by M.L. Hilton
Sparkling wines and champagnes are delightful wines to drink and explore. Besides the well-known winemakers that focus on sparklings as their main product, there are other places in Napa Valley to find a bottle of bubbles. Let WineCountry.com lead you through a day’s itinerary of lesser known stops on the champagne trails of Napa County.
We should start our day’s journey in the Carneros district of Napa Valley. This is the southernmost appellation of Napa County and actually straddles Napa and Sonoma counties. You will find several champagne and sparkling wine houses located in this appellation largely because this is an amazing wine growing region for pinot noir and chardonnay, both staples of sparkling wines.
Easy to spot and stop at are Domaine Carneros and Gloria Ferrer, but just as spectacular and a little more off the beaten path is Artesa. In another incarnation, this winery was known as Codorniu Napa and focused mainly on sparkling wines. They have since retooled their production facility and now produce mostly still wines (those without bubbles). In the tasting room only, however, you can find a small amount of prestige cuvée. Their first Codorniu Napa Grand Reserve was released in the summer of 2005 after spending more than seven years aging on the yeast.
When you can put down your glass and pull yourself away from the beautiful views in every direction off the decks of Artesa, it is time to head up the Napa Valley toward Yountville.
On the Yountville Cross road, near the intersection of Silverado Trail, you will find another winery that has had a past life as a sparkling wine house. Cliff Lede Vineyards occupies the original site of S. Anderson. Cliff Lede carries on the S. Anderson tradition by continuing to make a sparkling wine under that label. You can order the sparkling wines online from their website, but you will want to stroll the grounds of this beautiful winery with a glass of bubbles in hand to truly get the best experience.
Taking Yountville Cross roads east, and then turning north on State Lane you will find the family-friendly Goosecross Cellars. There is only one sparkling wine offered here and it is a unique Sparkling Rosé made from 79% Chardonnay from the Carneros region and 21% Zinfandel from State Lane. The fun story behind this wine is that it was released as part of the winery’s twentieth anniversary celebration, which coincided last year (2005) with the winemaker’s twentieth wedding anniversary.
Either before Cliff Lede Vineyards or after Goosecross you will want to stop somewhere for lunch. Heading north on Highway 29 your choices are pretty much limitless. You could stop at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, for a fabulous lunch at étoile, but you probably would have had to make reservations two months in advance.
There are a number of great places to just drop in Yountville itself, or you can head north up valley to visitor favorites Mustards or Rutherford Grill.
After lunch, a great last stop on your quest for off the beaten path sparkling wines would be Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga. Frank Family resides in one of the valley’s historic wineries – the old Larkmead Winery in built in 1884. After Larkmead, Hans Kornell made sparkling wines in the antique stone building. They were said to be a favorite of Marilyn Monroe who visited often to taste and buy the champagnes.
Today, five sparkling wines are handcrafted in the historic building (the still wines are made elsewhere): Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, occasionally the Rouge and Reserve. All of these are made in the traditional French methode champenoise style, and in fact, due to the historic nature of these wines they are one of the few sparkling wines in California that are allowed to use the champagne designation.
An insider tip:
Frank Family Vineyards are one of the few wineries in the Napa Valley that does not charge for tastings.
Your day of bubbles doesn’t have to be over. Since you are so close to the town of Calistoga – well known for its spas – you may want to book a mineral bath and allow tiring work of exploring world class wines to simmer away.