administration which has been selective with their schedule of State Dinners. They’ve hosted the fewest since the Truman administration, which seems to assign each event heightened historical significance. Our wine was served at the State Dinner for India in November 2009 (It paired wonderfully with the post-meal Beyoncé performance!) as well as the State Dinner for David Cameron in March 2012. Traditionally, Iron Horse is served as the toasting wine, at the end of the meal.
The Iron Horse relationship with the Obamas continues our vineyard’s tradition of strong White House relations. Iron Horse has been a favorite going back 30 years and five consecutive Presidential Administrations. Something we’re very proud of. Stay tuned as we continue to chronicle all exciting elements of this soiree - from the bubbles to the fashion & entertainment - with the hashtag #IronHorseintheWhiteHouse
Welcome to the first installment of our Star Chef Blog Series. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing Q&As with our most special friends who serve custom Iron Horse cuvees in their restaurants. In honor of Easter & Passover, and with the spirit of renewal that comes with Spring, we’ve interviewed Iron Horse's great friend Charlie Palmer for a fresh take on a classic.
Starting with New York City’s Aureole, Charlie now owns 14 restaurants around the country, two hotels in the heart of California’s wine country and The Mystic Hotel in San Francisco. Our friendship with Charlie Palmer is as rich as his culinary creations and shines through in the delicious Aureole Cuvee. The current release is our 20th vintage of making this unique, limited production bubbly.
When we called Charlie up one early Spring day, we challenged him to walk us through a seasonally appropriate food pairing for our sparkling wine and Pinot Noirs. The season is right for the Sonoma County baby lamb or ham and our Pinot Noirs just received stellar ratings by the editors at Wine Enthusiast which will appear in the June 2015 issue. Here’s what we learned...
IRON HORSE INTERVIEW WITH CHARLIE PALMER:
Iron Horse: What drew you to develop a partnership with Iron Horse?
Charlie Palmer: We started with Iron Horse years ago. My team of wine directors and sommeliers aimed to develop a sparkling wine that was both “food friendly” and could be an aperitif. The Aureole Cuvee is just that. We offer restaurant guests a small coup glass as they peruse the cocktail menu. Just 3 ozs of bubbles triggers that feeling of celebration and serves as a palette starter, but you can certainly drink it through the entire meal.