Be Bubbly is the name of a new Champagne and sparkling wine bar that recently opened in downtown Napa, California. In addition to an intimate lounge, Be Bubbly also houses a bottle shop. Surprisingly, this is the first and only such business dedicated to bubbly wines in the entire Napa Valley, where there are currently some 375 wineries offering tastings and 90 urban tasting rooms.
The opening reflects America’s growing affection for sparkling wines, both domestic and imported. According to BevAlc Insights (a data and insight source for alcohol retailers), except for an early dip in March and April 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, sales of Champagne and sparkling wines have increased steadily over the past five years.
The market promises to remain solid in spite of pandemic-related restaurant and bar closures, and a bevy of cancelled celebrations, meetings and events. Available in a range of options to please every palate and pocketbook, sparkling wines are popular as an in-home treat as well as gifts for friends, family and associates.
A woman with bubbles in her DNA
Having traveled overseas extensively for work and pleasure, Erin Riley, the owner of Be Bubbly, fell in love with these wines. “It didn’t matter where I was; there was always a sparkling version to enjoy and it always felt celebratory,” she says. “And it was a bonus that these wines were lower in carbs and alcohol.”
When she was in her twenties, her family owned a restaurant and catering business. A love for fine dining and great wines became a family passion. When Riley moved to the Napa Valley in 2000, she began looking for a unique niche in a crowded marketplace. As her daughter was about to go off to college, the business woman began doing research and making plans for her “next act,” one that would combine her love for Napa Valley with her love of sparkling wines.
“As a crazy entrepreneur, I cashed in every dime I had and then invited an investor to match it,” she says. “”Fortunately, I also found a landlord who was very generous in assisting me with improvements,” she adds. Riley knew she was taking a big risk but was confident it would be worthwhile.
The menu at Be Bubbly
Riley (who calls herself the “Chief Bubblehead”) and her sales associates have curated a 12-page menu with an extensive selection of sparkling wines—sourced from Napa Valley and other domestic and international wine regions.
The shop has 400 bottles in inventory and 80 labels available in-house (by the glass or bottle), ranging from a sparkling Chenin Blanc or Rosé from France, to a bubbly Lambrusco from Italy, to an exclusive Prosecco on tap, to California favorites, such as Schramsberg and Iron Horse. Bottle prices generally range from $42 to $169 excluding top-of-the-line tête de cuvées.
Sparkling wines are versatile because they can be sipped as an aperitif, consumed with meals or paired with dessert. “Each bottle has something special to offer depending on the mood, occasion, meal, company, etc. for which it is poured,” says Riley.
Personally, she’s particularly fond of small grower Champagne. Some of Riley’s pairing recommendations: Brut Nature Champagne paired with lobster, a crisp Blanc de Blanc with caviar, a Brut Cuvee with fried chicken, and Rosés with spicy foods.
The shop has both a beer and wine license so cocktails are made from wines and grape-infused spirits and non-alcoholic mixers. “We make an incredible Napa Negroni with Lo-Fi Amaro and our current winter cocktail is an Apple Cider Mimosa,” she says. The shop also offers select still wines and craft beers.
Faring during the pandemic
Unfortunately, the timing of Be Bubbly’s late August 2020 opening, amidst all the pandemic health and travel restrictions, has been challenging. In addition, the catastrophic California wildfires that raged through northern parts of wine country this past September affected homes, wineries, hotels, restaurants and tourism.
Riley remains optimistic and undaunted. Fortunately, as a retail business, she has been able to keep Be Bubbly open through much of the chaos. The shop adheres to all mandated health and safety protocols and then some. For example, she installed a “disinfection gate” that sprays an ionized molecular solution that promises to protect guests from 99.9% of all germs and viruses for 24 hours. The on-premise experience has been limited to outdoor seating that has been substantially scaled down.
When the pandemic eases, up to 75 patrons will be able to take advantage of the sophisticated bar and lounge, a beautifully decorated gathering place with comfortable booth and banquette seating in shades of gray with gold and emerald green accents. The vibe is warm but sophisticated. Located in the downtown area of Napa, it will likely be a mecca for tourists who want to explore a culturally rich wine destination that’s convenient and easily accessible by foot.
“The challenges have been interesting and not for the faint of heart,” says Riley. “But they have become the new norm so they don’t feel like a big hurdle at this point.”
Sparkling Valentine’s Day Recommendations from the Chief Bubblehead
For the Italophile
Ca’del Bosco Cuvee Prestige Franciacorta
For the Francophile
Charles Heidsieck Reserve Rosé
For the All-American
Loubud Brut Rosé
For the Price-Conscious
Château de Bligny La Grand Reserve
For the Big Spender
Billecart-Salmon ‘Le Clos Saint Hilaire’ Brut (100 pts WE)
For those Who Love A Pretty Bottle
Syltbar Il Concerto Prosecco