Domaine Carneros

Winery of the Week: Domaine Carneros

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens;

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens;

Brown paper packages tied up with strings…

These are a few of Maria von Trapp’s favorite things.

I, however, have slightly different tastes than “The Sound of Music” heroine and wedding dress icon. Sabered bottles, savory bites and sparkling bubbles are atop my personal favorite things list. Especially those offered at Domaine Carneros.

History and Winemaking

The Napa County winery, located in the Carneros appellation as the name suggests but also technically poking into Sonoma as well, is considered by many the benchmark for sparkling wine in California.  Domaine is the brainchild of the famed Taittinger family, who purchased the 138-acre vineyard in the heart of Carneros in 1986 (of course, it is bigger now, more like 400 acres to give an idea of scope). If an oenophile, you know that Carneros is “the spot” for cool-climate chardonnays and pinot noirs, and certainly the pinots made at Domaine Carneros are spectacular, but it is the sparkling – many made using award-winning chardonnay grapes and currently under the deft hands of CEO Remi Cohen and sparkling winemaker Zak Miller – that gives me goosebumps. Luxurious and elegant, each of the varietals in the sparkling portfolio are 100 percent estate grown, making it akin to a Champagne producer in France. Its luxury cuvee, Le Rêve, made in limited quantities annually is regularly described as American’s best sparkling wine.

The fact that tastings of said sparkling wine are done in a full-on château, of course, doesn’t hurt either.

Be in the Know about the Château

Completed in 1989, the 18th century château-style building was architecturally inspired by the historic Château de la Marquetterie owned by Champagne Taittinger in France’s Champagne region. It is high upon a hill overlooking miles of vineyards in every direction. Even the drive up feels fancy!

The best part: In 2018, they completed a spectacular addition to the property called the Jardin d’Hiver – or winter garden. The conservatory-style addition to the north terrace of the château features custom-crafted curved glass walls, skylights, white marble tables, crystal chandeliers, a chic indoor/outdoor fireplace and majestic new fountain. It allows guests to immerse themselves in the beauty of Carneros and surrounding vineyards while being shielded from the weather, making the property as 12-month bucket list destination.

Tasting Experiences

I learned one thing very quickly upon sitting for a tasting experience at Domaine Carneros: fancy can be fun, too!

Opulent and very open, with views that make you feel as if outside even when raining (as it was when we visited), there are a host of tastings offered daily in the Jardin, with reservations in advance strongly recommended. There are usually more traditional tours as well, but with COVID-19, many of these are on hold for just a bit longer to ensure safety of guests and team members alike.

Right now, the best of the tastings – in my humble opinion – are the Ultimate Chips & Dip ($350 per couple) and the Bubbles & Bites ($90).

During the Ultimate Chips & Dip, don’t expect spinach dip and some tortilla chips. This is actually a wine and caviar tasting with potato chips, to boot! It includes three of the estate’s most highly treasured wines alongside perfectly salted chips and three half-ounce servings of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar’s finest artisanal caviars: Estate, Reserve and the rarest, Crown Jewel.

For something even more globally inspired, Bubbles & Bites pours four of its sparkling wines—Ultra Brut, Estate Brut, Brut Rose and Vermeil Demi-Sec – and pairs each with an ever-changing flight of small bites. For example, when I visited, it was all things Moroccan with sparkling wine. The month prior? Mexican bites! Apparently, the first-ever one they did still has tongue wagging as well as it was an Asian-inspired pairing for the ages. During the tasting, dapper wine educators manage to teach while imparting some humor and helping guests put their finger on what they taste.

Also during the tasting, do not be surprised to see a giant sword wielded a time or two. There is a secondary bites package called The Art of Sabrage ($150) with the option to add on the opportunity to learn how to saber a bottle of sparkling wine. The ritual dates back to the days of Napoleon, when the weapon of choice was the saber, who would saber open a bottle of champagne to celebrate his victories.

Beautiful Bottles

Another benefit of visiting the winery is the wine you are able to purchase onsite. Many varietals are not available beyond the property, notably four of my favorites:

  • 2014 Late Disgorged Brut $57
  • 2017 Brut Rosé $46
  • 2015 Ultra Brut $48
  • 2016 Verméil Demi Sec $39

Quick Aside on Sustainability

One final note: Domaine Carneros is committed to the sustainability of its land and has been certified by Fish Friendly Farming (FFF), and holds both the Certified California Sustainable Winegrower (CCSW) and the Napa Green designation. Solar energy has long been a crucial aspect of Domaine Carneros sustainability plan, having installed the largest solar collection system of any winery in the world when it was implemented in 2003, and in 2021 was the first winery in Napa to install a solar microgrid and battery system that will supply 75 percent of the winery’s power.

To learn more, visit www.domainecarneros.com.

Photo credit: Domaine Carneros

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