Interview with Remi Cohen CEO of Domaine Carneros Winery.
Domaine Carneros is a Napa Valley winery in a breathtakingly beautiful château, best known as a small grower-producer of méthode traditionelle sparkling wine and Pinot Noir grown on their estate vineyards.
Founded by the family behind Champagne Taittinger, Domaine Carneros was established in 1987 when Claude Taittinger selected a 138-acre parcel in the heart of Carneros, Napa Valley, wisely choosing Eileen Crane to oversee the development of the Taittinger style in Carneros. In 2020, after 33 years, Crane passed the torch to Remi Cohen to carry on the Taittinger tradition of female leadership.
The heart of Domaine Carneros has always been their méthode traditionelle sparkling wines, with distinctive styles ranging from the classic vintage-dated Brut cuvee to our luxury Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs. In 1992 they added rich, complex Pinot Noir to their portfolio and their passion for exceptional sparkling and still wines continues to grow.
All of their wines proudly hail from the Carneros appellation, and 100% of fruit comes from their six estate vineyards comprising 400 acres. Guests and members visit for tableside service on their beautiful terrace overlooking the vineyards or in the chateau salon to savor the spirit of the Northern California wine country. We interview Remi Cohen, CEO of Domaine Carneros Winery to learn more.
What type of wine do you specialize in?
Remi Cohen: Domaine Carneros is known for its méthode traditionelle sparkling wines and still pinot noirs grown on our estate vineyards.
What’s a popular tasting experience?
Remi Cohen: ‘Bubbles & Bites- The Art of Sparkling Wine Pairing’ is a curated food and wine pairing that highlights the versatility of sparkling wine by pairing with the flavors of cuisines from around the globe.
The tasting is a seasonal menu of four savory and one sweet bite, each of which has been specially designed to pair with four of our top Carneros sparkling wines – Ultra Brut, Estate Brut Cuvée, Brut Rosé, and Verméil Demi-Sec.
The current menu brings out the depth and vibrancy of regional Mexican cuisine, and we’re heading to Morocco with our next menu beginning November 1. Led by our most seasoned wine educators, this experience will open your eyes to a new side of sparkling wine.
What makes your wine unique?
Remi Cohen: All of our wines proudly hail from the cool climate Carneros appellation, and all of our fruit comes from our six sustainably-farmed estate vineyards comprising 400 acres. With the influence of our owners, the Taittinger family from Champagne, all of our California sparkling wines are produced using the exacting méthode traditionnelle.
Our vintage-dated sparkling wines are aged in the bottle for at least three years, while Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs is aged a full six years. Even three years is a rarity among sparkling wine houses, but the extra time on the lees (spent yeast cells) yields the rich complexity, seamless balance, and delicious mouth-feel for which Domaine Carneros wines are known and loved.
After an incredibly successful career spanning 42 years, noted sparkling wine industry pioneer Eileen Crane, CEO and head winemaker at Domaine Carneros, stepped down from her role in 2020. She passed the torch to new sparkling winemaker Zak Miller, who has worked since 2008 with Eileen as a member of the winemaking team.
Zak is at the forefront of daily sparkling operations ranging from harvesting, cuvée blending, and tirage, seeing it all through the final sparkling wine process of disgorging.
Remi Cohen: Everyone knows we’re a sparkling house, but what they don’t know, is that we’ve been making Pinot Noir since 1992.” – Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Winemaker, TJ Evans.
In 2003, we furthered our investment in Pinot Noir with the addition of a state-of-the-art still winemaking facility that features 18,000 feet of solar panels.
We currently have 18 different clones of Pinot Noir planted throughout our six Carneros AVA vineyards, which TJ uses to produce a diverse array of classic blends, single-vineyard expressions, and unique clonal expressions. “Clones are really important,” he says. “The dirt is the arbiter of quality, but the clone is going to express the personality of the wine.
Each block of Pinot Noir is grown, picked, fermented, and aged separately. TJ takes a traditional winemaking approach; all grapes are handpicked at night when it’s cooler, processed as gently as possible, and aged in French Oak barrels for 10-16 months. “My philosophy is, let the wine express itself,” says TJ. “Just as a winemaker’s path is shaped by happenstance, opportunity, and luck, you have to let a wine find its own way.
Do you have a favorite story about working at your winery?
Remi Cohen: I started working here in August of 2020 in the middle of the pandemic and before the fires that occurred in the region that year.
I am so grateful for the strength of the talented team of people who work here in all aspects of our business, from grape growing and winemaking to hospitality and marketing, and all of the supporting roles. This team has brought an incredible amount of innovation and success by meeting all of the challenges with diligence, creativity, and a dedication to excellence.
While it has been challenging, this has been one of the most rewarding and inspiring teams I have ever had the opportunity to work with.
What’s Your Current Favorite Food and Wine Pairing?
Remi Cohen: While I love all of our wines, for me, working at Domaine Carneros is my dream job so I will choose Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs, which means ‘the dream’ in French as my favorite. Le Rêve is our tête de cuvee crafted from 100% estate grown Chardonnay, made in homage to Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne and named after the realization of Claude Taittinger’s dream to create a sparkling winery in California.
This wine pairs well with just about anything, but its prestige is a great match for lobster. One of our most highly anticipated events is our Le Rêve and Lobster summer dinner series.
We also love this wine with Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam triple cream cheese, which is produced by our friends and longtime partners Cowgirl Creamery from organic, single source, forage-based milk.
A creative pairing would be brown butter scallops with risotto.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?
Remi Cohen: Sustainability has been an important tenet of Domaine Carneros Winery since 1987. Every three years, we set measurable goals and reevaluate them annually to ensure that we are living as lightly on the land as possible, while producing fantastic grapes and wine.
We hold both the Napa Green Land and Napa Green Winery certifications for our numerous efforts in water and energy conservation and waste diversion. We reclaim two-thirds of our water and through innovative packaging recycling and composting programs, Domaine Carneros is able to keep 90% of its waste out of landfills.