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|| News Item: Posted 2003-11-03

The Count: Domaine Carneros story
By Eric Risberg, Associated Press

Photo by Eric Risberg / AP

Photo by Eric Risberg / AP

The Domaine Carneros winery is shown in this aerial photo taken in Napa, Calif.
Napa, CA --- In the bucolic hills of the Carneros wine country, a quiet revolution is taking place.

The Domaine Carneros winery, housed in an 18th-century-style Louis XV chateau, recently unveiled a new addition: a 23,500-square-foot facility devoted exclusively to the making of pinot noir. While red wine enthusiasts in particular may not find this occurrence out of place, Domaine Carneros has worked serenely against the odds over the past few years to create this major production facility.

In a time where the economy is in a downturn, the wine market is experiencing a glut and tourism is waxing and waning, the 1987 winery, co-owned by Champagne Taittinger of France and Kobrand Corp., decided to take the leap into larger-volume pinot noir production. Know for its sparkling wines, the winery began production of pinot noir wines about 11 years ago and currently produces 9,000 to 10,000 cases per year. The new facility will allow production to double over the next 10 years.

Eileen Crane, president and winemaker of Domaine Carneros, isn't worried about the timing of the new facility. "Buy when the guns are blazing, not when the violins are playing," she quipped, quoting Claude Taittinger.

As Crane sees it, the new pinot noir facility, which was begin in 2002, brings "a new energy" - literally. Unlike other more traditional wineries, the rooftop to the new pinot noir facility is covered with solar panels, which will provide 40 percent of its energy needs.

According to Crane, the use of solar power encouraged Domaine Carneros to look at other things, such as skylights and refrigeration, to see if additional energy-saving methods could be used. And the money saved from using solar power will allow the winery to buy more equipment, which will benefit the employees and ownership, she said.

Photo by Eric Risberg / AP

Photo by Eric Risberg / AP

Eileen Crane, winemaker and president of Domaine Carneros winery, stands amidst 8 ton fermenting tanks and checks the sugar level of juice from pinot noir grapes during harvest at the winery in Napa, Calif.
The construction seemed to go like clockwork, just like the yearly process of making wine. Not only was the project on budget and on time, but the construction and winemaking juxtaposed each other. "Winemaking is in tune with nature -- construction is converse," Crane noted.

The bigger challenge, she said, was "not detracting from the chateau (the original winery). It is magical to be in California with a chateau in the background. It is what you picture wine country to be."

Behinds the scenes, winemaking and the construction of the new facility take a decidedly more modern approach. With construction taking just a year, planning and building had to be well thought out and organized. And wineries are more modern than ever, run efficiently by machines and owning much to the advances in enological testing and chemistry.

In a region ideal for growing cooler-weather grapes, the future of winemaking, especially at Domaine Carneros, is in pinot noir, Crane added.

"It's a new cycle, a time to bring in new things, a great challenge. The new energy will help move us forward."

(Eric Risberg is a staff photographer with the Associated Press based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A frequent contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter, he is a breakout class leader at the upcoming Workshop & Luau 2003.)

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