POSTED ON August 15, 2014 | IN Napa Valley, Wine Information, Wine News | BY Joe Becerra

This is a rewrite of a fun wine country adventure I had with my wine friend Mike Beltran at the Robert Mondavi Winery in St. Helena and at Domaine Chandon in Yountville. I found this in my archives and I feel it is very worthy of a post on the new WCG Blog.

My friend Mike Beltran and I headed off on an early Friday morning to the wine country. Mike has invited me to tag along with him on a very unusual mission to two wineries. The main purpose is not to buy wine but to trade, barter, and ask for favors at these wineries.

A trade with the Robert Mondavi Winery

The first destination is the Robert Mondavi Winery, where Mike has arranged a 9:30 a.m. meeting with Glenn Workman, V.P. of Productions at Robert Mondavi. Mike is a wine consultant and has been a collector of fine wines for 35 years. Some months back, Mike discovered five bottles of Robert Mondavi 1966 Unfined Cabernet Sauvignon deep in his wine cellar. Mike and Glenn have agreed to discuss a trade for these historic bottles. At that time, it was the 40th anniversary of the Robert Mondavi Winery.

We meet Glenn in the offices of Robert Mondavi. After some chitchat, Mike and Glenn get down to business.  Mike puts a cash value on the Cab. Then he rattles off the names of five cases of Mondavi wines he would like in exchange. I’m thinking to myself, “No way this is going to happen,” but to my surprise Glenn agrees without hesitation. Fifteen minutes later we are packing five cases of Robert Mondavi wine into Mike’s SUV.

Trading wine at robert mondavi

Mike and his wine trade haul

Afterwards, Glenn invites us into the Reserve Tasting Room. This is a beautiful room where visitors to the winery can enjoy the tasting of many special Mondavi wines for a fee. We taste five wines. We begin with a delicious single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and then a Carneros Pinot Noir. We then compare a 1994 and 1996 Reserve Cab. The 1996 is a delicious and exceptional wine, but the 1994 is spectacular. The aroma is so elegant that you almost feel that there is no need to drink the wine. The last of our tasting is the Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis, a wonderful dessert wine.

The Robert Mondavi Winery is a popular tourist attraction. Thousands of people visit the winery each week to taste wines and enjoy the beauty of this winery created by the iconic Robert Mondavi.

Domaine Chandon Dosage

We now head back down Highway 29 to Yountville and to Domaine Chandon for another crazy wine adventure. Mike has a most unusual request for the sparkling winemaker at Chandon. Mike has a bottle of 1990 Philipponnat Blanc de Blanc Champagne that he had acquired from Pacific Wines, a fine wine shop he worked at until it closed its doors in the mid 90’s. The bottle was used to demonstrate fermentation in the bottle, the main step in making Champagne. Mike’s bottle is still capped and contains the residue of dead yeast cells. Mike’s request is to have someone at Domain Chandon disgorge the bottle and add a dosage and a fill to make it a finished Champagne wine. Mike had dropped off the bottle at the winery a couple of weeks before our visit.

We meet sparkling winemaker Tom Tiburzi and he is more than happy to accommodate Mike’s request. Ever since Mike delivered the bottle, Tom has been storing the wine upside down to move the yeast residue to the neck of the bottle. We work our way to the assembly line area of the winery where Tom places the neck of the bottle into a solution used to quickly freeze the residue in the bottles passing through the assembly line. Today, Mike’s bottle is the only bottle in the solution. The solution is not quite cold enough so while we wait for the residue to freeze Tom leads us on a private half-hour tour of Domaine Chandon. This is an exciting adventure for both of us.

Tom Tiburzi Chandon

Dosage goes into Mike’s wine

At the end of the private tour, Tom leads us to the tasting room to taste four sparkling wines. Tom tells us how he has developed the characteristic of each wine. It is very enlightening to hear how he has done this and to feel the passion and enthusiasm that Tom has for making each of these sparkling wines. We head back to Tom’s lab where he disgorges the frozen yeast residue and then adds the proper dosage. Mike’s Champagne is as good as it is going to get. It is a dry Champagne and one that will go with a good meal and better yet with the story of how it came to be. Here is a link to how sparkling wine is made.

We highly recommend a visit to Domaine Chandon. They have one of the better sparkling wine tours, magnificent gardens, and  they are the only Napa winery with a restaurant. The chef, Perry Hoffman, and the winemakers meet regularly to determine the best possible wine and food pairings.