On our last full day in Napa, I decided I’d had enough of the red wines, I wanted sparkling wine. I still prefer white to red – having “not developed my palate enough” just yet for reds – and I absolutely adore sparkling wine. I think the BF can take it or leave it, not being a favorite of his nor a least-preferred, so he indulged me and off we went.
Our first stop was Domaine Carneros, where my good friend HB, on her first visit to Napa a few years ago, returned and said “I’m getting married there.” Obviously, with such a stunning endorsement of the estate, I had to go see it. And out of the 5 wineries we visited on this trip, I would say, hands down, it was the most gorgeous and visually spectacular. As soon as we approached in the car, I breathed, “This is it,” understand how it appears on the horizon, looming up at the top of a hill and looks down at you. It was a sparkling clear, sunny day, and everything just screamed classy wedding – outdoor terrace, beautiful “house” and eating area, just… beautiful. Good choice, HB!
Different than every other place we’d gone to, Domaine Carneros had seated tastings that were not guided (except by a card placed under your glasses), so you were free to sip, taste, discuss with your companions without anyone else interrupting you or anything. We both opted for the Sparkling Sampler, 2 oz. each of Vintage Brut, Le Reve Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rose. Our pourer chatted amicably with us while she poured, though I found it odd that she poured slightly different amounts for both of us in each glass despite there being a marker on the glass for that very purpose.
I thought this was a good deal actually.
See the discrepancy in pours?
Oh, wait, you’re interested in the food you see? Well, the little dish of almonds was put on the table as soon as we sat down.
Being that we were in a munchy mood, though, and in such a gorgeous place, we opted for the matching sparkling cheese plate.
Not bad for $14, right? Our server was lovely, and we both thoroughly enjoyed our selections as we sipped, chatted, and just enjoyed the weather. We opted to sit inside as outside was a bit too sunny for BF (who didn’t have sunglasses), but the French doors all around left us bathed in light. Seriously – this was a beautiful estate with a great, friendly staff.
(And in case you’re wondering, we both wound up enjoying one sparkling wine in particular, but BF balked at the price of $85 a bottle – the most expensive we tried there, oops. He joked that we both had expensive tastes since it was a blind tasting – no prices listed on the actual card with the names on it, we had to look for it – and I offered to pay for the bottle, but with no major occasions upcoming to celebrate, we decided against it.)
Ahhh, Domaine Chandon, the very reason I’m even bothering to review the wineries we went to. We only went here for two reasons: first, because it was directly across the highway from our hotel, and second, because someone told me it was really nice there. (Of course, this same person went on to tell me she hates the French… but that’s a long, lovely story I can share if you request via email, but otherwise, will remain off my blog.) So, why not? We proceeded to go there, thinking we’d get a bit toasty, then really short drive back to hotel for a nap… before our late dinner.
As for how Domaine Chandon is the very reason I’m even writing these reviews — well, as we were leaving, BF said, “I hope you write a scathing review on this place,” then a bunch of choice expletives and descriptive words used creatively. I hadn’t even considered writing about them, but after that, well, how could I not? BF is not really what we’d call someone who complains – nowhere near as much as me – he’s way more laidback, so when something pisses him off, you KNOW it’s bad…
When we first walked in, the place was a madhouse. There was no rhyme or reason to anything – it reminded me of being at a trendy Manhattan bar on a Thursday or Friday night; everyone pushing to get to the “bar” and yelling to the people pouring, without any sense of order or fairness. I really don’t like that scene, I’m way too old for that, and I can’t imagine how the people there (who were all older than us) could be into this, either. We finally got close enough to place our orders from this lady who was super frazzled and distracted. After she’d taken our orders and poured us our first glasses, she disappeared for a while. I was really uncomfortable as people behind me pushed and tried to take my place at the bar. I almost yelled at this guy who lifted his flute high above my head, because it was dripping and hello?! don’t lift a dripping glass over me! ASS!
The entire staff was unprofessional and discourteous. While we stood there, trying to talk about the sparkling wines and ask questions – to learn, you understand, I’m not here just to get trashed – people would just lose interest and start talking to other people, well thanks, make me feel like a jerk for being interested. As we watched, another server took a new glass out for someone, but it had a piece of fluff in it, so she lifted the flute to her mouth and blew into it. Thankfully, the fluff didn’t dislodge, so the girl quickly realized what she’d done, and put the glass done and handed a new, clean one to the customer, and smiled brightly “Well, that’s why we have so many glasses,” and then wandered away. Ummm, ewww, because I really want a glass you just breathed into?
Another server went to take someone’s glass to pour another taste, and instead knocked it forward, spilling the remaining contents of it onto the patron and dropping the glass on the wrong side of the bar, shattering all over his feet. NICE. She just laughed and said, “Oops,” like it was no big deal. I’d have probably flipped out (I was also wearing flip flops, so I would be freaking out about cutting myself on broken glass.)
Another girl was chewing gum with her mouth wide open the whole time we were there, and as we left, descending the stairs towards the gift shop, BF said loudly, “That is disgusting, I would have been sent home immediately for that,” – he used to work in a catering hall – and I turned to discover the girl behind us. I started laughing hysterically and said meanly, loudly, “I hope she heard you,” because maybe it would spare other people the horror of having to watch her chew gum like a cow while we try to enjoy some sparkling wine. WTF.
But the capper? See, any of these things, on a busy day, people get flustered, crap happens, right? Well, remember the lady who poured our original glasses and then disappeared? BF and I stood around, waiting for our second glasses (also, since different people kept pouring for us, we easily could have lied and just kept saying we were on our 2nd glass, and gotten double what we’d paid for, but we’re not that kind of people – plus the experience was just so awful, we weren’t interested anyway), and finally she reappeared. I had a question about something, so I leaned forward and said “Oh, excuse me?” and she turned and snapped at me, “What?!” I must have jumped back 2 feet, and BF said “Oh my god!” because she immediately shifted gears slightly – only slightly – and said tersely, “I’m on my break now,” like I’m supposed to know that, you’re still wandering around behind the bar area and dude, you just served us, you couldn’t finish it out or tell us or something??? I apologized but I was still horrified at being spoken to like that. BY ANYONE. I have worked in a fair number of service positions (customer service and food service), and I always smile and help someone, even when I’m on a break!
And unfortunately, before we’d discovered just how awful the service was, we’d ordered food. Oysters freshly shucked, but gritty and dirty and some of them weren’t fully loosened from the shell. The guy shucking them – a white guy in dreads with a rastafarian hat – didn’t know what kind of oysters they were.
BF ordered melon & prosciutto. We wondered what the hell happened to his prosciutto and why the balsamic tasted like nothing. It was horrible.
It was unfortunate because the estate wasn’t ugly, and Domaine Chandon is a pretty big name. But the entire affair was pathetic, ill managed and just who the hell trained these people? Does HQ at Moet & Chandon know what you’re doing to their good name? Seriously, train your staff properly and you could be so much more, with better profits and happier customers. Sadly,the best staff I met all day was in the gift shop, doing nothing. As we were leaving, holding our (complimentary/included in our tasting fees) flutes, I’d tried to get someone’s attention so they could wrap our flutes for us, but of course, to no avail, we walked through the gift shop and I asked if there was someone who could help us wrap them. And the two women behind the cash registers were so helpful, immediately wiping and boxing up our flutes, being pleasant and just overall lovely. Sure, you can suggest it’s because they weren’t as crazy busy as those upstairs at the tasting bars, but regardless, the behavior of the staff upstairs was just appalling and unacceptable.
Domaine Carneros: Recommended for tastings, a bit of noshing, and what a gorgeous estate to walk around and take pictures, just relax and enjoy good weather.
Domaine Chandon: The sparkling wine was only alright, and the horrid service makes this a huge “DO NOT EVEN BOTHER, what is WRONG with these people?!” unfortunately. I can’t get over how terrible the service staff was. Rude, incompetent, disgusting, unprofessional, well, take your pick or take them all, that’s what it was.
SF 2k8, previously:
King of Thai Noodle House
House of Prime Rib
The Country Way
Joe’s Cable Car
Honu’s Island Grinds & Bar
Mondavi, Rubicon, & Peju