Breathless Wines opens new industrial-chic tasting room in Healdsburg

The first sip will surprise you.
In fact, a few things may take your breath away when visiting the new Breathless Wines tasting room in Healdsburg—most notably, the sparkling wines themselves. Crafted by an award-winning winemaker, Breathless features a few delightfully nuanced, traditional-method sparkling wines: Brut, Blanc de Noirs, and Brut Rosé, along with a limited release of Blanc de Blanc. All four wines have earned accolades over the past three years, and for good reason.

According to a recent study conducted at Santa Clara University, only 10 percent of California wineries have a woman as their lead winemaker—with the highest percentage (about 12 percent) of lead women winemakers being in the Sonoma, Marin and Napa wine regions. Not only does Breathless Wines employ a talented female winemaker, but a powerful trio of sisters runs the company, as well: Rebecca Faust, co-founder of Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services, Breathless production manager; Sharon Cohn, former co-owner of BR Cohn Olive Oil Company, and owner/manager of Massage Envy in Santa Rosa and Sonoma, currently retail and wholesale manager for Breathless; Cynthia Faust, financial manager, Breathless brand ambassador.

“Whenever the sisters and I would get together, we’d drink sparkling wine,” said Sharon. “And it was happy time, fun time—we were together celebrating. We actually did make a sparkling wine at BR Cohn in 1985, and I always wanted to do it again. So when the opportunity came up… Accessibility for the taste and the drinking, as well as our pricing—we wanted all of that to be something that everyone could enjoy. Not just on a fabulous occasion but every day.”

For over a year, Breathless Wines operated a pop-up tasting room at the former Murphy-Goode spot in Geyserville. As of this writing, the Faust sisters are preparing to open their permanent tasting room in September at 499 Moore Lane, in an industrial hub a few blocks away from Healdsburg Plaza. Inspired by another Rack & Riddle client from Malibu, the new Breathless tasting room will be constructed entirely of shipping containers and designed with a 1920s-era “industrial chic” aesthetic.

Plans include a chandelier-lit, white marble tasting bar and VIP area, seating inside and out, another walk-up bar on the outdoor patio with a stage for live music, a fire pit, garden community table and water fountains. The patio will offer a shade system with misters and umbrellas, surrounded by lush landscaping.

Breathless Wines are crafted under the guidance of Penny Gadd-Coster, a former ER nurse and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researcher who began winemaking in Sonoma 30 years ago. From her first crush job at Jordan Vineyards & Winery, Penny worked her way to an assistant winemaker position at J Vineyards & Winery before ultimately becoming their sparkling winemaker. She then joined Rebecca and the team at Rack & Riddle in 2007 as their executive winemaker, with sparkling wine as their focus. And when Rebecca asked her to work with Breathless in 2009, Penny jumped on it.

She has since garnered more than 100 awards and medals for the wines she helped create, as well as earning a “Winemaker of the Year” title from the North Bay Business Journal in December 2013.
“She really got us and who were we were, what we liked,” said Sharon. “It’s very special that we get to do this together, with the sisters—and you know, Penny’s one of them, in our hearts.”

The key to Penny’s winemaking success may actually be food, and a sense of refined simplicity. At one point in her career, Penny worked with influential winemaker André Tchelistcheff, who told her that it’s really silly for people to grow particular types of grapes and not have the wines taste like those grapes.
“I love to cook and I love to eat, and so coming up with wines that’ll go with food is really the first and foremost thing that I’m thinking about,” she said. “And then from there, what am I going after? What is the fruit bringing me?”

Even with sparkling wines Penny always wants to have them reflect the essence of whichever predominant grape is used. She’s not going to feature a Cabernet the same way she would feature a Pinot Noir. She’s also not a big fan of the latest tools and trickery.

“I’m very fortunate because everywhere I’ve been, I’ve had the opportunity to work with really good fruit,” said Penny. “So then it’s pretty easy to let that fruit shine. Then it’s, okay, what needs to go with it maybe to just take it that step further. What’s going to take it over the top—is it a little more Pinot Meunier?”

In the case of their signature Brut, what takes the Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend over the top is precisely 4 percent Pinot Meunier, with fruit sourced from the Carneros area; it is a surprisingly sophisticated sparkler, with notes of green apple and pink grapefruit, marked by a smooth finish and a light, refreshing effervescence. The Brut Rosé blends 60 percent Pinot Noir with 40 percent Chardonnay, and tastes decidedly more fruit forward, with lots of strawberry, watermelon and a little lemon-lime.

For the limited-release Blanc de Blanc, Penny takes that “wild child” Brut blend, generally starting with an equal amount of Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, and 5 percent Pinot Meunier, then fine-tunes it so that it’s more Chardonnay than Pinot, and ages it en tirage for 18-20 months. The Blanc de Noirs, made from 100 percent Pinot Noir from Mendocino and Sonoma County, and aged for 38 months, is an intriguing wine with fine bubbles and a bold yet elegant character. Understandably, the Blanc de Noirs was featured in the July 2015 edition of “Wine Enthusiast.”

Although crafted utilizing méthode Champenoise, these wines are not really French, nor are they entirely Californian—they’re somewhere in between. These are sparkling wines with substance. All Breathless selections we sampled had depth and delicacy, with a seductive complexity that encourages further enjoyment. And why not enjoy more bubbly?

We tend to only consider sparkling wines for celebrations. But it is actually the perfect food wine. “You cannot go wrong with bubbly when it comes to food pairing,” said Penny, who confessed to savoring potato chips dolloped with crème fraiche, a dash of lemon zest, and caviar or tobiko, with her sparkling wine.

Bubbly goes with everything,” agreed Cynthia.

Wines will be available by the glass, by the bottle, or as part of a tasting flight at the new Breathless Wines tasting room. Each table will be served an order of local potato chips to enjoy with their sparkling wine (thanks, Penny!). Also on offer will be an internationally curated cheese plate, and an opportunity to uncork your bottle with an authentic Italian saber under the instruction of a Breathless wine host.

Regularly scheduled tours at the adjacent Rack & Riddle production facility, which is where Breathless wines are made, will be available; Breathless’ hours will change depending on the season, so check the website for the most up-to-date times and special holiday notifications. The tasting room will also be offered quarterly for use to nonprofit organizations for fundraising events.

The Faust sisters are devoted to giving back to the Sonoma County community in which they’ve grown up, and regularly support nonprofits like Impact100 Sonoma, MedShare, YWCA, Sonoma County Alliance, American Heart Association, the Boys and Girls Club, and Women’s Health at Memorial Hospital, among others. They’re also avid supporters of the Alpha-1 Foundation, after losing their mother, Martha Faust, to the genetic lung disease in 2008. Breathless Wines is in homage to her.

“My mom was definitely a philanthropist who always told us to think bigger than you, and to see what you can do in the world,” said Sharon. “She’d get up every morning, no matter how tough the day before, and said, ‘We’re going to start this day clean.’

“‘Take no breath for granted’ was really the way she lived every single day. She was always smiling. It wasn’t always easy.”

Although Martha had health issues, she loved the outdoors and the Fausts backpacked all the time—the name, “Breathless,” is also a tongue-in-check reference to how the girls felt, running after their active mother who was “always charging up the hill.”

“She just never took a breath for granted, no matter how she was doing,” said Sharon. “She made the best of it everyday. So that inspired us—she inspires us to this day.”
Conclusion: Life is precious. Drink more bubbly. SD