Korbel Champagne Cellars Descriptions
Description 1 of 2
Korbel Winery was established by Bohemia-born Francis Korbel and his brothers, Joseph and Anton, in 1882 and is the oldest continually operating champagne house in North America. KORBEL California champagnes are the product of a passionate devotion to the wine-making craft, generations of experience and expertise, and an uncompromising standard for excellence. Take a minute to view these photos from KORBEL's rich history as well as more recent celebrations.
Description 2 of 2
HISTORY: ESCAPE FROM CZECHOSLOVAKIA In the mid-1800s, America offered new hope to three brothers seeking to escape political unrest in their European homeland. Emigrating from Czechoslovakia to the United States, brothers Francis, Anton and Joseph Korbel found success in exchange for their hard work and innovation. F. Korbel & Bros. began as a manufacturing business in San Francisco that produced materials for the building industry. As their enterprise expanded, the brothers eventually acquired a sawmill and began a full-scale lumber operation near the town of Guerneville in Sonoma County. MAKING SONOMA COUNTRY HOME The Korbels, born in the farmlands of the province of Bohemia (today's western Czech Republic), found the remote and rugged redwood country in Sonoma County irresistible. Lured by the beauty and opportunity of the mountainous timberlands, the brothers eventually moved their families from San Francisco and settled in the Russian River Valley. As Northern California’s lumber boom slowed, the Korbels turned their attention to farming the bottomlands of their Russian River Valley ranch. Here the soil was sandy, the mornings were filled with fog from the nearby Pacific Ocean, and summer days were long with sunshine. It would be in this valley that the Korbels' love of the land, their unmatched enthusiasm for hard work and their spirit for enterprise would lead them to create a great American champagne. THE FIRST KORBEL CHAMPAGNES The Korbel Winery continued to grow throughout the 1880s. It was during this time that the Korbels sent for winemaker Frank Hasek in Prague to come to the United States to be their champagne master. Employing the time-honored French method of producing champagne, méthode champenoise, the Korbels quietly but aggressively experimented with cuvées. By the mid-1890s, the Korbels shipped their first California champagnes, and by the turn of the century KORBEL was an internationally known, award-winning label. KORBEL SURVIVES PROHIBITION Prohibition in the 1920s forced the permanent closing of many wineries across the country. The era tested the family’s ingenuity, but the Korbel Winery survived by depending on the brothers’ other business ventures and accumulated resources. Sadly, Francis, Joseph and Anton all passed away before Repeal in 1933, and none of them lived to see production resume at the winery. They died not knowing their champagne creation had become an enduring legacy. THE SECOND CHAPTER IN THE STORY Fortunately, a second generation of Korbels successfully carried on the family's commitment and produced méthode champenoise California champagnes from the late 1930s to 1954. By the 1950s, the large winery building constructed from the Korbel brothers' own handmade bricks nearly 70 years earlier had been expanded, and more vineyards had been planted. The homeplace that had once been the center of the family's life was still standing – a quiet reminder of the early days of ranch life at Korbel. Eventually, each of the seven Korbel cousins who owned Korbel Champagne Cellars agreed it was time to sell the winery and vineyards – but only on certain terms. The surviving Korbels, seeking to preserve the legacy begun by their fathers, would insist that the buyer carry on the Korbel tradition of producing fine California champagne by the méthode champenoise. The one buyer who satisfied all of those conditions was a determined young winemaker named Adolf Heck. In 1954, 72 years after it was founded by the Korbel brothers, Korbel Champagne Cellars was sold to Heck, thus introducing a new chapter and a new family into the KORBEL story. FIRST CALIFORNIA CHAMPAGNE FOR AMERICAN TASTES Adolf Heck brought a new spirit to the internationally known Korbel Champagne Cellars. The Korbel homeplace was alive once again, this time with a new family. Planting methods and production facilities were updated, and new products began to emerge with the famous KORBEL label. As the new owner of KORBEL, Adolf set out to pioneer what he described as "California-style" champagnes. These wines displayed more fruit and less yeast than was typical of European champagnes. In 1956 he reintroduced KORBEL Brut in a style that was lighter and drier than any American champagne on the market, making it the first champagne developed specifically for American tastes. Adolf's energetic creativity as champagne master continued with the introduction of additional cuvées. INNOVATIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS Innovative and determined, Adolf worked constantly to improve the production and technical aspects of champagne-making. In 1966, Adolf invented and patented the first automatic riddling machine. In the past, riddling was done by hand at wineries – a costly and time-consuming method that left the champagne's quality vulnerable to the variability of many human hands. Adolf's invention allowed each bottle of KORBEL California Champagne to undergo exact turns at precise times. The introduction of his riddling machine into the production of KORBEL California Champagnes ensured consistent taste and quality in every bottle. THE NEXT GENERATION: GARY HECK KORBEL grew impressively during Adolf’s 30 years of leadership. That growth has continued since Adolf's son, Gary Heck, was appointed the company’s president in 1982 and named chairman of the board in 1984. Adolf had prepared Gary for his role by requiring him to learn the champagne-making business from the vineyards to the marketplace. Consequently, Gary has been active in nearly every aspect of the winery operation, from harvesting grapes by hand to sales administration. Growing up in the original homeplace of the Korbels and working daily at the winery, Gary has a lifetime of experience to guide him as he continues the legacy of KORBEL.
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