Domaine Carneros – A touch of France in Napa Valley

Photo credit: Conde Nast Traveler

Domaine Carneros looks unlike any other winery in the valley. On a lovely and bright November afternoon, with fluffy clouds wafting past the French-inspired chateau, I was transported across the sea to the sloped hills of Champagne. The geography of Carneros even looks a little bit like Champagne, especially with the hills green and vibrant from the unusual amount of recent rain. The winery building itself is designed after the Taittenger family summer home in France, so it’s about as legit as it gets in California.

In the entry hall of the massive rectangular building, I was greeted by impeccable tile floors, a modest crystal chandelier, and the highlight of the room – an enormous painting of Madame de Pompadour in an ornate, gold frame. This place exudes posh. Tastings are conducted both indoors and out, and while the indoor space evokes feelings of high teatime, I recommend the outdoor space. Not only do you get to enjoy the wraparound terrace, and hillside vineyard views, but you’re also joined by inquisitive Brewer’s blackbirds bathing in the fountain or begging for crumbs. 

I must admit that I was not impressed by the wine. There are four flights to choose from, two all-sparkling options and two sparkling/still options. I chose the standard mixed flight – Brut, Brut rosé, “Avant Garde” pinot noir, and “Estate” pinot noir. Both sparkling wines are traditional method by technique, aged on the lees for at least 12 months, with extremely aggressive mousse. Those sparklers are no joke. The brut tastes like a mildly bready limeade that punches you in the face with the bubbles and high acidity. The rosé is more subtle with hints of red fruit, camomile, and white blossom but still much too aggressive to be truly enjoyable. The two pinots were perfumed and floral, with bright red berry fruits on the nose. Yet, both pinots had flabby structure and, if I closed my eyes, I could have been just drinking raspberry water. The Estate pinot had slightly more tannic structure and higher acid, but wasn’t enough to save it, plus the flavors tasted almost artificial. 

The service is standoffish, in line with the prim poshness of the aesthetic. Each server has at least ten tables, and there have to be at least 80 tables total, each table always occupied with constant turnover. There were easily 200 people there during my mid-week afternoon visit. I’m a firm believer that there is an audience for every winery, even if it’s not me. So visit Domaine Carneros if you want to pretend that you’re in France, want to be left alone to drink and enjoy the sunshine, and aren’t a picky drinker! Cheers to finding the right winery for you.

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