In 2012, in Healdsburg, sisters Sharon Cohn, Cynthia Faust, and Rebecca Faust founded a winery, Breathless, to honor their mother, Martha, who taught them to live large and dream big. They wished both to erect a living homage to their mother and to celebrate life—so bubbles seemed the obvious focus. And there was so much sisterly love in the effort that that they added a fourth sister—honorary sibling, winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster.
Today their wines, hand-crafted from North Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the centuries-old French méthode champenoise, are receiving steady accolades. The 100% Chardonnay Russian River Valley McMinn Vineyard Blanc de Blancs exudes Bartlett pear, orange flower, and crispy apple amid tiny, creamy bubbles. Pommard Clone Blanc de Noir (100% Pinot Noir) exhibits black cherry, a pinch of pepper, and elegant depth with a lighter than expected color—just to note a couple.
We had the chance to sip with one sister, Sharon Cohn, and winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster. Here’s how they answered our questions.
“Family winery” sometimes conjures images of a mom and pop operation, but this one takes that notion in a somewhat different direction.
Sharon: This idea was kicked around at many a family gathering. Rebecca and her partner, Bruce Lundquist, started up a custom crush facility for sparkling named Rack and Riddle. They brought on Penny, who we knew could make amazing wines that we would be proud of!
You are the honorary sister and the winemaker. What’s your winemaking philosophy?
Penny: My philosophy for winemaking is to let the grapes express themselves in the best way possible—they worked hard to be made into wine! The philosophy for the wines is to bring together the elegance of Champagne with the fruit of California. They should be food friendly and can be drunk with any part of a meal, and should not just be for celebrations. After all, every day is a celebration.
Pinot Noir plays a big role in your wines. What quality does that add?
Penny: Traditionally in Champagne Pinot Noir is a big component of the blends for Rose, Brut, and Blanc de Noir. I follow that tradition. Since it is a red grape, it is sometimes the forgotten component. Pinot Noir brings what the area brings to that grape—and that can mean berry fruit, earthiness, and spice to bubblies. It helps to bring complexities to all of the wines it blends into.
Sharon: A breathless moment can be any moment in time, if you want to make it that. My sisters and I want life to be savored and enjoyed. We feel that a glass of bubbles makes it truly feel like a celebration. Bubbles creation takes longer than all wines, so it is a special occasion to pop open a bottle (or saber, our favorite way). Every glass shared with friends and family is meant to remind us to create more of those special moments in our lives.
Speaking of special moments—can you give us some holiday pairing notes?
Penny: The Blanc de Blanc is my favorite with oysters, but the Brut is also great. Any kind of fish or shellfish with either one, along with pork, roasted chicken …turkey. With the Blanc de Noir, try duck or lamb, salty cheese, or holiday ham. The Rosé does well with ham, fruit desserts, nuts, salty cheeses and my favorite—pizza. Seriously, the color just makes you happy. Last of all the Moscato: my favorite dishes with this are curries, but it is also fun with desserts, especially apple desserts. This is what I am going to have . . . with pumpkin pie.
You’ve said your mother inspired you to dream big, and that Breathless grew from her influences and leadership. Tell us about her.
Sharon: Our mom had passed away from Alpha 1—a disease of the lungs, much like emphysema, though she never smoked in her life!—and we wanted to do something in her honor, so the idea really grew on us all. It has been a wonderful opportunity to do something together that has so much meaning and inspiration for us. Martha Jane, our amazing mom, woke up every day with enthusiasm for the three of us to make the day the best it could be—as we were growing up, and even going through the trials and tribulations of Alpha 1. She always encouraged us to follow our dreams, even me at age 17 telling her I was joining the USAF. She had to sign for me since I was not yet 18, and she told me no matter what I was assigned, to do the best job I was capable of. Those words stuck with me through life.