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Domaine Carneros
Napa's Luxury Sparkling Wines

By W Peter Hoyne

The French inspired estate of Domaine Carneros is a distinguished landmark in Carneros that has been crafting ultra premium méthode traditionelle sparkling wines for over three decades. This noteworthy winery and destination is situated near the crossroads of Napa and Sonoma Valley in Los Carneros, California. It serves as a symbolic beacon of accomplishments and the joint venture between the French family of Champagne Taittinger and the visionary leadership of founding winemaker Eileen Crane. In 2020, Remi Cohen acquired the reins as CEO of Domaine Carneros and has continued the legacy of defining luxury sparkling wines and estate grown Pinot Noir.

This story began in 1987 when Claude Taittinger, director of the famed house of Champagne Taittinger in Reims, France, partnered with American distributor Kobrand in purchasing a 138-acre parcel of land in the rolling, wind swept hillsides of Carneros. It took Claude almost ten years to find this ideal location with a vision of crafting “the best Blanc de Blancs in California” that would mimic the elegant expression of Champagne Taittinger. In this year, Claude also appointed Eileen Crane to lead this project and the future vision of Domaine Carneros.

Crane was raised in New Jersey and developed an appreciation for wine and Champagne at an early age because of her father’s international travels and wine cellar. She became an instructor of nutrition at the University of Connecticut before attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

Now 28 years old, Crane drove across the country to enroll in enology and viticulture courses at the prestigious University of California, Davis where many Napa winemakers began their careers. Soon afterwards, she was hired by the Napa sparkling wine facility Domaine Chandon, owned by the French Champagne house of Moet & Chandon. Crane advanced from a tour guide and was promoted to assistant winemaker under the mentorship of winemaker Dawnine Dyer.

In 1982, the Ferrer family of Spain, producers of Freixenet Cava, acquired acreage in Sonoma, Carneros. Intent on producing sparkling wine in the US, they recruited Crane in 1983 to craft sparkling wine for their new winery, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards in Sonoma. As winemaker and vice-president Crane was also responsible for overseeing the construction of the new winery.

By the time Crane was approached by Claude Taittinger in 1987 she was well adept to the task of designing and constructing Domaine Carneros in addition to her skillset as a winemaker. The architectural style of Domaine Carneros is reminiscent of a chateau in the French countryside. The design was modeled after the stately 18th century Château de la Marquetterie owned by the Taittinger family within the hillsides of Champagne.

During her 33-year tenure at Domaine Carneros, Eileen Crane became a trailblazer for sparkling wines in the US, influencing many other women in the industry. In 1992, she created a 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs tête de cuvee sparkling wine named Le Rêve “The Dream.” Crane described it as “Audrey Hepburn in the little black dress - elegant, refined, everything in balance, just the right amount of everything to complete the picture (and with a social conscious).” In the same year, Crane also heralded the release of the inaugural vintage of the acclaimed Famous Gate Pinot Noir. By 2003, Crane designed a second facility for Domaine Carneros exclusively dedicated to crafting Pinot Noir, which now has its own winemaker.

Remi Cohen came to the forefront at Domaine Carneros in 2020, after Eileen Crane’s retirement. Cohen began her academic studies as a pre-med major at UC Berkley, receiving a BS in Molecular and Cellular Biology. Fascinated by plant biology, Cohen decided to pursue a Masters Degree in viticulture and enology at UC Davis.

When I asked Remi why she attended UC Davis for viticulture she responded, “I saw the program at UC Davis and I thought that sounds so amazing. You have the agricultural component, which has all this biology, you have this chemistry component with the winemaking, there is this artistry. There is a social component that sounds really fun, a marketing component. So from the beginning it was a fact that this industry was so broad and multifaceted, I was interested in it from the beginning.” After completing her studies at UC Davis, Remi would advance her business acumen with an MBA in Finance from Golden Gate University. When I asked Remi why she pursued an MBA, she reflected saying, “Early on in my career I had wanted to be involved in all aspects of the winery. I thought that an MBA was a good showcase to a future employer, that there was a commitment to understanding the totality of the business. “

Her 20-year career in wine industry included 10 years working in Carneros as she learned to decipher Carneros terroir. According to Remi “I spent the early part of my career in the vineyards and it is still my favorite part of the industry. I love the grape growing and how the vines interface with each season and the terroir aspect of wine making is so fascinating to me.” Cohen strengthened her resume quickly progressing from harvest intern to vineyard manager to director of vineyard operations with prominent wineries including Saintsbury, Bouchaine, Merryvale and Starmont. She had thought her road to success culminated with a position as COO of Napa’s Cliff Lede Vineyards until she was recruited by Domaine Carneros to continue Eileen Crane’s legacy in 2020.

Remi realized that the position at Domaine Carneros was the right fit for her. It was “a winery that is still family owned, but runs like a business. I love the fact that Domaine Carneros is a grower producer. We farm our own land, we have over 400 planted acres. That is exciting to me to be part of a winery that has a strong and safe vineyard program, so that I can still be in touch with the farming aspect.” She also has a love for bubbles and Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, which has always been her favorite tete de cuvee. “I love the Taittinger wines. To be able to work for a family that is that prestigious in the Champagne world is exciting. “

I also asked Remi about following in Eileen Crane’s footsteps. “Getting to follow in Eileen’s footsteps is exciting. I was also impressed when Taittinger chose a woman to run to their facility in the 80’s, that was a big deal. Their commitment to diversity and women in leadership was something that I admired” along with their commitment to sustainability.

Today, Remi oversees 400 acres of estate vineyards with 125 acres dedicated to Chardonnay and 225 planted to Pinot Noir. Domaine Carneros has six estate vineyards, all in the Carneros region, which is a unique appellation that spans the southern end of both Napa and Sonoma counties.
I inquired about how Remi would describe the Domaine Carneros style of sparkling wines and how it differs from other producers. She responded, “Our wines tend to be very elegant, mineral and acid driven. They are terroir driven, we grow our own grapes so they speak of the Carneros region… Another hallmark of our style, Eileen in the early days worked with the Taittinger family to create a yeast for the second fermentation that produces really delicate bubbles. Ours are exceptionally delicate in terms of their textural component. The flavor of that yeast really highlights that kind of creamy, short bready, yeasty characteristics that are a distinct signature of the best sparkling wines of the world. Taittinger thinks very long term. “ Remi Cohen’s is destined to have a lasting future at Domaine Carneros given her dedication and passion for these iconic sparkling wines.

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