American sparkling wines may be trending, but Korbel California Champagne has long been in style. For decades, the California-based brand of bubbly has been a staple of American celebrations, and a known favorite among politicians, celebrities, and athletes. It’s been part of countless sporting victories, and can always be found at the Olympics and Kentucky Derby.
Korbel, founded in 1882, is best-known for its bubbly, but also makes brandy that is beloved by exactly one Midwestern state. The winery even had a brief foray into the world of brewing.
Bursting with excitement to learn more about the bubbly brand? Read on for 11 more things you need to know about Korbel.
It’s not actually Champagne.
Though Korbel calls itself “California Champagne,” the brand is based in Guerneville, a town located in Sonoma Valley. This means it can’t be classified as Champagne, which can only be made in the Champagne region of France. However, due to a 100-year-old loophole, labeling a California sparkling wine “California Champagne” is actually legal in some cases.
So, why does Korbel call itself Champagne? The brand claims to use the méthode champenoise, the traditional method in which sparkling wine is made by first fermenting wine in-barrel, followed by secondary fermentation inside the same bottle in which it will eventually be served. (In between are a few key steps, such as riddling and disgorging, but that’s another lesson.)
Korbel is a presidential favorite.
Eight presidents in a row have toasted with Korbel at their inaugurations, beginning with Ronald Reagan in 1985. The tradition has continued all the way through the 2017 inauguration of President Donald Trump (who, as it turned out, is a teetotaler). In any case, Korbel is one thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on, and that’s something to toast to.
Korbel is all about brotherhood (and, apparently, the rule of threes).
Korbel likes to keep it in the family. The brand was founded by three Czech brothers, Francis, Anton, and Joseph Korbel, in 1882. After they abandoned the business during Prohibition, another set of three brothers, Paul, Adolf, and Ben Heck, bought the company in the 1950s and turned it into the successful brand it is today.
Wine wasn’t the Korbel brothers’ first passion.
Before it was used to produce wine, Korbel’s vineyard land was used to make a different kind of beverage: milk. The Korbel brothers lived on a dairy farm, which they converted into vineyards in 1884, after their initial successes with winemaking.
Korbel launched and shuttered one of America’s best craft breweries.
In 1997, a Korbel winemaker (also a devoted homebrewer) convinced the company to open a brewery. Another employee, Vinnie Cilurzo was appointed to the helm. When the brewery wasn’t immediately successful, Korbel closed the brewery doors — and fired Vinnie — just five years after it had opened.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because Vinnie and his wife Natalie Cilurzo revived the brewery, called Russian River Brewing, purchasing the rights to the name. Russian River Brewing remains one of the most successful and well-respected breweries on the planet. Its chart-topping Pliny the Elder is one of the most significant contributions to American craft beer.
Korbel comes in all shapes and sizes.
Korbel California Champagne comes in all shapes and sizes. The brand sells its products in four bottle sizes: mini (187 milliliter), regular (750 milliliter), magnum (1.5 liter), and even double magnum (3 liter). This means that bubbly-lovers can enjoy Korbel at events of all sizes, too — from dinners for one, to picnics and parties.
Half of Korbel’s brandy is mixed with ‘bug juice.’ (It’s not their fault, it’s Wisconsin’s.)
Though Korbel is best known for its sparkling wines, it also uses its grapes to make brandy. Korbel makes six different expressions of brandy, from its California Brandy, produced at Korbel’s Sonoma winery, to Korbel 25, the brand’s oldest and most premium offering aged for 25 years in American oak whiskey barrels.
And, as it turns out, Wisconsin residents love Korbel’s brandy — imbibers in the state consume 50 percent of the brandy produced by the brand. This may be due to the popularity of the Wisconsin Old Fashioned, a Midwestern take on the classic drink that is made with Korbel brandy and premixed “bug juice” instead of whiskey, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters.
Korbel won’t judge you for day drinking.
In fact, the brand proclaims itself to be the “Official Sponsor of Brunch.” On its website, Korbel offers instructions for DIY Mimosa bars for weddings, brunch, and New Year’s Eve. It also offers recipes for brunch dishes and cocktails using its California Champagne.
Korbel parties like it’s 1999.
On New Year’s Eve, 1999, Korbel Champagne was chosen as the global sponsor of Times Square 2000. The event was the largest celebration of the new millennium, so Korbel went big as well, creating the world’s largest Champagne bottle. At 5 feet tall, 372 pounds, and holding nearly 1,000 glasses of Champagne — 160 times the size of a standard bottle of Korbel bubbly — the bottle was even certified by the Guinness Book of Records. Want to see it for yourself? All you have to do is visit Korbel’s Sonoma winery, where the bottle is displayed for all visitors to see.
It was there for the last filming day of ‘M*A*S*H.’
When “M*A*S*H,” one of the most beloved comedies in American TV history, ended in 1983, it was the end of an era. According to Korbel lore, the cast of “M*A*S*H” popped open a bottle of Korbel California Champagne to celebrate the final episode’s taping.
Love Korbel? Join the club.
Korbel has a wine club with six levels of membership, ranging in price from $55 to $170. These memberships offer four to 12 bottles of Korbel wine shipped directly, two or four times a year, depending on the membership.
You can also wear your love for Korbel — its online store is stocked with wine- and brandy-themed impulse buys, from hats and mouse pads, to gift packs including two bottles of wine, Champagne flutes, and a Champagne stopper. Love to host? The store also sells packs of its mini bottles, designed as party favors.
Published: November 13, 2020