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Dahlonega vineyard dives into the bubbly
A little sugar and special timing give Wolf Mountain Vineyards a new taste sparkling wine
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Brannon Boegner adds dosage, a mixture of sugar and yeast that creates carbonation, to a bottle of wine. Boegner helps run Wolf Mountain Vineyards in Dahlonega with his parents and sister. The winery recently ventured into the sparkling wine market. - photo by Lauren Rubenstein

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Karl Boegner explains the process behind making sparkling wine.

When Karl Boegner opened Wolf Mountain Vineyards to the public in 2003, he knew one day he would create a sparkling wine.

Well, that day has come.

Boegner released the new sparkling wine for the first time on June 14.

"Enjoying sparkling wine as I do and owning a winery, I said, ‘Gosh, one day I want to make our own sparkling wine,'" he said. "Then I realized nobody in Georgia makes a 100 percent vinefera ... with the méthode champenoise, which is the French fine wine grapes process."

Boegner said there is muscadine and blueberry sparkling wine in South Georgia but he lays claim to the first traditional, chardonnay-based sparkling wine in Georgia.

Steve Gibson, president of the Winegrowers Association of Georgia, is excited about the addition of the sparkling wine.

"I do know that obviously making sparkling, champagne-style wines are very labor and space intensive," Gibson said. "You have to really dedicate yourself to space requirements and purchase equipment that you normally wouldn't have.

"I think it is a nice feather into the industry and hopefully he (Boegner) will be able to increase his production over time and some other wineries will get involved also."

Even though taking on sparkling wine was a goal of Boegner's, he did admit that it wasn't easy.

"It's very time consuming and tremendously labor intensive," he said. "If you think about making a still wine, you produce the wine and you basically age the wine. You put it in a bottle and that's it, which is still a lot of work and a lot of time. But when you add the process in sparkling wine you are adding so many more steps."

Chris Gerling, who is an extension associate for enology at Cornell University, agreed that sparkling wine has another level of difficulty.

"The difference between sparkling wine and regular wine is that the wine goes through a secondary fermentation, basically," he said. "The wine is put in some other container. The very traditional way is back into a bottle and then it's given something called a dosage ... that contains some sugar or some kind of a solution with something sugary in it and some more yeast."

The sweetening agent and yeast are added to the wine to create the carbonation for sparkling wine.

"You have to age that for upwards to a year or more," Boegner said. "You have to riddle or turn the bottles to get the dead yeast to fall down into the neck, and then you freeze the neck. You pop the top and the effervescence of the sparkling wine pushes that frozen part of yeast cells out and then your wine is clarified. Then you top it with your dosage.

"Which gives you the taste to make it balanced like you like it and finish the packaging."

Gerling, who said there are 250 wineries in New York state and only about 15 produce sparkling wine, said the final steps of the sparkling wine process produce a few different by-products.

"(The wine) builds up carbon dioxide in there because when yeast is fermenting sugar the ... products are alcohol, ethanol and carbon dioxide, the lees, which is basically the dead yeast and all the stuff that falls to the bottom," he said. "Then they rotate the bottle periodically, called riddling, to keep the yeast from settling too much.

"Eventually it gets into the neck and they freeze it and pull the plug out, put a little more wine in and then put the regular cork on."

Wolf Mountain - which is run by Boegner, wife Linda, son Brannon and daughter Lindsey - uses 100 percent chardonnay in all the sparkling wines. Boegner said the only difference is the level of sweetness and the "addition of the red wine to the rosé to make that unique."

Wolf Mountain Vineyards released three different styles of sparkling wine: blanc de blancs brut, brut rosé and demi-sec.

"The blanc de blancs brut is the traditional, dry sparkling," Boegner said. "Then you have a brut rosé which has almost an amber, salmon color that is done at the final stage at the dosage where we add a touch of our reserve red wine. And then we have a demi-sec sparking, and that is a, as the words imply, a semi-dry or a semi-sweet."

According to the vineyard's Web site, the 2006 blanc de blancs brut is the signature style of Wolf Mountain. It is light, crisp and fruity and has a light bread flavor that came from the yeast and aging for almost a year. The blanc de blancs is suggested to be served with a light citrus salad, caviar or crab cakes. Boegner says his favorite of the sparkling wines is the blanc de blancs.

"It is the more traditional and it's a very elegant finish to it," he said. "A nice essence of almost wheat and yeasty taste, which is excellent ... nice citrus and overtones to it, as well."

The sparkling wines are $23.95 a bottle and $8 a glass at the winery.

To create the 2006 brut rosé, a small amount of Wolf Mountain's Claret is added to produce the light salmon color, Boegner said. The sparkling rosé pairs nicely with richer foods like smoked duck, according to the winery's Web site.

For the first release of the sparkling wines, Boegner opted for a small production. The vineyard only produced 200 cases of the wine.

"It's a very small production this year," he said. "We wanted to get our feet wet with the process ... and know how we want to expand based on the popularity of the three styles that we have in this first year."

Right now, Boegner is focusing on getting through the wedding season with his limited amount of sparkling wine. Wolf Mountain is already set to host 65 weddings on the property this year.

"Certainly with this first year we have to reserve the sparkling for the guests that are coming to visit the winery, and we don't want them to be disappointed the earlier than we have to," Boegner said. "So we hope the limited amount will last until the fall."

Along with the new sparkling wines, Wolf Mountain has plantings of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, mourvedre, tannat, petite verdot, malbec and touriga nacional for wine production.

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