After Jill & Michael’s wedding, I had the Sunday afternoon free, before I returned to San Francisco, and thence to London on Monday morning. I knew I wanted to do something wine-related, and it had to be on the way from Calistoga to the city. And the time pressure meant that I could only visit one winery.
So I chose Domaine Chandon as it’s only sixty miles north east of San Francisco, so a perfect pit stop en route. And because I’m interested in the process of making méthode champenoise wines and I had heard that the setting was beautiful.
And it is. From the moment you get out of your car, you are in the tree-shaded grounds.
You walk over a bridged lake and towards the winery, under the lilac garlanded pergola
and out of the direct sunshine into the cool, dark visitors’ center. I wandered around the tasting area and grounds before deciding to take a winery tour.
Be warned, they do not exactly publicise the tours. There’s small sign on the counter of the wine shop, and there they sell tickets. Tours are timed, so I suggest checking n on arrival – the wine shop is at the entrance of the main building so you can’t miss it.
A cheery English girl took us out to the main winery buildings– which you can only enter as part of a tour,
(nothing makes me chirpier than getting to go where I can’t normally), showing us the bottling plant, vats, and casks, explaining the whole wine making process and ethos behind Domaine Chandon as we went. It can be summed up as “showcasing the rich fruit flavors of California’s regional character by using centuries-old champagne methods and traditional grape varieties.” The varieties in this case are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, the traditional varietals of French Champagne, which have been developed here at Chandon for thirty years.
There was lots of possibility to ask questions, and the group of around fifteen was all at different levels of expertise, so it felt neither at entry level, nor so sophisticated we couldn’t grasp the terminology. I don’t think there is much point in visiting & not taking a tour. Without it, you’d just be quaffing wines, but with no real grasp of the thinking behind the wines or their terroir.
And of course, there is the excellent Domaine Chandon wine shop to explore on the way out. The majority of the bottles can only be bought on site, and those which are available elsewhere are either only supplied to restaurants or for sale at prices far higher. I adore sparkling red wines, so I indulged myself with two bottles, which came back to the UK, wrapped snuggly in plastic bags and cashmere in the depths of my suitcase. A little piece of Napa in London.
1 California Drive
Yountville, CA 94599