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The Riddler

Drink the stars for less

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It doesn't take much to start a sparkling wine project in California these days, thanks to Rack & Riddle, the custom crush outfit that moved from Hopland to Healdsburg in the past year. You can start with your own grapes or you can start with some base wine, but all you really need is a little extra dough to create those hallmark yeasty notes of vintage sparkling wine.

But how many Dom Pérignon wannabes, ace in the art of wine as they may be, shuffle up to the crushpad at Rack & Riddle with nothing but newbie questions?

"I would say that probably the majority of people who come to us are exactly like that," says Penny Gadd-Coster, executive director of winemaking. Gadd-Coster, who's been with the company since it was founded in 2007, says that most of their clients end up learning something in the process: "We work with them and teach them, so it's more of a partnership, rather than just us making the wine."

Starting out with seven employees, Rack & Riddle now employs 70 in its Healdsburg and Alexander Valley facilities. The majority of clients take their bubbly back to their own cellars. Two are sold at the winery: Rack & Riddle's signature label and Breathless, a sparkling wine brand from Rack & Riddle co-founder Rebecca Faust and her sisters, Sharon Cohn and Cynthia Faust. The brand was inspired in honor of their late mother, and proceeds benefit a foundation dedicated to fighting alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a lung disease their mother suffered from, as well as a roster of charity and women's organizations.

Look for a Breathless tasting room opening in 2016, which will be constructed from four shipping containers outfitted in an "industrial chic" style to match the brand's 1920s aesthetic. As for a try-before-you-buy spot for Rack & Riddle's own attractively labeled product (the die-cut holes in the label reference a traditional, wooden riddling rack), Gadd-Coster says, "We are hoping to tag along."

Rack & Riddle Blanc de Blancs ($20) This wine suggests butter cookie and whipped egg white. Fuji apple and lemon flavors inform a lively, scouring finish.

Rack & Riddle Brut ($20) A hint of sourdough bread and a sweeter dosage. Fresh and Prosecco-like, with red fruits and apricot.

Rack & Riddle Blanc de Noirs ($22) Steely fruit, with quince and fruit cocktail peach.

Breathless Sonoma County Blanc de Noirs ($30) Reminds me of shortbread cookies with jam in the middle. Full palate, nice balance of acidity and dosage. This would be a solid, all-around likable choice as a toasting wine.

Rack & Riddle, 499 Moore Lane, Healdsburg. 707.433.8400.

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