Every time I travel to California Wine Country I undergo a lot of internal tussling. Honestly long before I even book a flight I’m thinking about where I want to go to taste wine. There are of course hundreds of options. But making the choice even tougher is the lure of old favorites, sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear like a comfortable, well known angel. There’s something to be said for revisiting something you love, particularly the attraction of new vintages. On the other shoulder sits the unknown. This angel doesn’t look familiar but he whispers to me about unusual delights that I have yet to experience. In the end I try to strike a balance between the two with the unknown angel getting a little more of my attention. Each trip I also attempt to come up with some places I have been meaning to visit but somehow have managed to elude me. I visited one such spot a couple of days ago, Domaine Carneros. I’ve driven past Domaine Carneros more often than I could possibly count, and I’ve had some of their wine before. But for one reason or another I was always passing by on my way somewhere with a clock ticking. I had a 3 PM appointment for a tour and tasting and I arrived in their entryway just before that and was warmly greeted. Moments later a gentleman by the name of Jean Claude came over and introduced himself. He was our guide for the tour, and so much more. I’ve been on many wine tours and it was immediately obvious that this was going to be a noteworthy one. Jean Claude has a passion for his subject, an ability to read his audience that many don’t posses, and enough personal warmth to fill a room. The tour I was on had a total of 10 people on it; Jean Claude managed to connect on some level with every one of them. Along the way he showed us around the facility and told us about the history of Domaine Carneros as well as the Carneros appellation itself. We tasted a quartet of Sparkling Wines on our journey, from their most widely available release, to wines that are a bit harder to come by on store shelves. In short a well planned cross section of their Sparkling Wines. In an engaging and easy to follow manner that never spoke down to anyone Jean Claude went through the production of Sparkling Wine. As we did this we made our way through the facility and saw different parts of it. It was an A to Z on Sparkling Wine that provided good basic knowledge for a newer wine lover but also a level of detail that would hold the attention of a more veteran taster.
When we were finished with the Sparkling wines we sat down in a lovely bar area and Jean Claude guided us through a trio of Pinot Noirs from the Portfolio. He spoke about these as well and we enjoyed them alongside a light snack of nuts.
At the end of the tour I was lucky enough to get a chance to spend time with still Winemaker TJ Evans. He poured me an additional sparkling wine I had yet to taste and then we headed to the barrel room. Once there TJ showed me some lots of wine with varying age on them. Some were specific clones and others a blend of more than one. I was able to get a real window into his winemaking philosophy and where the Pinot Noir Program at Domaine Carneros is headed. In his time there he’s added a few releases to the line and it looks like he’ll continue to tinker and add things when he feels the fruit justifies it. After going through some barrels TJ showed me some older wines. While he didn’t make the 2000 and 2001 Pinot Noir he poured for me tasting them was an eye opener as he’s working with the same vines. It’s clear that the fruit those vines produces can make Pinot Noir which has the ability to age.
Taking a tour at Domaine Carneros costs $25 and lasts approximately 90 minutes. In that time you’ll learn quite a bit about the Estate, their wines, Sparkling Wine and Pinot Noir in general and Carneros. We tasted seven wines in that period and they were well spaced out with plenty of time to enjoy and contemplate them. Domaine Carneros is a beautiful property and they make terrific wines, both still and sparkling. If you’re going to be in the Napa area, don’t wait as long as I did, get to Domaine Carneros, it’s well worth your time, effort and money. I should also note that if you don’t have time for a tour there are also numerous tasting options available as well. Check their website for details. My initial instinct was right on, this was a noteworthy tour and visit.