Sipping Bubbles, Saving Bees

With a light, zesty texture and just a hint of sweetness, Honey Bubbles is easy to like. It’s a new sparkling Moscato on our shelves, and it’s an incredibly amiable wine with an elegant hold on its sweetness--citrusy and floral notes with enough acid to balance its residual sugar. When Greg St. Clair poured it for the staff a few weeks ago, it was a hit all around.

But it’s also a brand that’s very easy to support. Honey Bubbles is the pet project of two WSET-trained wine geeks who fell in love with the Moscato grape, but also had a yearning to do good. Scott Roughgarden and Christiana Gifford care about wine and wanted to make a good product, but they also wanted to give back. When they settled on the name Honey Bubbles for their wine, the light bulb went on: this project would be about making good wine while supporting the bees that make it—and about 80% of the food we eat—possible.

The two started the project about four years ago, but they’d met much earlier in a serendipitous tangle of turns that led them both to Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. Christiana was visiting from Las Vegas, and, while sitting on the beach, her BFF asked her to help decide between two beachfront restaurants for her wedding. Christiana was drawn to Shutters, so they went up and had a glass of Champagne. And guess who was their server--none other than Scott. Two years later, when Christiana decided to move to LA, she knew that if she was going to work as a server to support herself (and her then-dream of being a makeup artist), she wanted to do it at Shutters. When she got hired and showed up in uniform, Scott remembered her! He trained her on the job, and they became fast friends. Years later, they both took the WSET courses together.

It was during these courses that they hatched their plan. One of their instructors waxed poetic about the Moscato grape--its ancient roots, its flavor profile--and the two decided that the U.S. market needed a wine that highlighted the beauty of the grape without the often-cloying sweetness. “We bought every bottle of Moscato on the U.S. market that we could,” Scott said. “We felt like it had become the Coca Cola of wine in the U.S. because what we were getting was so sweet. It’s a noble grape varietal, one of the most produced grapes on earth. We said to each other, ‘let’s do a fresh take on it.’” They raised money and drove the first cases around in their car. But all it took was a foot in the door: once they could pour the wine for people, buyers started picking it up.

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From the start, they wanted to be cause driven. They give part of their proceeds to organizations that lobby for less strict beekeeping regulations, to beekeepers themselves, and to programs that promote education on Colony Collapse Disorder. They also support an organization called Honey Love that does non-harmful removal of bees without fumigation in Los Angeles, relocating instead of killing the unwanted bees. “Some people don’t even know about what’s going on with the honey bee, how quickly they are disappearing,” said Christiana. “They are essential to our ecosystem. We try to let the people we work with know how vital bees are, for instance, in any farm to table menu. We work with Honey Love to try to breakdown the barriers of fear around honey bees, especially in children, and to host events for National Honey Bee Day (August 18th).”

While doing good, they’re making good wine. They source their grapes directly from the Asti and Veneto regions in Italy, and work very closely with the winemaker. Because they are not trying to give their wine the Moscato d’Asti DOCG status, they are not beholden to Italian regulations—meaning that they can make their wine higher in alcohol (about 11% vs the max 6% of the DOCG), and they can hold back the residual sugar. These two factors make for a more balanced, food-friendly expression of the grape—it’s good with dessert but also with cheeses or spicy food. They make it in the traditional Charmat method, which allows this aromatic varietal to really express its personality. The basic motto behind the whole operation? Quality at a good price.

This motto seems to be paying off. They’re new to the market, but all they need to do is pour a glass for people—then the line starts to form. This is what happened at an Italian wine competition in Florida recently, where they truly had a line all the way around the event of people waiting to try their wine, and where they ended up winning the People’s Choice Award. They’re humbled by this, and expressed a lot of gratitude for how people have embraced the brand so far. Christiana will be pouring this lively wine on Thursday in our Hollywood tasting bar, so you’ll have a chance to try it for yourself! 5:30-7 $20. Come check out the buzz!

- Kate Soto