Love invites to wine and dine with winemakers, and this one was right up there with the best:
A day trip to Napa and a leap of faith led Zak Miller, winemaker at Domaine Carneros, on a journey from field research in forestry science to the vineyards of California, Chile and New Zealand to learn all he could about winemaking. And another leap, joining Domaine Carneros over a decade ago, saw his deep respect and fascination for the Pinot Noir grape blossom into a surprising love affair with chardonnay working alongside Eileen Crane, Founding Winemaker and “America’s Doyenne of Sparkling Wine.” As winemaker at Domaine Carneros, Zak oversees the day to day operations of sparkling winemaking.
On behalf of Zak…we’d like to extend an invitation to join him for an intimate dinner of award-winning, estate Carneros sparkling and still wines…at Avra Beverly Hills.
Tucked in the back of the swanky Avra Beverly Hills restaurant, Zak Miller sat alone at a table for five waiting for four ladies of the pen, the wine pen, to arrive. Though the restaurant was a bit high-status, along with Miller’s pedigree, Miller was not. Affable, friendly and open from the moment he stood to say hello to the end of our time together, roughly two hours, I came away armed with plenty of info to share from our “bubbly” time together. (If you just want to see more photos, go here.)
I had received a large file of past and current press releases from the winery and I have abbreviated some of that below. Before that I will share what we talked about and my notes on both the still and sparkling wines we sampled. This is what I learned from Miller firsthand, we absorbed more (in more ways than one – lol) during the tasting:
- This is Miller’s 12th harvest with Domaine Carneros. He had experience winemaking for Saintsbury in Napa, as well as wineries in New Zealand and Chile.
- The winery is striving to be 100% Estate Vineyards, they currently have 400 acres. They have long relationships with growers in Carneros for some of their fruit.
- It takes roughly 10 years from harvest to release for each vintage.
- The “Chateau” in Carneros is a replica of Champagne Taittinger official residence, the Chateau de la Marquetterie. Taittinger founded Domaine Carneros in 1987.
- They use up to 13 Chardonnay clones in the sparkling wines.
2012 Le Reve Blanc de Blancs
2012 was a big harvest according to Miller. The bottle, the only one with embossing and a different all over shape, will be hard to find except in fine restaurants. A little over $100 a bottle and made with 100% estate grown Chardonnay. I got aromas of crisp yellow delicious apple, Brie cheese, rye toast and a mild salinity. In the mouth I got that same bright apple, pear, pink grapefruit and plenty of citrus. $115 a bottle.
2015 Brut Cuvee
This wine – 51% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir and 2% Pinot Gris – spent 36 months in barrel. Notes of white peach, cream, white pepper and green grass on the nose with fresh fruit cocktail and hard red apple candy on the palate. $36 a bottle.
2016 Estate Pinot Noir
They make about 12 thousand bottles of Pinot Noir per year. This vintage used 15 of their 16 Pinot Noir clones, all estate. Loved the aroma of black cherry, stems and must as well as the flavor of both red and dark cherry, black currant and toasted oak. Well balanced fruit and tannin. After twenty minutes the wine further improved and showed more of that dark fruit I liked. Nicely done for only about $30 a bottle for a Napa Pinot.
Cuvee de la Pompadour
This blend of 59% Pinot Noir and 41% Chardonnay had only been macerated with the skins on for a few days before draining off. Miller wanted the color but not the tannins from the Pinot. He felt that a heavy Pinot influence makes the sparkling “bastardized.” Yellow cling peaches, raspberries, golden raisins and a hint of flint greeted me on the nose, followed by raspberry, red cherry and just a tad of cheddar. $42 a bottle.
From Domaine Carneros (Abbreviated)
Some history: Founded in the Carneros appellation of Northern California by the Champagne Taittinger family, Domaine Carneros is a small grower producer of ultra-premium Carneros Sparkling wines and limited production Pinot Noirs. Thirty years after the winery’s inaugural harvest, Domaine Carneros has become the benchmark for California Sparkling wine, reflecting both the individuality of the Carneros’ terroir and the craftsmanship of its French legacy.
The Chateau: Completed in 1989, the 18th century château-style building was architecturally inspired by the historic Château de la Marquetterie owned by Champagne Taittinger in the Champagne region of France. Situated atop a knoll and overlooking endless rolling vineyards, the elegant property is an iconic Northern California landmark. The château houses the winery’s facilities as well as beautiful salons for visitors and wine club members.
The summer of 2018 marks the completion of the highly-anticipated and beautifully-designed Jardin d’Hiver – a conservatory-style addition to the north terrace of the renowned Domaine Carneros château, which will allow guests to immerse themselves in the beauty of Carneros and surrounding vineyards while being shielded from the weather.
Winemaker Zak Miller: It was his first harvest in Napa Valley at Saintsbury Vineyards that gave him a deep respect and fascination for the ever challenging Pinot Noir grape. Eager to continue learning, he traveled to New Zealand and Chile to hone his craft. Returning to northern California wine country in 2008, Miller joined Domaine Carneros with the goal of continuing to evolve his skill with pinot noir working closely with TJ Evans and his still wine program at the chateau. Or so he thought.
Working alongside Founding Winemaker, Eileen Crane, opened to Miller a new realm of possibility in winemaking – sparkling wines – and he hasn’t looked back since. Through Crane and the Domaine Carneros team, he developed a deep appreciation for the versatility of both pinot noir and chardonnay in sparkling winemaking and the great skill required to craft beautifully balanced, elegant yet complex wines. And through his work as a sparkling winemaker, he grew to love a variety he admittedly didn’t gravitate toward originally – chardonnay – which provides the base for what he feels is its finest expression (and a personal favorite), Blanc de Blancs.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.