One of the more impressive front doors in Napa.
Sometimes you just don’t appreciate a place because you see it damn near every day. Growing up in Sonoma but having close ties in Napa I would drive by the Domaine Carneros winery on an almost daily basis. I watched it get built when I was a small child and I noticed every little change in the landscaping or exterior of the French style chateux. Some days, as I made the run over from Sonoma to Napa, or vice versa, I would see this place three or four times a day.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a beautiful, stylish winery, but to be honest its “in your face” location right on Highway 121 and the countless tour buses I would see in its parking lot always gave me the impression it was a tourist trap. Then a few years ago while picking out a sparkling wine for New Year’s Eve I snagged a bottle of Domaine Carneros Brut for a steal at Safeway. Later that evening I was struck by the sophistication and elegance of the wine as well as its reasonable price. I also noticed that the label read “Domaine Carneros by Taittinger,” and before then I had no idea that this Carneros winery was owned by one of the premier French Champagne houses.
Christine and I found ourselves with some time on the recent Sunday afternoon and decided we should pay this winery in our backyard a visit. We were in Napa for the weekend and Domaine Carneros is about a five minute drive from the cottage. Walking up the 80 odd steps from the parking lot, I paused at a plaque that informed me the chateaux design is based upon a 17th century abbey press that is now the country home of the Taittinger family. After we made our way to the summit, Christine and I were greeted by a friendly host who informed us tastings were offered by table service and we were welcome to sit inside or on the expansive patio.
The view from the patio at Domaine Carneros.
I was a little disappointed by the main lobby. After the magnificent entrance, I found it to be rather small and uninspiring, but I reminded myself this is a working winery and not a real chateaux. There is also a tour that Christine and I missed and that could very well offer peeks into Domaine’s hidden elegance.
The patio is a real stunner. Even though the temperature was pushing 96 degrees, Christine and I opted for a shady table on the patio. Table service wine tasting was new for me. We were presented with a menu that offered a selection of the sparkling flight or a red wine flight featuring Domaine’s well regarded Pinot Noirs. We opted for the sparkling flight that included the Brut, Blanc de Blancs and the Brut Rosé. I was familiar with the Brut and enjoyed it as much as I had in the past. The Blanc de Blancs I found to be bit yeasty and heavy, yet this could be because it was paired in the middle with the other wines. The Brut Rosé was simply delicious. I do think the hot weather had something to do with it, but this was a wine that was just well made, exhibiting notes of strawberry and peach but with a minerality in the finish that is emblematic of wines from the Carneros region. Christine and I opted for a glass of the Rosé after our flight and Christine flirted with the idea of purchasing a bottle but we knew we’d probably be back soon.
The main lobby.
The sparkling tasting includes, from left, the Vintage Brut, Blanc de Blancs and the Brute Rosé.
Ripening Chardonnay grapes in a Carneros vineyard.
A wind machine at sunset.