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Exploring Napa: Domaine Carneros and Matthiasson

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   Me and Mom

When I was asked to travel to Carmel Valley to write a freelance article, I figured that it just made sense to bring my Mom and extend the trip so that we could visit Sonoma and Napa. I fell in love with Napa when I visited two years ago, and although my mother had never visited the area, I knew that she would love it too. Today I am kicking off a series of posts about the trip that will run over the next three Tuesdays. I am excited to share this incredible wine filled trip with you.

Domaine Carneros

Several people had told me that they prefer Sonoma to Napa, and since I hadn’t been to Sonoma yet I decided that we would divide our time between Napa and Sonoma. We spent our first two nights in Sonoma, and then one night in Napa. We took things easy on our first day and made it to two vineyards. We hired a driver from Sonoma Fine Wine Tours to drive our rental car around so that we could enjoy wine without worry. Even though we were staying in Sonoma, the hotel was close to the edge of Napa making it a good jumping off point to visit two vineyards in southern Napa. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros which is housed in a chateau modeled after a French country home. The chateau sits perched on a hilltop overlooking colorful fields of grapes.

Pouring Domaine Carneros

Known for their sparkling wines, Domaine Carneros was founded by Taittinger, a French wine family famous for producing champagne, in 1987. Domaine Carneros offers tastings as well as tours. We opted for the more leisurely option of doing a tasting. The menu included wine flights and cheese plates and we love cheese just as much as wine so we got both.

Cheese Plate

My Mom and I each ordered a the Chateau Sampler tasting and we shared the wonderful Sparkling Cheese Plate. We picked that wine flight so that we could try both sparkling wine and red wine. The flight included the 2010 Estate Brut Cuvee, the 2010 Ultra Brut, the 2012 Avant-Garde Pinot Noir, and the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir. My favorite wine was the Sparkling Ultra Brut, and I bought a bottle to bring home with me. The cheeses, all from California, were fantastic. We tasted Holey Cow from Central Coast Creamery, Brabander from Essex Street Cheese Co., and the MT Tam from Cowgirl Creamery was my favorite.

I liked that we were able to try both sparkling wines and reds at Domaine Carneros, and we loved gorgeous space with sweeping views of the vineyards below. Domaine Carneros was one of two wineries that my mother specifically requested that we visit, and this was a nice addition to our itinerary. I recommend it for two reasons – we had a fantastic time, plus logistically it’s easy to get to from Napa and Sonoma.


Next we went to Matthaisson, a newer winery off the beaten path in Napa that is receiving considerable recognition for their wines. At Matthiasson we met up with Jill Matthaisson who runs the vineyard with her husband, Steve. Matthaisson hosts their tastings in their backyard, an opportunity that must be scheduled in advance. The experience was much more hands on and educational than the tasting we had at Domaine Carneros.

Jill explained that Steve studied viticulture and he works as a consultant helping vineyards produce the best grapes possible. He also co-authored a book on sustainable vineyard practices. One day in 2003 he tasted the best grape he had ever tasted (a Merlot grape), and he insisted on buying the grapes to make his own wine. Now, twelve years later, Steve splits his time between consulting and running Matthiasson Family Vineyards. Currently, they are selling 13 different wines and bottling the wine from each vineyard separately.

It was their Ribolla Gialla that put Matthiasson on the map. They are one of the only American producers of Ribolla Gialla, a rare grape native to the Friuli region of Italy, which boarders Slovenia. One of Steve’s clients brought cuttings of ribolla gialla grapes to the US, and Steve grafted them into his vines. But the Ribolla Gialla isn’t the only wine getting attention. The Michael Mara Chardonnay was named one of the best domestic wines of the year by Serious Eats. Plus Jill told me that their Linda Vista Vallery Chardonnay is featured in the film next Somm film, Somm: Into the Bottle, which means that this $27 bottle of wine might become hard to get your hands on.

My friend Ryan Arnold first introduced me to Matthiasson wines over the summer, and I think they are some of the best tasting reasonably priced wines out there. A membership to Matthiasson’s wine club would be a nice holiday gift for the wine lover, plus I love that you have the option to add homemade jam to your membership.

My mother loved how different our experiences were at Domaine Carneros and Matthiasson. Mom said she felt like she was on an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous while we were at Domaine Carneros, while I loved getting to learn about Matthiasson’s wine from Jill Matthiasson. We drank, we learned, we had a wonderful first day in Sonoma and Napa. Next week we will continue the journey with some wine tastings in Sonoma.

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