Bay Area Bubbles: Domaine Carneros
Just in time for the holidays, our series explores handful of wineries in the Bay Area making great sparkling wines. We stop by for a tour and tasting, dive in for a little history, and hopefully introduce you to some new bottles to stock up for the celebrations.
In the Napa Valley, there is really one American Viticultural Area (AVA) key to the production of Napa sparkling wine: Los Carneros, in southern most area of Napa and Sonoma counties. Cool nights and fog from the San Pablo Bay and the Napa River allow the vines to grow chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes in the same conditions as their French counterparts grow Champagne grapes. These optimal growing conditions mean that most sparkling wines made in Napa source grapes from this AVA, and it is its location and estate vineyards here that make Domiane Carneros unique.
Driving along highway 121, it's hard to miss the towering château of Domaine Carneros. Built in 1989 to resemble Taittinger's (the parent company) Château de la Marquetterie in the Champagne region in France, the immaculate gardens and views of the surrounding vineyards make this a popular stop. On nice days, there is table service outside where you can order flights or bottles of sparkling wine to enjoy with friends. But what makes this place so interesting is something you can't see, and may hear only a little bit about on the tour: the winemaker, Eileen Crane.
Lou Bustamante The Domaine Carneros château
Crane is a graduate from both the Culinary Institute of America and U.C. Davis Enology and Viticulture program. After graduating from U.C. Davis, she worked her way at Chandon to an Assistant Winemaker position. In 1984, she was hired as Winemaker and Vice President of Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves to design the facility and developing their line of sparkling wines. After three years, Taittinger hired Crane to oversee the planning and development of the chateau, vineyards, and winemaking facility that currently produce their entire line of sparkling and still wines.
The 35 years of experience show in the collection of mostly vintage sparkling wines, made in a range from dry and crisp ultra-brut, to a sweet demi-sec all made from estate grown pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.
Lou Bustamante The winemaking facility inside Domaine Carneros
The "Art of Sparkling Wine" tour is worthwhile introduction for those looking to learn about how sparkling wines are produced and a great way to get a taste of most of their bubbly.
Location: 1240 Duhig Road, Napa
Tours: $30, offered daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., includes tasting; reserve online here
Tastings: $16-$30 per person flights at a table or in the tasting room, and also available by the glass or bottle; table service provided
Approximate number of wines in the tasting: Five to six
Price range for sparkling wines: Most in the $28-$39 range, with special bottlings more
Yearly production (in cases): 39,000
Picnic tables/food available: No picnic tables, and only a limited food menu sereved: caviar, smoked salmon, cheese plates
Best for: Larger groups looking to linger at a table with a bottle overlooking the valley
Don't miss this on the way to visit: Boon Fly Café at the Carneros Inn for brunch (hot donut holes!)