Six Unique Wine Tasting Experiences: CARNEROS

This story originally appeared in California Winery Advisor.

Carneros sits at the base of both Napa and Sonoma. In fact, Carneros is the only AVA in the United States that is located in two counties. With 8,000 acres planted, the majority of vines are planted on the Sonoma side. Carneros is a cool-climate appellation that is influenced by the San Francisco Bay. It is known for chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wine production. There are thirty wineries located in Carneros and here are six unique tasting experiences you can have to get to know the wines and the region.

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Schug | 602 Bonneau Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476

Try their wine: Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014

Every winery has a story to tell. Sign up for a tour and tasting at Schug to learn its history. Schug was started by pinot noir pioneer Walter Schug in 1980. A third generation winemaker from Germany, where his father ran the first pinot noir estate, Shug was raised on pinot noir. He applied for an internship in Bakersfield and emigrated with his family in 1961. After working for Julian Gallo, Shug went to Joseph Phelps Winery in 1970 where he created the infamous Insignia. Shug started his own label in 1980 focusing on pinot noir, and in 1989 opened the winery that you can visit today.

Located five miles south of the historic town of Sonoma, Schug Winery sits nestled into a hillside surrounded by vines. During the tour and tasting and you will learn about the history of the winery as you stand on the hill and look out at views of Carneros, Sonoma Valley and San Francisco Bay. After enjoying the views of the valley, you will head downstairs into the underground barrel-aging caves where a wine and cheese tasting will await you in the cellar. The tour and tasting, which includes five wines and five cheeses, costs $85 and only $55 if you do not want the cheese, but who would not?

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Domaine Carneros | 1240 Duhig Rd, Napa, CA 94559

Try their wine: Domaine Carneros Brut Rose Cuvee de la Pompadour

Domaine Carneros is a large European chateau that sits on the hill. Owned by the Taittinger family who makes Champagne in France, they found this sister property, an old sheep ranch, in the 1980s. The first vintage of Domaine Carneros was in 1987 and today they produce approximately 70,000 cases of primarily sparkling wine. The grapes are hand-pruned and hand-picked and they use a soft press. All of this care and delicacy are what make the array of sparkling wines of Domaine Carneros elegant.

Domaine Carneros is the perfect winery to start or end the day. Be sure to make a reservation and you will have a seat on the patio of the chateau that looks out onto the valley. You will feel indulgent as you relax with a glass of bubbles and enjoy the view. You can enjoy a flight of four wines for $30-$40 or you can order wine by the glass, or event by the bottle. You can also order a pairing of cheese, charcuterie, smoked salmon or caviar. A tour through the winery where you can see where all of the magic of sparkling wine happens can also be arranged. With all of these options, you may never want to leave Domaine Carneros.

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Cuvaison | 1221 Duhig Rd, Napa, CA 94559

Try their wine: Cuvaison Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Standing in the tasting room of a winery is not always the most comfortable way to taste wine. At Cuvaison, they take a more casual approach to tasting wine. Cuvaison was first started in 1969 and then purchased by the Schmidheiny family from Switzerland in 1979. With two-hundred and fifty acres, primarily planted to chardonnay, Cuvaison produces wines that are one-hundred percent estate fruit.

The Cuvaison tasting room is like you have walked into the Schmidheiny’s modern living room located in the middle of a vineyard. With lounge seating both inside and outside, you can take a seat and the wine tasting staff will bring the wines to you. Inside seating looks out to the vineyard through floor to ceiling glass walls, but I suggest reserving a table on the patio where it will feel like you are sitting inside the vineyard. Sit back and relax as you sip on four wines for $25 per person. There is also one more place where you can enjoy a tasting at Cuvaison, and that is in their intimate gallery. Here you can view unique screen-prints that Andy Warhol created in the 1980s after he took Polaroids of grapes in a variety of patterns.

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Artesa | 1345 Henry Rd, Napa, CA 94559

Try their wine: Artesa Carneros Chardonnay 2014

Artesa is a popular destination. Built into the highest hill of the three-hundred-and-fifty-acre estate, the avant-garde building blends in with its surrounding landscape. It is one of the few wineries where you can see the San Francisco Bay and the city of San Francisco in the distance. Artesa is owned by the historic Spanish winemaking family Codorníu Raventós, who have ten properties around the world, including eight in Spain and one in Argentina. The Codorníu is one of the largest family-owned wine companies in the world and, handed down from daughter to daughter, is currently run by the sixteenth generation of the family.

Opened in 1991, Artesa is both winery and art gallery, with original works of sculpture, painting and mixed-media by Artist-in-Residence Gordon Huether placed throughout. The three-story winery houses 4000 wine barrels on property, as well as plenty of space for a tasting, whether you grab a table on the patio or walk up to one of the wine bars. A regular tasting will cost $25 for five wines and an estate reserve tasting will cost $45. But, it is the food and wine pairings that will set the tastings apart. Limited to ten guests, you can choose a number of pairings: Tapas and Wine, Pintxos and Wine, Vino con Queso (Cheese and Wine) or Chocolate and Wine.

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Etude Wines |1250 Cuttings Wharf Rd, Napa, CA 94559

Try their wine: Etude Fiddlestix Pinot Noir 2013

Etude, which means “study” in French, was started by Tony Soter in 1982. With a passion for pinot noir, he focused on Carneros and planted his vineyard in volcanic soils on the Sonoma-side. But, the winery is on the Napa-side in a building that was originally a distillery, which is why they also make brandy. Soter sold the winery in 2001 and moved to Oregon and today the winery is owned by Treasury Estates with John Priest as the head winemaker.
For the pinot noir lovers, Etude Wines offers a Study of Pinot Noir. For $50, a seated tasting will take you through six different pinot noirs. Each wine comes from different growing areas, from their Estate Vineyards in Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Willamette Valley and Santa Barbara County, here you will really get a sense of place and understand the meaning of terroir.

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Starmont Winery | 1451 Stanly Ln, Napa, CA 945596

Try their wine: Starmont Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir 2012

For a little guilty pleasure, head to Starmont Winery. Started a decade ago, just last year they opened their state-of-the-art “green” winery and tasting room. Starmont is located on fifty acres of the historic Stanley Ranch is the sister winery to Merryvale Winery in St. Helena. A certified Napa Green Winery, Starmont recycles 100% of the winery process water and generate enough electricity each day to power more than two-hundred-and-fifty homes.

The Starmont Guilty Pleasures tasting costs $40, and you will enjoy four wines paired with snacks that are mostly sourced locally. Snacks can include caramel corn, cashews with rosemary and cayenne, potato chips and truffle herb, salted dark chocolate caramel, shortbread with black pepper, potato chips with beet powder, rosemary, lavender, thyme, and oregano, Marcona almonds with lavender and rosemary and dark chocolate pistachios. I liked the 2013 Carneros Chardonnay with the popcorn but it did not pair well with the truffle chips. The beet chips worked with both the 2013 Lee Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Brown Ranch Pinot Noir and the 2014 Carneros Pinot Gris went surprisingly well with the peppered shortbread. It was really fun to play around and see what snack worked best with which wine(s).

If you are traveling with the family, Starmont Winery is the perfect stop as it is both kid-friendly and dog-friendly. While you are sipping on wine, your children can sip on juice boxes.

Read the original story at California Winery Advisor.

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