Domaine Carneros Winery – Napa Valley
Ah, sitting on a terrace at a French Chateau, sipping champagne and enjoying a spectacular view of vineyards and the countryside. All of this is possible without jetting off to France when you visit Domaine Carneros Winery in Napa Valley. All, that is, except for the “champagne”, for of course you are tasting sparkling wine from the Carneros region grown and produced on the hillside estate.
Domaine Carneros was founded by renowned Champagne Tattinger of Reims, France, which purchased the 138 acre parcel in 1987 and opened the newly built Chateau to the public in 1989. The building is designed after the Chateau de la Marquetterie, an 18th century chateau in the town of Pierry, in the heart of the Champagne region of France. You can see the original Chateau here, which remains the country home and estate of the Tattinger family.
The site of the original Marquetterie was originally an abbey press house. In the 17th century Frere Oudart, the abbey’s cellarmaster, made significant contributions to refining the Champagne making process. During combat in World War I, Pierre Tattinger spent time at the chateau recovering from a heart attack suffered during combat. After the war, he returned to purchase the estate.
The rams head sculpture at the fountain and displayed on the sparkling wine labels is the symbol of the Carneros Appellation. The name comes from the Spanish word for sheep or ram. In the 1830’s this was the grazing land for the folks of General Mariano Vallejo. The Carneros is the second oldest grape growing region north of San Francisco. Today it is world-renowned for its superb Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, which contribute to Domaine Carneros sparkling wines.
Overall, the Napa estate’s design reflects much of the original French chateau, however the roofline has been reworked as one large structure, the many tall chimneys have been replaced with a solitary unit on the north end of the building and the shutters have been removed from the original design. The main difference between the French and California estates is the enormous winemaking facility housed behind the front façade where grapes are pressed, fermented, bottled, fermented again, aged and riddled all onsite. The chateau’s design vocabulary has been carried out to the production area, a nice visual nod to the architecture of the main building. It is interesting to walk out to the south terrace to view the facility – when I was there a few weeks ago, the harvest was over and hundreds of crates were stacked outside like a giant lego set.
The formal design is considerably enhanced with the elegant series of staircases leading up to the main terrace from the parking area. Sculpture, hedges, and fountains accompany your ascent and by the time you have reached the final stone balustrade, you feel like royalty entering a castle. Accessible entry is available from the upper parking area for those who might not want to tackle the four sets of stairs. Although based on European architecture of the 1700’s, this building was designed and built by local craftsmen using local materials, and houses a large solar collection system. The winery practices sustainable winegrowing and was certified as a Napa Green Certified Winery in 2014, and is also certified for Fish Friendly Farming and Napa Green Certified Land. Valley Architects of St. Helena did the primary design work.
The expansive terrace is a welcome addition to this state-side version, sprinkled with umbrellas and bistro tables where tastings take place. There is no belly-up-to-the-bar here, rather a much more civilized served seating experience. Tasting reservations are a must most of the year, dropping by on a whim in July can leave you disappointed as Domaine Carneros is understandably a very popular destination by both tourists and locals.
Wines can be tasted by the flight or by the glass, and artisan cheese plates are available. Due to some interesting Napa County regulations, neither picnics or wedding receptions are allowed on the grounds, although private events can be booked, and a special “Sparkling Suite” provides a private tasting for two and the perfect place for a special proposal. Tours of the winery are available, timing of previous visits have not yet allowed me the opportunity to join one of these, but I am planning to take the tour on my next trip to Napa.
Share of sparkling wines in US wine market in 2014
Increase in sparkling wine sales in 2014
Wine clubs are a tricky business, as each is tempting to join, but of course it is not practical to become a member every time you visit another winery. Domaine Carneros is one of the exceptions that I said “Yes!” to, and joined their Chateau Society on my second visit. My rationale was that A) Life is short and I need to celebrate more and B) Having a bottle of champagne (or sparkling wine) on hand for a quick gift is always appreciated and much more elegant than just another jug of wine. The “Classic Mixed” subscription delivers one bottle of sparkling and one bottle of red wine (Pinot Noir) to your door every other month and seems to perfectly fill my needs. I keep a bottle or two in the refrigerator so as to always be prepared. And I have discovered that keeping plenty of bubbly on hand encourages one to generously open a bottle and not hoard it for a “more important” occasion.
Domaine Carneros was an obvious choice to explore as my first winery post on Vinotecture, it has a strong visual presence and represents a mindful effort to create a shared experience that goes far beyond a production facility. While there are many interesting wineries on my radar to share with you on this site (Artesa, Quixote, Sextant, Kuleto, etc.), I am on the lookout for more – in all parts of California. So share your suggestion(s) below and tell me why you think that it is worth a visit.
Wandering around the terrace, you might see a flock of very still sheep on a low hill to the north. These are actually an art exhibit at the di Rosa Art Museum, a nonprofit public trust that houses approximately 2,000 works of art by 800 Bay Area artists. The 217 acre property includes three separate galleries, a sculpture park, a 35-acre lake, and wildlife preserve. Drop-in visitors can view current exhibitions, and reservations can be made for tours of the collection and buildings.
Domaine Carneros Winery
1240 Duhig Road,
Napa, CA 94559
Telephone: 800-716-BRUT (2788)
Domaine Carneros Winery
Here I am having my Lucy moment at one of my favorite wineries. Something you just have to do once, although wearing white capris to a grape stomping wasn't a well thought out wardrobe choice.
Although I may not be able to tell you the difference between a Malbec and a Mourvedre, there is no better weekend trip than one spent in wine country. So join the adventure as I explore California's wineries in search of interesting design and great visual experiences. Wine tasting will happen, but will not be the main focus of my posts.
Do you have suggestions for winery visits? Please let me know via Facebook or Twitter - just look for Vinotecture.