Domaine Chandon, one of California's leading producers of sparkling wine, has released a line of still wines nationally for the first time, starting with the 2000 vintage. The Napa Valley winery now offers varietal bottlings of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier -- the three grapes used in Champagne blends.
Several California sparkling-wine producers have been exploring production of still wines to counteract slow growth or stagnant or declining sales in recent years. However, Domaine Chandon said that its new still wines do not signal a move away from bubbly, and it continues to expand that category with the launch of a new extra-dry sparkling wine, called Chandon Riche, this month.
"By no means are we going to do a Codorniu to Artesa," said winery spokeswoman Sue Furdek, referring to the Napa sparkling wine producer that switched to still wines and changed names in 1999. She said Chandon's still wine output would eventually reach 35,000 to 40,000 cases annually, making up about 10 percent of the winery's total production.
Under former winemaker Dawnine Dyer, Domaine Chandon began producing limited quantities of still Pinot Meunier in 1989 and Pinot Noir in 1996, but those bottlings were only available at the winery and through its wine club. The 2000 Chardonnay is the winery's first release of that variety as a still wine.
The new wines are being made by Wayne Donaldson, vice president of winemaking, who joined the Yountville-based winery in the summer of 2000 after working for 11 years at Domaine Chandon Australia. All three wines come from Chandon's estate vineyards and carry the Carneros appellation, where the winery has about 600 acres under vine. Donaldson said he is still evaluating and experimenting with existing parcels, cutting the crops from sparkling levels to still-wine levels.
The food-friendly 2000 Chardonnay, which scored 90 points in a recent blind tasting, is the standout of the bunch, with a firm structure, lots of concentration and focused buttery pear, fig and apricot flavors that gain depth on the finish. Only 1,220 cases were made, so the wine, priced at $19 a bottle, will be available only in California, Texas, New York and Connecticut this year. The 2001 vintage, of which there are 8,000 cases, will be distributed nationally.
The intriguing 2000 Pinot Meunier (87 points, $29), which is little planted outside the Champagne region and rarely bottled as a varietal, is well-balanced and complex, offering smoky oak and cherry and wild berry fruit. Just over 2,400 cases were produced. The soft, pretty 2000 Pinot Noir (86, $29) shows creamy oak, ripe cherry fruit and attractive mineral flavors. About 7,000 cases were made.
The new Chandon Riche (not yet rated), a sweeter style than the winery's other sparklers, will be priced at $17 a bottle, along the lines of Chandon's nonvintage Brut Classic and Blanc de Noirs. The wine is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, with a small amount of Muscat added. About 35,000 cases were made.
Founded in 1973 by Moët & Chandon, Domaine Chandon was the first California sparkling wine venture by a French Champagne house. It is now the second-largest U.S. producer of méthode champenoise sparkling wines, with 350,000 cases in sales in 2000, coming in only after Korbel, according to the 2001 edition of Impact Databank's U.S. Wine Market Report.
Like its competitors, Chandon experienced a boom in sales in 1999, followed by a large drop in 2000, due to oversupply for the millennium. But even before that decline, many other U.S. sparkling-wine producers had begun looking at the growing market for California varietal wines. In the 1990s, Maison Deutz switched to still wines and became Laetitia Vineyards, Codorniu Napa became Artesa, Domaine Carneros added Pinot Noir to its lineup and Gloria Ferrer added both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Earlier this year, S. Anderson Vineyard, which already had a significant still-wine program, was sold to Canadian Cliff Lede, who plans to concentrate on red wines.
Check our recent ratings of Domaine Chandon sparkling wines.
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