Sitting atop a knoll in Napa Valley lays a grand chateau that embodies a French winemaker’s dream; to find a slice of California soil and bring forth something amazing.
On the cool-climate tract of land, perfect for cultivating sumptuous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, the Taittinger family of Reims, France grew their crop. And slowly, under the watchful eye of founding winemaker Eileen Crane, the sparkling wines eventually took their rightful place in the competitive world of fine wine, attracting a devoted following to the Domaine Carneros label and sparkling wines.
The chateau, which was architecturally inspired by property owned by the Taittinger family in France, has for decades become a fairytale backdrop of parties, tastings, and celebrations.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Domaine Carneros Director of Marketing Phoebe Ullberg shares the story of the chateau, the wine, and the business that embodies Domaine Carneros.
Q: Please tell me about Claude Taittinger’s dream to establish a winery in California?
In the late 1970’s, the Taittinger family identified Carneros as an ideal growing region for producing world class sparkling wines. They were also excited by the promise that they saw in the young California wine industry, so they began a search for their own plot of land, a search that lasted a decade until they found the perfect site.
Q: What made the 138-acre site ideal for sparkling wines?
The grapes for sparkling wine – predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, thrive in cool climates. The slow ripening that occurs in cooler conditions such as those in Carneros allows the grapes to retain their natural acidity which is a key element in making a quality Méthode Traditionelle sparkling wine.
Q: And how did the dream inspire the creation of the beautiful Domaine Carneros Chateau?
Our château-style building was architecturally inspired by the historic Château de la Marquetterie owned by Champagne Taittinger in Reims, France. The winery is perfectly placed atop a knoll overlooking the endless vineyard views of Carneros. With its location on a major thoroughfare entering and exiting the region, it’s become a Carneros landmark.
Q: What have been the most successful Domaine Carneros wines, and what makes them great?
When the winery was established, the Taittingers tasked Eileen Crane, our founding winemaker with making America’s finest Blanc de Blanc, a sparkling wine made with 100% Chardonnay. It took Eileen five years of trial and error to create Le Rêve– French for “the dream” which has become our tête de cuvee.
Q: In a region filled with wineries, what sets Domaine Carneros apart? And how do you attract patrons to your estate?
We were very fortunate that the Taittingers had the vision to design a stunning building, and to hire the extremely talented Eileen Crane to make its beautiful sparkling wines. These elements alone help us stand apart, but what really drives us is our mission as a company to “provide the world’s most memorable sparkling wine experience.” We do that through a combination of hospitality, education and elegance without pretention. Guests really feel transported to a European winery when they visit Domaine Carneros, the perfect setting for an afternoon spent at a table on the terrace sipping sparkling wine and nibbling caviar!
Q: How does your wine club play a role? And what incentives attract members?
Having established our club in 1997, we are incredibly fortunate to have members who have been with us for over 20 years. Our wine club members—we call them “Château Society Members,” are very important to us and we show our gratitude not only through discounts on wine and visitation, but by hosting exclusive club events, and providing them a separate tasting salon and outdoor terrace to enjoy on weekends when the main visitors center is quite busy. When visitors hear the long list of benefits members enjoy, the club sells itself!
Q: As a business, what are some of the challenges, and how have you overcome them?
In the growth from three employees to over 100, we found we needed to establish guiding principles—a mission and vision to support our strategic goals. We adopted an open-book management style … and had expert training for staff.
Q: Do you have advice for someone dreaming of becoming a winemaker?
Eileen, our founding winemaker and CEO, took the advice of Ann Noble, the first female faculty member in UC Davis’ department of Viticulture and Enology. Ann advised that an additional degree in winemaking to supplement the master’s degree in nutrition Eileen already held was not necessary, she just needed to take classes in winemaking and convince somebody that she could do it. Eileen did just that, and 40 years later is one of the most well-regarded producers of sparkling wine in the United States. The message: persevere. — Domaine Carneros uses Boxerbrand’s Metallic Tones in its table presentation. Thank you!