Domaine Carneros is the first California sparkling wine producer to create a separate facility to produce still wines.

The Napa-based arm of Taittinger Champagne has just broken ground for the new winery, which will sit behind the company’s present French-style chateau and match its Louis XV style.

It’s the first of the Napa sparkling wine producers to move into still Pinot production on such a scale – although many have started making still wines in response to sluggish growth in sparkling wine.

Domaine Carneros has made Pinot Noir for a decade, and sold small quantities since 1995. The winery produces three lines of Pinot, Famous Gate, Domaine Carneros, and new Avant Garde. It currently makes about 10,000 cases of Pinot Noir per year, and about 40,000 cases of sparkling wine. Managing director Eileen Crane expects still Pinot production to double to about 20,000 cases.

Although the estate’s 44 ha of vines – two thirds of which are Pinot Noir – are picked early for the sparkling wine, the vines produce excellent Pinot if their fruit is allowed to ripen.

The new winery should be completed in mid 2003, just as recent plantings of Pinot Noir in coastal California start entering production.

Pinot is a minor factor in California, with 64,00 tons crushed last year compared to 568,000 for Cabernet and 390,000 for Merlot, but many growers have planted significant Pinot Noir vineyards. Beringer Blass, for example, has planted more than 240ha in southern Sonoma.

Eileen Crane – who is ‘in it for the long term’ – expresses confidence in the demand for her wine, however.

‘People who get in it for the long term, based on fundamental strengths and careful research will do well.’

She added, ‘The Taittingers have a long-term perspective. When I was planning the winery, Claude Tattinger asked me if the materials would last 200 years.’

Written by Paul Franson in California20 May 2002