Wine Wednesday: Korbel Champagne Cellars offers Glimpse into California’s Past

by Jennifer Simonson on February 28, 2024 in Food+Drink,

When planning a trip to Sonoma County make Korbel Champagne Cellars your first stop. California’s oldest champagne producer offers a fun glimpse into the art of champagne making in America. 

If you are an early-morning wine drinker, aim to arrive to the vineyard at 10 a.m. This will allow the drive down the picturesque two-way road through the Russian River Valley to still be bathed in the magical golden hour. This scenic route lined by towering redwoods, colorful wildflowers and grapevines will lead you to a quiet stretch that has been home to Korbel for well over 140 years. When you book your tasting be aware that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill wine tour. A stop at Korbel Cellars is a sneak peek into history, a walk through vineyards bursting with stories and, yes, a chance to sip on California’s answer to champagne.

Tastings and tours are offered daily at the Korbel Winery. Courtesy photo.

Three Bohemian brothers from what is today the western region of the Czech Republic founded Korbel in 1882. The brothers – Francis, Anton, and Joseph Korbel – were forced to leave Europe after Francis was a part of revolutionary activity. As visitors learn on the winery tour, Francis’s involvement in the 1848 Prague uprising against the Austrian monarchy landed him in Daliborka Prison. According to family lore, his mother smuggled civilian clothes into his holding cell. After that he was able to nonchalantly escape through an unlocked gate. Immediately after, he and the many members of the Korbel family immigrated to America. 

Northern California was known for lumber and gold, not grapes when the family first arrived in San Francisco. In 1862 they opened the first cigar box factory in the city. Ten years later they moved north to Sonoma to start a lumber business. After exploring various ventures in the lumber sector, agriculture and dairy farming they discovered their niche in the wine industry.

The Korbel brothers began planting vineyards on their Russian River property as a way to make extra money. Despite initially supplying grapes to other California winemakers, they pivoted to winemaking themselves due to an overcrowded market. By 1882, their efforts yielded 30,000 gallons of wine leading them to fully commit to viticulture and cease their dairy operations. They focused their attention on sparkling wine production challenging the prevailing belief that California could not produce fine champagne.

Korbel is located in the beautiful Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. Photo courtesy Korbel Cellars.

Today Korbel is the 16th largest wine producer in the United States making 1.6 million cases per year. Beyond the bubbles, Korbel prides itself on producing one of America’s most respected brandies as well as making still wines exclusively for its club members. 

Guides well-versed in both viticulture and Korbel’s heritage will regale you with tales of the original champagne-method cellars while passing antique vats and presses during the complimentary one-hour walking tour of the historic museum and cellar. The tour ends in the tasting room where wide glass windows let you steal glances of the sweeping vineyards while sipping on the free taste of our award winning Korbel Natural’ California Champagne. 

The menu at the Korbel Delicatessen pairs perfectly with their wines. Photo courtesy Korbel Cellars.

For those who want a deeper dive into Korbel’s full spectrum of offerings, you can schedule a seated tasting. For $25 the tasting includes five pours from their classic Brut with nuanced apple and cherry notes, to the bright fruit flavors of their Sweet Rosé. If you want to spend the whole day at the vineyard, and who wouldn’t, plan on eating lunch at their onsite delicatessen. Chefs worked with winemakers to create a menu of handcrafted sandwiches and salads that pairs perfectly with Korbel wines. If you need help deciding, their locally renowned tri-tip sandwich pairs nicely with Korbel’s Natural’ Russian River Valley Champagne.

The Korbel Winery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tastings are offered seven days a week from 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. and tours are offered daily at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m.


Cover photo courtesy Korbel Cellars

Jennifer Simonson is a proud 7th generation Texan. She is a travel writer by trade and a lover of the world’s food, cultures, drinks and outdoor spaces by nature.