Probably one of Napa’s grandest and most regal wineries is Domaine Carneros. Perched on a hilltop overlooking Carneros and Highway 121, you’ll find an elegant château, an ode to sparking wine’s French heritage and an experience that will feed your romantic fantasies of wine country.
Feeling up to speed with “Méthode Champenoise” after my visit to Reims and Épernay earlier this year, I was excited to see what a little French influence can do for Napa Valley. Domaine Carneros is of course jointly owned by the famous Champagne brand, Taittinger (Tattanjay) and the Kopt family (owners of wine marketing company Kobrand).
The wow-factor is certainly the château, a replica of the Taittinger château in Champagne, France. A glorious terrace wraps around the building, leaving plenty of room for seated tastings outside in Napa’s often warm weather. Inside, an elegant salon seemingly ready for a royal visit is also a haven for tastings.
Mike, our guide for the “Art of Sparkling Wine” tour, excitedly announced the harvest was only two weeks away. Grapes used in the sparkling wine process, he explained, are picked earlier than grapes intended for still wines in other parts of Napa and this year had been warmer than usual. Plenty of pickers palettes were lined up in the back ready for action.
From the vineyard, to the production and bottling lines, Mike took our group through the sparking wine making process. Geared to educate, there are plenty of live and historic demonstrations to fully understand the complicated blending and fermentation process these wines undergo. I was also impressed to learn that despite being producing a fair amount of cases, (They produce 80,000 cases per year) four out of their five vineyard properties are certified organic.
I was curious to know whether it helped to have a famous French parent with a lot of experience. Mike stressed that the Taittinger winemakers are very involved and often visit to share knowledge.
Like the French Champagne houses, the wines undergo their second fermentation here at the château, which can house between 5-7 million bottles at any one time. Any bottle of Domaine Carneros, like its counterparts in France will have been aged on premises between 3-9 years for its second fermentation in bottle before finally being prepared for distribution.
What I liked most was the grandeur of the château that transports you from just an ordinary winery experience, to something elegant with an almost royal French flair. The tasting experience is extremely well organized with a welcome from a concierge who efficiently directs guests to the tours, terrace or tasting room, depending on what they want to do. I didn’t feel the effects of any lines or crowds here, despite this being a popular winery to visit as visitors are graciously directed to the varying experiences.
The terrace is a perfect place to sit and enjoy a flight of sparkling wines, along with a caviar and artisan cheese plate or perhaps some smoked salmon. Table service is daily from 10:00 a.m. until 5:45p.m. Here, you’ll get stunning panoramic views of the vineyards around.
Thinking of proposing or celebrating an anniversary? Book the Balcony Tasting, a special private tasting with personal service for two on the château’s balcony.
9/10 Overall visitor experience
9/10 Knowledge of guide
10/10 Architecture and design, landscaping
8/10 Other experiences: Restaurant, Tours, Private tastings
9/10 Knowledge of tasting room staff
9/10 Friendliness of staff
8/10 Signage & ease of access
9/10 Quality of the wines poured
Appointment required: No appointments are required to taste but they are recommended for the tour, especially if you are traveling during weekends or holidays.
Address: 1240 Duhig Road, Napa, CA 94559
Tasting room hours: 10am-6pm daily
Tasting fee: Wines may be ordered in flights, by the glass or by the bottle and pricing depends on the wine.
The “Art of Sparkling Wine” Tours are at 11am, 1pm and 3pm daily. Groups of 10 or more by appointment only. Tour cost is $30 per person (plus tax) and includes tastings of several wines.
Good for: Sparkling wine fans, Francophiles, romantics
Wines produced: Brut Vintage Sparkling Wine, Brut Rosé, Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs, Pinot Noir.
What’s nearby: Michael Mondavi Family Estate, Acacia Vineyard, Etude Wines, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
Appellation/District: Los Carneros, Napa Valley
Contact for appointments: 1-800-716.2788 ext 150, 9-5 PST daily
Date of visit: July 15, 2013