A pioneer of the California wine industry, Korbel is a must-visit for lovers of bubbles and history. To get there, drive down River Road from Highway 101, where you’ll be treated to lovely views of the Russian River and surrounding redwood groves. After about 12 miles you will reach Korbel, which is located just off the main road. Driving in, you will notice the contrast between the original ivy-covered brick buildings and modern winemaking facility framed by huge stainless steel fermentation tanks.
We recommend starting your visit with a guided tour of Korbel’s historic property, which are held hourly and start from the visitor’s center. The tour takes about an hour and concludes with a wine tasting, so if you’re in more of a rush, you can head straight to the tasting room. During the tour, you will learn about the history of the Korbel family, who initially bought the property for logging before turning to winemaking in 1882. All of their wines are produced using méthode champenoise, the traditional French method of double fermentation in barrels and in the bottle. You’ll also learn about the label “California Champagne”, which comes with a difficult history. French winemakers fought throughout the 19th century to preserve the label only for wines produced in the Champagne region of France as competing markets in California and elsewhere grew. But in 2005, after two decades of negotiations, courts ruled in favor of Korbel and other established California champagne houses, allowing them to keep the label.
The tour concludes with a free sampling of four of Korbel’s most popular champagnes, which range from super-dry to semi-sweet. Most of their champagnes are made with the same base mixture of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, with sweetness adjusted at the end by the addition of the dosage, where sugar is added to the wine just before the final corking. This functions to balance out the naturally high acidity levels of champagne.
After the tour, head to the main tasting room to try some of Korbel’s smaller-batch champagnes, many of which are only available for purchase directly from the winery. You can also sample their selection of still wines and brandy. The tour and wine tasting is free, and there is little pressure to buy bottles with the wine shop located separately from the tasting room. Korbel does offer a wine club where a selection of bottles is shipped directly to your door a set amount of times each month, which you can customize to your individual preferences.
Before you leave, grab a sandwich or snack from the deli, which has a great selection of fresh and delicious options. At the deli, you can also purchase bottles or individual glasses of champagne to enjoy on their outdoor patio overlooking their vineyards.
If you’re looking for more wine to taste, there are plenty of great options in the area. We recommend La Crema Estate, Gamba, and Joseph Swan. If you’re done wine tasting, head to the quaint riverside town of Guernville, which offers ample dining and window shopping opportunities.