Founded in 1973, Domaine Chandon was the first venture from a French Champagne house to set up shop in California. The winemaking team from Moët and Dom Pérignon were very involved in the project from the beginning, and helped finalize the vineyard selection. Although they still come over to consult during harvest, Domaine Chandon is not Champagne. They produce a more forward and fruity style of sparkling wine, flavorful and dramatic, distinctly American in character.
Even so, for the first 25 years of its existence the winery was the only sparkling wine facility in California to use all three Champagne grapes—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The majority of the fruit is sourced from cool-climate vineyards in Carneros. Chandon has been a pioneer in sustainable farming and the prevention of water erosion. Best of all, for those visitors who don’t live on bubbles alone, the Etoile Restaurant (named for their flagship cuvee) has garnered a Michelin star under Chef Perry Hoffman.
The bulk of the production consists of the Classic Brut ($18) and Blanc de Noirs ($16), which are polar opposites. The Brut is tart and fresh, with intense flavors of vanilla and green apple. Blanc de Noirs, made primarily from Pinot Noir, is stylish and charming, crammed with creamy flavors of red berries. There is a delicious Rosé ($16), focused and concentrated, and an off-dry but very well balanced Extra Dry Riche ($16) that works well with spicy food and illegal foie gras. At the top of the pyramid are the Etoile ($29), displaying a luscious profile of citrus, melon and honey, and Etoile Rosé ($34), filled with explosive flavors of strawberry and raspberry.
Under the direction of Assistant Winemaker Joel Burt, Chandon has also branched out into still wines. While the Carneros Chardonnay ($26) and Pinot Noir ($27) are both good, the Pinot Meunier ($29) steals the limelight. The wine is a study in contrasts, with flavors of dark berries, anise and minerals framed in a light and graceful texture.
For Napa tourists with palates jaded by full-bodied red wine, a visit to Chandon is a delightful experience. Set back from the traffic of Route 29, the winery welcomes 250,000 visitors each year for tours, tastings, meals in a peaceful and tranquil environment.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, which will be published in November by Lyons Press; for more information, go to www.iconicspirits.net.