How Legendary Winery Domaine Carneros Stays Modern

Anyone who’s driven Highway 121 from Napa to Sonoma will know the impressive corner where the Domaine Carneros château sits, presiding over her sprawling vineyards like the grande dame she is. For more than three decades, Domaine Carneros has produced some of the best méthode traditionnelle sparkling wine in the States. While producing classic examples of outstanding sparkling wine, the storied winery is forward-thinking in its sustainability efforts and is bringing a modern approach to delivering the Domaine Carneros experience wherever you find yourself with a glass—including for the holiday season.

A New Fresh Face

In 1987, Claude Taittinger, the third generation behind Champagne Taittinger in France went out on a long limb and purchased a 138-acre parcel of vineyard land in the heart of Carneros in the Napa Valley. He handpicked winemaker Eileen Crane to oversee the new project and it was she who created the winery’s signature style, inspired by Taittinger’s work in France. This summer, after 33 years of steering Domaine Carneros (not to mention cementing herself as the foremost woman in American sparkling wine), Crane retired, making way for Remi Cohen to take over as CEO. Cohen brings with her 20 years of experience in sales and marketing, viticulture, sustainability, and a longstanding admiration of the winery Crane built.

Cohen first realized she wanted to enter the wine industry professionally while studying molecular and cellular biology at UC Berkeley. “I had never thought of winegrowing as a career option, but it combined so many of my interests: biology, chemistry, agriculture, and marketing,” she explains. She went on to get a Masters at UC Davis in viticulture and enology and also earned an MBA from Golden Gate University. It was while Cohen was working harvest as a viticulture intern at Napa’s Saintsbury winery that she fell in love with the way a wine tells a story about the place and the people that created it. That harvest internships started her 20-year career in wine, a decade of which was spent at Lede Family Wines, most recently as COO, helping that winery fine-tune its viticulture and winemaking, as well as working to earn Napa Green certification for the winery’s environmentally friendly practices, something that’s vitally important to Domaine Carneros, as well. Crane stayed on through the 2020 vintage so that she and Zak Miller, sparkling winemaker who has worked alongside Eileen since 2008, can advise Cohen in the intricate, masterful artistry that goes into each bottle.

The Future is in the Vines

“The robust sustainability program was one of the many things that excited me about joining Domaine Carneros,” Cohen explains. She aims to further that mission. The winery is already certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Bay Area Green, Fish Friendly Farming, and Napa Green Land & Winery programs. Some of the green initiatives that Cohen’s particularly proud of are recycling cork and packaging supplies, reclaimed water use, and its extensive solar array, one of the largest in the world. And starting in 2020, its wines will be made entirely from the winery’s own fruit—from over 400 acres across six estate vineyards—allowing Domaine Carneros to have even more control over its land use practices. “With my background in sustainable farming and viticulture, I am excited about this commitment to [only working with] our own vineyards and having a year-round full-time team that sustainably farms them with care,” she explains.

Starting in 2020, its wines will be made entirely from the winery’s own fruit—from over 400 acres across six estate vineyards—allowing Domaine Carneros to have even more control over its land use practices.

In 2019, Domaine Carneros received the California Green Medal Business Award and the Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Award. Under Cohen’s leadership, the team is already expanding and upgrading the winery’s existing solar energy system to a microgrid, which will make the property more energy self-sustaining and help protect against power outages. “We also have embarked on an energy- and water-use audit to continue pushing the envelope in conservation,” adds Cohen.

New Ways to Enjoy Domaine Carneros at the Table

While Domaine Carneros has a long reputation of hospitality, Cohen has launched more seasonal food and wine experiences at the chateau. This December, a five-course tasting menu will pair five of its wines with holiday favorites such as fresh Tamales Bay oysters paired with the 2014 Domaine Carneros Jardin d’Hiver Late Disgorged Ultra Brut Cuvée, a dry, crisp sparkling wine named for the winery’s garden conservatory. And then paired with the 2017 Domaine Carneros Estate Pinot Noir, is a roasted herb and fennel-crusted pork tenderloin, which echoes the delicate spice notes and brings out the rich, red berry flavors of the wine.

With the holidays on the way, Cohen is already lining up her favorite Domaine Carneros pairings. For parties, she’ll often use the Estate Brut Cuvée, a nearly 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as a base for cocktails, like a French 75. That wine is also how she likes to start off a celebratory meal, pairing it with a triple cream cheese, such as the Mt. Tam from nearby Cowgirl Creamery. The wine’s lacy bubbles and citrus notes are a great foil for the buttery cheese.

For raw seafood courses, like tuna tartare, Cohen pours the Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé, which is lively and fruit-forward, aligning well with the flavorful fish. Cohen says this wine is bold-enough to go with heavier dishes, like grilled salmon, or roasted pork, as well.

And while Le Rêve, the winery’s tête de cuvée, made from 100% Chardonnay and aged 6 years before release, understandably pairs beautifully with classic caviar, blinis and crème frâiche, Cohen and Domaine Carneros’s sparkling winemaker Zak Miller love to match it with lobster. “The flavors are so deep and rich and they play off each other nicely,” says Miller. Lovers of decadence will be happy to know that on the five-course seasonal menu, Le Rêve is paired with lobster pot pie, upping the richness quotient with cream and a buttery crust that plays off the toasty notes of the extended aging in the wine.

Cohen and Domaine Carneros’s sparkling winemaker Zak Miller love to match Le Rêve with lobster – a decadent pairing.

The Chateau Goes Virtual

Obviously, these days, visiting the winery for a tasting isn’t within everyone’s reach. In the spirit of transporting wine drinkers to Domaine Carneros while stuck at home, the winery is offering private virtual tastings with one of its wine experts. Just order a pre-set tasting flight from their online shop or pick bottles that strike your fancy, then set up an appointment with one of the winery’s experts to walk you through it at no extra charge. The winery will even send over a Zoom background of the chateau, so you can pretend you’re really there.

This article is sponsored by Domaine Carneros.