Texans Sure Do Like Their Bubbles: Domaine Carneros Provides
When Domaine Carneros winemaker Eileen Crane and I met for lunch last week for lunch at Houston’s RDG Bar Annie, nearly the first thing that came up in conversation was the fact that the second largest Domaine Carneros wine club was the one right here in Texas. The largest of their wine clubs was the one back on its home California turf: the winery’s 138-acre estate parcel in the heart of the cool Carneros region of Napa Valley, California.
The Taittinger family behind the world-famous Taittinger Champagne founded Domaine Carneros in California after a search for a worthy U.S. counterpart in the 1970-80s. In 1987, the location of the estate was selected followed in short order by the appointment of Eileen Crane to oversee the development of the winery and vineyards. She has garnered accolades for her winemaking skills. She is still today, the estate’s only winemaker from the inception of its operations.
International wine reviewer, investment advisor and highly credited Houston oenophile Denman Moody also attended our Bar Annie lunch. As we tasted through three of Eileen’s sparkling wines (Brut, non-vintage Rose’, and Le Rêve) Denman pounded question after question about dosage, release date, alcohol content and price point. I took a more laid back approach trying to better absorb why a lady of Eileen’s winemaking stature was doing a tour through Texas, albeit well-timed to get an advance on our soon to be hot season.
The Domaine Carneros sparkling wines were stellar:
2010 Domaine Carneros Estate Brut – Rich, substantial mouth feel, essence of roasted almonds and hazelnuts melded with lemon citrus and brioche. A value priced sparkling wine at about $30. This one get’s my acknowledgement of “Best Buy” in the sparkling wine category.
Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé NV – A Lively combo of raspberry, ripe stone fruit and citrus with underlying mineral notes. A worthy drink with a wondrous color and sparkle at $38.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs – A traditional tête de cuvee made from the chateau’s estate Chardonnay playing with yellow delicious apples, young ground ginger, brioche and pleasingly tart lemon citrus. A worthy and classic sparkling cuvée for enjoyment at the moment of a special encounter at $108.
I have to admit that I initially missed Eileen’s point about her Texas customers until later in our conversation when she reiterated the significance of the ardent following Domaine Carneros has in Texas. But, it hit home to me when she said, “Texans sure do like their bubbles”. You know something? It was over a decade ago, long before I met Eileen, when I realized precisely the same thing.
While doing research on wine drinking in Texas, I came across one very old receipt for a purchase of French Champagne by early Texas impresario, statesman and revolutionary Lorenzo de Zavala from May 18, 1831 (France – Île-de-France – Paris). Those were the days on the Texas frontier when you really had to plan ahead for a good bottle of bubbly (and hope for the best). Later, I found further evidence for the Texas love of bubbles in numerous accounts of Texans’ Champagne toasts on occasions of New Years, baby births and corporate promotions; also to mention launching of ships and celebrations of our Texas wildcatting successes, too. In their day, Texans of high society have reportedly been seen in some of the finest restaurants in the State drinking Champagne (with a certain Texas flourish, no doubt) from their lady fairs’ high-heeled slippers.
It is obvious that Eileen and her colleagues at Domaine Carneros know what Texan’s like and that Texans know their favored brands. She said, “They like brands like our that always denote quality, value and that have been consistently in the Texas marketplace for many years.”
As we received our lunch offerings, Eileen, Denman and I moved forward with a tasting to two of Eileen’s Domaine Carneros Pinot Noirs:
2012 Domaine Carneros Estate Pinot Noir – A blend of eleven unique clones of Pinot Noir, all from the Chateau’s estate vineyard. Near the cool north end of San Francisco Bay with ethereal smoky notes overlaid onto nuances of black raspberry and mineral rich soil. Plays quite well at this value price of around $36 (Just try to beat this for price and quality points).
2012 Domaine Carneros The Famous Gate – A blend of four select, estate-grown Pinot Noir clones; an artisanally-made wine with wonderful color and aromatic extraction. A sophisticated mélange of ripe red and black fruit, minerals with a soft and silky finish.
As we sipped, Eileen related a story highlighting Domains Carneros’s special relationship with Texans. She said, “Many years ago, one of our good sparkling wine customers in Texas, a guy named Bill in Dallas I as I recall. He called the chateau and asked why we didn’t make a sparkling Rosé. Well, I decided to take Bill’s lead and made a limited release; 100 cases or so. We ended up with our telemarketers getting an instant demand for the product in Texas even before we could ship this new wine into Texas. Shortly thereafter, we started to see Texans showing up at the chateau in California in their SUVs. They were coming to pick up our Brut Rosé and drive it back to enjoy in Texas.”
Eileen Crane thank you for your time for conversation and the opportunity to enjoy your wines over a very interesting and enjoyable lunch. Also, thanks for your chateau’s commitment to Texas wine consumers and for including Houston in your travel plans.