It’s not hard to miss. The towering chateau of Domaine Carneros along Highway 121 between Sonoma and Napa beckons you to come through its gates, have a seat upon its grand terrace and drink in all that wine country has to offer – literally.
Domaine Carneros will pamper your senses. As you arrive and ascend the gently sloping steps to the reception room, you are transported into a realm of luxury that’s reminiscent of France or Italy. Yet, it’s still California, and the sun is shining golden on the surrounding hills and the air is soft and soothing.
Once seated, you will be presented with a bevy of tasting options, including wine and food pairings. Known for its sparkling wine, Domaine Carneros boasts a sparkling wine sampler more $30 that offers a flight of four of its wines, including its popular Brut Rose. Your server will walk you through all the options and provide as much information about the wine and food as you want.
Included in those options is the winery’s Pinot Noir vintages, a varietal that grows well in the Carneros region because of the coastal influence. The pinot can be paired with a Red Wine Cheese Plate, which includes cheeses selected to enhance the wine experience.
The winery is also known for its caviar selection. You can choose from three caviar by Tsar Nicoulai or select a flight and try all three.
Winery staff continually searches for new foods to pair perfectly with Domaine Carneros wines, said Phoebe Ullberg, director of marketing. Staff also continually works to build their knowledge by doing comparative tastings on their own to learn more about how Domaine Carneros wines stand out.
Part of the secret to its success is the longevity of its staff. Its winemaker, Eileen Crane, has been at the helm since Domaine Carneros got its start in 1987 – 30 years ago. Many other staff members have stayed with the company for 15 to 20 years developing deep relationships, collective knowledge and memory and a family spirit that permeates the winery.
Though the winery has an impressive physical presence, it is not a big place. In fact, it’s the second smallest sparkling wine maker in California. But its relatively small production does not deter from its status as a destination point.
To accommodate its visitors, the winery is enhancing its seating area. The new “Le Jardin d’Hiver,” or The Winter Garden, ready in the spring, will provide seating for 60 off the north-facing side of the main building in a partially enclosed space perfect for all seasons.
In the meantime, while the fall is upon us, it is a perfect time for an outdoor experience. Domaine Carneros requires reservations for tastings and tours. Tastings begin at 10 a.m. every day and are available until 5:30 p.m.
Specialty tastings include a Chips and Dip experience, which pairs three wines with caviar for two, and a Connoisseur’s Tasting, an elevated tasting experience, which allows an educator to discuss six of the wines paired with cheeses and smoked salmon.
Tours, which include a behind-the-scenes look at the traditional sparkling winemaking method employed by Crane and her staff, plus tastings of sparkling and red wines, occur three times a day with a reservation.
Wine club members receive discounts on tours, tastings and access to a private tasting room when visiting the winery.
For reservations, wine club information and more, go online to domainecarneros.com or call 800-716-BRUT (2788).