Monday, November 28, 2011

The Tour at Domaine Carneros

After our stop at Whitehall Lane, we were off to Domaine Carneros. The tasting room and production facility is located in an enormous château modeled after the Château de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France.

In the late 1970’s, Claude Taittinger, the president of Champagne Taittinger, wanted to find a site to produce wines in America in the same style as his winery in Champagne, France. The search for land was on, and in 1987 Champagne Taittinger (led by Claude Taittinger), along with partner Kobrand Corporation, selected a 138 acre land parcel in Carneros to form Domaine Carneros. For a little more (and pretty interesting family background), you can go here and read about the Taittingers.

Since Domaine Carneros was founded, the lead winemaker has been Eileen Crane (selected by Claude Taittinger), and she is still in charge of operations and overseeing the winemaking and exactly when the wines are ready to be bottled.

Domaine Carneros is known for their remarkable sparkling wines, especially their Brut Vintage and ultra-bubbly cuvée Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs.

In the winery’s beginning, they sold their Pinot Noir fruit to other area wine makers for many years. Since the wines being produced from these grapes were top-notch, by 1992, Domaine Carneros decided to begin making their own Pinot Noir.

All of the Domaine Carneros wines are from the Carneros Appellation, and 95% of the grapes are estate grown. All of Domaine Carneros estate vineyards have been has been certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers organization since April 2008.

We opted to take the "Art of Sparkling Wine" Tour (which is $25 per person plus tax) and offered daily at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. This is the winery's signature tour and demystifies the creation of sparkling wine in the traditional method. The tour took us from the vines and then into the Chateau, while we were poured three different sparkling wines, and given a background on each. 

As I mentioned, the tour begins in the vineyard. Our knowledgeable tour guide was Al. He knows pretty much everything there is to know about Domaine Carneros, but that's because it's not his first day on the job. Al has been with the company numerous years.

We all gathered in the first room for a tasting of their Brut Cuvée Sparkling Wine.
The Domaine Carneros Brut Cuvée is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay and vintage dated each year. All of the grapes are Carneros, and the wine is aged in the bottle for three years before release. 

These cages are used to gradually get the yeast down into the neck of the bottle so that it can be removed. This process is called riddling. This used to be done manually, by rotating the bottles on a riddler like the one pictured below.

The second sparkling wine we tried was the Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs.
The term Le Rêve translates to “the dream” in English.

This cuvee was was fashioned from Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, and it is a white wine made from white grapes, also known as a Blanc de Blancs.

The Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs is generally 100% Chardonnay and is aged 6 years prior to release. We were amazed at the amount of bubbles in one glass! It was magnificent on the palette.

Here's another shot of the production line.

The last sparkling wine we tasted (not pictured) is my favorite: the The Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour.  It has so many favorable qualities: elegant, crisp, festive, and the antique pink color!

It was made to celebrate Madame de Pompadour (the great courtesan and mistress of Louis XV) who first introduced sparkling wine to the court at Versailles, and who is quoted as saying, “Champagne is the only wine a woman can drink and remain beautiful.”

This Rosé is a balance of 58% pinot noir and 42% chardonnay. Domaine Carneros obtains their Rosé's color and flavor using two methods: first, by allowing part of the pinot juice to spend several days in contact with the grape skins. (This is how many other non-sparkling rosés are made.) Secondly, a small amount of pinot noir is added back to adjust color and flavor.

Although it is pink in color, this Brut Rosé is not sweet. It pairs very nicely with salmon, duck, brunch foods like quiche, brie en croute, and even fresh berries.

At the end of the tour, we were introduced to Domaine Carneros' portfolio of red wines. I liked them, too, but I was really there for the bubbly. I think it's my favorite because it's so festive. Now, my BF likes the Domaine Carneros the Pinots even better than the sparkling wines, and so a hefty purchase was made. One good thing about the tour is that you get 15% off per case when you buy.

The view from the stairs right after our tour.

We were strays from the tour and Al even helped us load up the car. I was trying to get him to sing (to no avail), which he told us he is banned from doing while working. ;)

If you visit Domaine Carneros, the main château and terrace are open from 10:00am to 6:00pm daily.  The last service of the day is at 5:45 p.m. If you do a tour, call ahead of time and make a reservation. I know it is hard to do when you are in Napa and sticking to a schedule is the last thing you'd probably want to do, but this tour is really worth it!

Their facebook page is located here, and you can follow them on twitter here.

And so it was off to The Meritage and dinner at Siena!

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