It’s springtime in Napa Valley, the fog has parted and the sun is shining lovingly on your cheeks, brunch is settling in your belly. The air is crisp and the rolling hills are as green as can be– think Windows XP standard desktop, circa 2001– and, if you’ve planned your Napa tasting trip right, you’ve got a table at Domaine Carneros.
That’s where I found myself on a Wednesday morning in May, and my goodness, I hope that’s where you find yourself sometime soon. I’ll be covering the ins and outs of the Domaine Carneros experience to help you get there.
Domaine Carneros was established in 1987 by the same family behind Champagne Taittinger when Claude Taittinger selected a 138-acre plot in Carneros, Napa Valley. Since their first cuvée release in 1988, they have been crafting show-stopping sparkling wines in the Tattinger style.
They are a classic grower Champagne house that is dedicated to honoring the Carneros AVA in a variety of styles including vintage cuvées, blanc de blancs, and since 1992, Point Noir. But if you’re coming to Domaine Carneros, you’re probably there for the La Reve. It’s renowned by bubble heads as one of the finest méthode champenoise sparklers outside of Champagne proper. Their 2015 ranks number one in California sparkling wines.
Like a mai tai on the beach, an IPA in Portland, and a margarita in, well… Margaritaville – the Domaine Carneros chateau is where sparkling wine sipping is supposed to be.
The French-style chateau is a Napa monument that cannot be missed. Literally, you can see it perched at the top of a hill off of the scenic Highway 12, dignified and classic, beckoning bubbly lovers to come in for a taste.
Built in 1989, the chateau has the character of something much older– this speaks to Domaine Carneros’s whole vibe.
“Three words: elegant, sophisticated, timeless,” says sparkling winemaker Zak Miller, “like Aubrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Not over the top, just instantly iconic.” The chateau sends that message loud and clear, and I must note that the French-style doesn’t feel costumed– it’s just as authentic as it is beautiful.
You’ll park at the bottom of the hill and climb up the stairs to the chateau, which towers above. The experience starts here! I recommend coming a bit early to take your time walking up, there are tons of Insta-worthy moments as you head up the hill. (See ours here!) The gentle stairway is lined with vines on either side, there are fountains, sculptures, and epic views of the chateau and surrounding hillside – not to mention the undulating hills of the Carneros AVA, right where Napa meets Sonoma.
The inside of the joint is pristine marbled majesty, surrounded by a manicured patio. I sat in the Glass Room, which is all windows (yes, even skylights) with understated crystal chandeliers. Every window of the Glass Room can be opened to the patio, so you really do get the best of both worlds. As the weather warms, the glass room opens. Birds wandered in from the fountains outside (oh, to be a blackbird of the Domaine Carneros estate!) and I soaked up the sun without forfeiting the crystalline reflections of the chandelier. It was… truly divine.
I went with the sparkling wine sampler (obvi.) Whether you’re a bubble monster like me or not, sparklers are a must here. The $40 sampler includes:
2018 Estate Brut Cuvee
Toasty, crispy goodness. All the classic tasting notes you crave– green apple, melon and lemon zest with hints of toasted nuts and bread dough.
2018 Blanc de Noir
100% pinot noir, round palate with lime zest, cherry blossom, lychee and toasty brioche. One bottle went home with me.
2019 Brut Rosé
Three days of maceration, filled with strawberry, lush florals, and crisp white peach. Winemaker Zak Miller’s go-to. He says “If you line up a bunch of rosés, I can always pick out ours.” (I couldn’t leave without a bottle for myself.)
2018 Vermeil Demi-Sec
Honied cherry blossom and cream on the nose, with honeycomb, ginger, and lychee on the palate. I want dollops of homemade whipped cream straight from the spoon, and that’s exactly what I’ll have with the bottle I brought home.
Wines can be tasted in flights or by the glass – take advantage of this if you can swing it. Domaine Carneros makes some exquisite premium sparklers that age for six years on the lees. I was lucky enough to get a splash of the 2015 Le Reve Blanc de Blancs, which is included in the $55 Sparkling Chateau Tasting and the $60 Grande Tasting. It’s their finest, with lemon curd and croissant dough on the nose and Budda’s hand citrus zest, poached pear, and pastry crust on the palette. Get yourself a glass… you’re welcome.
The méthode traditionnelle sparklers here are crisp, decadent, and suited for easyyyy drinking. Take your first-time tasters, bubble skeptics, besties, enemies, parents, and lovers here– the sparkling wines at Domaine are for everyone– but if you or your tasting buddy has a severe bubble-aversion, they offer a killer red wine sampler for $40.
I ordered a cheese pairing (because if cheese is on the menu, I’m getting it) and let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint. The selections change seasonally, but my plate included:
Fog Lights from Arcata, California
Domaine du Vallage from the village of Chevillon, Champagne, France
Seascape from Paso Robles, California
Rispens from North Amsterdam
If there’s one thing I learned about Domaine Carneros, it’s that they don’t phone it in. The cheeses were rich without being intimidating. The plating epitomized understated finesse– there wasn’t any need for salami roses; the cheese spoke for itself.
If you know you’ll be hungry on your tasting trip, which you most definitely will be, schedule your Domaine Carneros visit around lunch time. Get a sampler plate for a light lunch, or, better yet, a second breakfast. They offer small plates of caviar, charcuterie, charcuterie and cheese, vegan cheese, smoked salmon, and smoked sturgeon pate. Ahh, the finer things…
The Sparkling Winemaker
“The first obligation of any wine is to be delicious.” – Eileen Crane, Domaine Carneros founding winemaker.
That’s the guiding philosophy for Zak Miller, Domaine’s current sparkling winemaker– it’s printed on his business card, plain and simple. He worked with Eileen for eight years before the torch was passed over in 2020, and their styles were synergistic from the start.
Zak’s palate is tuned toward the sparkling variety now, but it didn’t start that way. The bottle that drew him into the wine world was a big red.
“It was Bonny Doon’s Cardinal Zin, ironically enough. I was in college, the artwork back then was done by Ralph Steadman– he was the artist that did Fear and Loathing. It was trippy, almost psychedelic art that was on the label. It was such a cool label, it was my first memorable bottle.”
Like his taste, the origins of Zak’s career began in still wine. He traveled to New Zealand and Chile to get two harvests in one year– a career move he recommends for all aspiring winemakers– and took the philosophies of each region with him to Carneros.
His approach to sparkling winemaking is all about the dedication to the terroir.
“We want to represent Carneros, I think that’s important. It’s not a general California wine, it’s a very specific AVA. We want to show that as a clean and pure representation of what new world bubbles can be,” says Miller. “It doesn’t have to be Champagne. We make beautiful wine right here.”
Their Booking Process
Ready to pack your bags and pop a bottle? I can’t blame you. I’m considering calling them up for Round Two right now. Domaine Carneros booking process is easy, just reach out to their concierge team through their website or call them at 1-800-716-2788 x 150.
Don’t walk, RUN to those glorious bubbles! If you need a sip of sparkle ASAP: check out today’s offer, we will get it to you on the double!
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