eileen crane

Eileen Crane of Domaine Carneros

This show includes Sonoma County Wine Guy Tom Simoneau who joins Barry Herbst from Bottle Barn, Steve Jaxon and co-host Dan Berger with today’s guest, Eileen Crane from Domaine Carneros. First we taste a brand new Beujolais that Dan brought, then we hear Eileen Crane tell about being hired thirty years ago to build and open Domaine Carneros and how it became one of the most famous and important wineries in the world.

domaine carneros sparkling rosé

Domaine Carneros sparkling rosé. (Click to enlarge.)

Right away they are tasting a brand new Beaujolais that Dan brought in. It is the top of the line Cru Beaujolais and the first one Dan has tasted this year. The 2015s were fabulous, and the early word is that this year’s vintage may be the best ever in the history of Beaujolais. This was a warm year. The grapes are 100% Gamay grown in granitic soil, which stays warm at night time from the day time heat, so they don’t lose acidity and they have to pick it as early as they can. Steve finds that by the third sip it is great. Dan and Tom say it would go well with pizza.

Steve introduces Eileen Crane, President and winemaker at Domaine Carneros. First, Steve takes a call from Paul in Petaluma who has kept a bottle of Domaine Carneros for 20 years and called to tell the story. In 1998 his family took him to tour Carneros winery on Father’s Day. His family bought a bottle of 1993 sparkling wine which he took back to Minnesota. He moved to Petaluma in 2011 and opened it on his birthday in 2014, when the wine was 22 years old. It was great, he says.

Eileen says that the ’93 was the second vintage of the “Le Rêve” and says that if her wines are kept away from direct sunlight they can last for 30 or 40 years.

They open a Pompadour Rosé. In the main foyer at Domaine Carneros, there is a picture of Madame Pompadour, who is famous for saying, “Champagne is the only wine that a woman can drink and remain beautiful.”

As always, Steve asks for the history and Eileen tells about Claude Taittinger who said, he doesn’t care how the name is pronounced as long as you reach for the bottle. In his early 20s, in the 1950s, he came through Sonoma and Napa and when he returned to France he told his partners that he would like to own a property in California so they eventually bought into Carneros.

Eileen Crane was hired to open Domaine Carneros, in 1987, which opened its doors in 1989. When they opened they had so much caviar that they were eating it for lunch for weeks. They had fireworks, which scared the neighboring cattle. The cattlemen protested and she replied that they had posted the notices that they were required to post, but a cattleman told her that the cows don’t read. So they have never had fireworks again after that.

As a child, she would share the wine with her family’s Sunday dinners and one day, her father opened a bottle of Champagne, which she was allowed to taste. Thus began her lifelong fascination with Champagne.

A friend had a book called The Art of Winemaking that came from UC Davis, so she called the university and was on her way to taking classes. She had a science background so she had a head start and took five classes there. Since she had also been to the culinary institute, she was hired as a pastry chef until the winery chemist offered her to work in the lab. Eileen Crane also worked at Gloria Ferrer.

Since Spring is coming she moves into drinking rosés, which she brought to the studio for tasting. Eileen explains how rosé is made and how the wine they’re tasting has a soft peach color.

Next they taste a Pinot Noir, which is a small part of their production. It is easier to be known for Sparkling wines than for Pinot Noir because there are fewer wineries making it.

They taste their Ultra-Brut which is only available at the winery. But their classic brut is available in Santa Rosa at Bottle Barn, as is the rosé tasted earlier. Steve asks Eileen for directions and she says to follow the Carneros Highway east from the town of Sonoma. It’s a chateau on the hill and you can’t miss it.

Tom says the Ultra Brut is classically dry but also has some complexity. Eileen explains that when they create the wine in the Fall they have to imagine how the wine will taste four years later, which is difficult.

The Domaine Carneros style has a pretty floral nose with stone fruit but also has a lot of body in its finish. She compared it to Audry Hepburn in a black dress.

Dan Berger says that Ultra Brut has a delicate flintiness to it that is reminiscent of Chablis, which he notes is similar to Champagne in some respects. Eileen says the Carneros style creates a minerality, which some people who come from France have said they notice. They use 90% estate grown grapes.

Barry Herbst mentions that Bottle Barn has some of their wines but many of them are sold only at the winery.

The next tasting is their Famous Gate 2014 Pinot Noir. She began with a single barrel of Pinot Noir, which Claude Taittinger tasted. He said, when you bottle that, he would sell it in restaurants and hotels in France. Dan Berger says that it has a subtle sandalwood component and violet notes that linger in the finish. “One sip gives you five minutes of joy.” It sells for $70 at the winery but there are others which are not as good that sell for more.

Dan notes that Naomi’s purchase by Constellation has forced up the price of Pinot Noir because it is now scarcer. Dan suggests a maximum of 10 years for Pinot Noir, and only to cellar it longer if you have ideal conditions. Steve says his would last about 10 minutes at his house.

Tom asks Eileen if there is one quality that defines Carneros. She replies that while their three appellations are different and have different winemakers, it is hard to separate out a single quality.

Eileen invites listeners to visit the winery. Dan mentions that the property is spectacular in its interior design, and gives his compliments to Eileen who supervised design and building.


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