Northern California has a near twin of the famous Champagne region of France
where the most elegant sparkling wine in the world got its start and its name.
In California, the Carneros region duplicates the climate and soil conditions
of Champagne, France. This perfect spot is located in an area, which bridges Napa
and Sonoma counties. The Taittinger family brought their French sparkling wine
expertise to a piece of property here they named Domaine Carneros. The winery
and visitor center is located in an elegant French style chateau that dominates
a hill overlooking the valley.
Domaine Carneros produces three sparkling
wines, which are blends or cuvees of special grapes grown in vineyards right on
the property. The Chardonnay grape stock goes into their premier sparkling wine
called Le Reve, which in French means "The Dream." Pinot noir grapes
are blended with the Chardonnay for their highest production brut style wine.
Even more pinot noir goes into the rose sparkling wine.
the grapes are mechanically pressed. The juice is poured into large stainless
steel tanks and then yeast is added to start the fermentation process, which yields
the famous bubbles. The wine is poured into bottles, topped with a simple metal
cap and aged for up to five years. When it's time to finish production, the bottles
go through a process called riddling where they are turned slightly several times
a day until the yeast debris settles into the neck of the bottle. Long ago this
riddling was done by hand, giving each bottle a gentle turn but the process was
tiring and consuming. Today mechanization has turned the riddling process from
a two-week chore to just four days by machine.
After riddling, the yeast
debris needs to be removed from the wine by freezing the neck of the bottle then
removing the cap. The pressure in the bottle pops the icy yeast plug out. A small
amount of liquor made up of sugar and wine is added to each bottle of wine. This
process called dosage finishes the wine by smoothing and sweetening the flavor.
Then each bottle is corked, labeled and boxed before being sent out for distribution
or up to the visitor's center for customers to buy direct from the winery.
Domaine Carneros the Brut sparkling wine has the largest production run of about
32,500 cases each year. It can be purchased at stores across the country offering
fine wine. The winery produces just 4,000 cases of the Le Reve appellation and
only 2,500 case of the Rose. These two sparkling wines are available for sale
only at the winery visitor's center.