Surprisingly, in all my visits to Napa Valley when I was living in Northern California Wine Country my first two years, I had not visited Domaine Chandon. It wasn’t until one of my closest friends came to Napa for her wedding (aka “elopement ceremony”) and we went wine tasting the following day.
Domaine Chandon is located in the Napa Valley and practices the traditional French sparkling winemaking practices established by their French Champagne house founders centuries ago. The history of champagne dates back to the late 1600’s with its discovery by none other than Dom Perignon. In the mid 1700’s, Moet and Chandon was founded by Claude Moet in Champagne, which ultimately acquired the Benedictine Abbey. In the 1970’s the chairman of the board of the parent company of Moet-Hennessy looked to California expansion and Domaine Chandon was born, with its first release in 1976. In 1977, the visitor center opened, making it the first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the U.S.
Chandon has 1,000 acres in Yountville, Carneros, and Mount Veeder that impart their own characteristics in the soil — important elements in both still and sparkling wine production. The regions’ characteristics are:
- Yountville – slightly warmer climate produces riper Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, contributing to the richer more robust style of the reserves
- Carneros – one of the best grape growing regions in California, the cooler region produces excellent Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
- Mount Veeder – Known for the steep, well drained slopes on the Mayacamas Range, produces small, intensely flavored Chardonnay grapes
The three main grapes that go into sparkling wine might surprise some – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are pretty mainstream, but the Pinot Meunier is a unique one to many California wine lovers. It’s a close relative of Pinot Noir and is the most widely grown grape in the French Champagne region. The flavor is similar to a Pinot Noir but is said to be a bit earthier, with almost a nutty flavor.
Domaine Chandon offers an excellent tour which I highly recommend as the grounds are beautiful and it was very interesting to learn about sparkling wine production. If you are interested in just a tour with no tasting, it is $12. The sensory tour and tasting has gone up to $32 (it was $30 when I was there). I highly recommend this tour as you get a private sit down tasting of five wines — it’s a very pleasant and interactive environment.
Once you’ve completed your tour, there are several tasting flights to choose from. We did the Brut flight which was pre-chosen for our group. Chandon features California Sparkling Wines, their exclusive wines (limited production), their Etoile collection which is a highly coveted cuvee, and their still wines one of which was included in our tasting flight.
After finishing your tour and tasting, make sure to check out the art that fills the grounds, Salon, and Etoile Restaurant. The art exhibits feature local artisans’ work and if there is something you are interested in, we were told everything was for sale.
I am not sure whether he is still there or not, but James was our tour guide. He is very knowledgeable, personable, and one of the better winery guides I’ve had during my travels. If Brock still works in the Salon, he’s another fun one! He will help in selecting the perfect wines to take home with you.
1 California Drive
Yountville, CA 94599