In the Napa Valley, there is really one American Viticulture Area (AVA) key to the production of Napa sparkling wine: Los Carneros, in the southernmost area of Napa and Sonoma counties. Cool nights and fog from the San Pablo Bay and the Napa River allow the vines to grow chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes in the same conditions as their French counterparts grow Champagne grapes. These optimal growing conditions mean that most sparkling wines made in Napa source grapes from this AVA, and it is its location and estate vineyards here that make Domaine Carneros unique.
Driving along Highway 121, it's hard to miss the towering château of Domaine Carneros. Built in 1989 to resemble Taittinger's (the parent company) Château de la Marquetterie in the Champagne region in France, the immaculate gardens and views of the surrounding vineyards make this a popular stop. On nice days, there is table service outside where you can order flights or bottles of sparkling wine to enjoy with friends. But what makes this place so interesting is something you can't see, and may hear only a little bit about on the tour: the winemaker, Eileen Crane.
Crane is a graduate from both the Culinary Institute of America and UC Davis Enology and Viticulture program. After graduating from UC Davis, she worked her way at Chandon to an assistant winemaker position. In 1984, she was hired as winemaker and vice president of Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves to design the facility and developing its line of sparkling wines. After three years, Taittinger hired Crane to oversee the planning and development of the chateau, vineyards, and winemaking facility that currently produce its entire line of sparkling and still wines.
The 35 years of experience show in the collection of mostly vintage sparkling wines, made in a range from dry and crisp ultra-brut to a sweet demi-sec, all made from estate grown pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.
The "Art of Sparkling Wine" tour is a worthwhile introduction for those looking to learn about how sparkling wines are produced and a great way to get a taste of most of the bubbly.