In 1734, Claude Moët started making sparkling wine in Champagne, France. Like everyone else, right? Nope. Moët’s move to produce what is now called Champagne was a bold one at the time as he was the first-ever winemaker in the region to exclusively do so. Clearly, the move was a good one. Not only is Champagne – well, Champagne – but Moët is now Moët & Chandon and produces more than 30 million bottles annually.
Some 239 years after Moët made his dream a reality, Robert-Jean de Vogüé and John Wright made Chandon one, instinctively knowing French technique and California fruit would be special. Certainly, finding Chandon is easy as it is in practically every grocery and liquor in the United States. But, despite anything tasted prior, consider a visit to Chandon’s Yountville winery, Domaine Chandon. It is a feast for all the senses and may open even the most experienced wine drinker to something they never knew about the iconic brand.
If visiting for the first time, prepare for shock and awe right along with sparkling (and some non-sparkling…surprise!) sips.
The word “grand’ does not adequately describe the entryway. Lush, lavish and dripping with greenery, gold accents and (when in season) hanging flowers, it feels like the entrance to a fairy world, one where the beautiful fairies are fluttering about pouring wine. So, a fairly perfect fairy world.
Once inside, there are gardens, courtyards, cabanas and secret pathways, not to mention what feels like a dozen other coves, tasting bars, lounges and just generally spectacular spots to sip on wine both inside and out. Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a child? Domaine Chandon is an adult version of that, but only with happy endings. Seriously, this Yountville winery goes on for what must be forever.
There are seven to 10 tasting experiences on property from which to choose depending on the season, many of which evolve and change as the weather does.
The Cabana Experience ($145 per person) is the available during the summer months into late October, weather permitting. As the name suggests, this group experience takes place in a light, airy and extravagant cabana on the winery’s grand lawn. It takes about two hours – and is family friendly should anyone want to bring the kids, as long as they do not imbibe – and includes a family-style menu and seasonal delights such as oysters and veggies with a half bottle per person of Etoile Brut and Reserve Pinot Noir Rose.
Like the Cabana Experience, the Grazing Box Experience ($55 per person) is family friendly. This one features a bento box of sorts with elevated charcuterie including some great locally sourced items as well as the guests’ choice of bottle for purchase (the cost goes up should the bottle be a pricier one). Also like the Cabana Experience, this is a self-guided adventure versus hosted with a winery expert.
Should having a pro on hand be of interest, consider the Bubble Bar or Epicurean Experience, both available year-round but not family friendly.
The Bubble Bar (price varies) is stocked with winery exclusives – those bottles and glasses unavailable anywhere else in the world – that can open the eyes to the full breadth of Chandon’s portfolio. There are copious sommeliers, wine guides and hosts throughout the bar, each there to help guests find the exact vintages tailored to their palates.
Then there is the Epicurean Experience ($160 per person). This two-hour experience limited to small groups and capped at just six guests for most sittings offers a taste of both exclusive sparkling options but also one or more of the brand’s red wine selections and often a cocktail pairing as well. Each wine is paired with a seasonal dish by Chef Juan Cabrera. Expect the unexpected but expect for taste buds to explode in delight. Best to book this during lunch time.
There are still virtual experiences available online as well, and several varietals online one may not find at the corner store. Just a few for the home collection:
Chandon Pinot Meunier, Carneros 2018: Domaine Chandon was the first winery in California to use this grape in its sparkling wines, giving them a brighter fruit flavor. They also, however, let it shine on its own as a red still wine. This is a winning vintage, full of bright red charry, plum and spice and definitely not overpowering in any way. $50
Chandon Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2018: A full-bodied baby to be sure. Enjoy the tannins and acidity here, especially with meats or cheeses as the weather continues to cool. Expect some great currant flavor and pop in each sip. $80
Chandon Sparkling Red: This one is as fun to look at as it is to drink. Yes, it is called a sparkling red. But no, it is not red in color. It looks as other sparkling wines look, light and bubbly! To the taste, however, there is a note of Zinfandel and some zippy tanginess. $79
Chandon Vintage Carneros Brut 2014: Delicate and seductive, this has all the effervescent magic of the best sparkling vintages. Bonus points for this one for its notes of nectarine and floral quality. $51
For more information about Domaine Chandon, visit www.chandon.com.