Forty years ago, when Domaine Chandon became the first French-owned sparkling wine house to open its doors in Napa Valley, there was nothing else like it in the region. With its modern architecture design that melded with the landscape, a restaurant helmed by chef Perry Hoffman and a large production of méthode traditionnelle wines, Chandon caused quite a stir.
More than 400 of the winery’s former employees — who call themselves “Domainiacs” — gathered in Yountville this past summer to celebrate the 40th anniversary and reminisce over a glass of bubbly or three. In the ensuing decades, those alums have been busy, setting trends in the hospitality world as chefs, winemakers and entrepreneurs.
Square One vodka is winning fans for its organic spirits in flavors such as basil and cucumber that come in a distinctive square bottle. Owner Allison Evanow honed her public relations and marketing skills while at Chandon.
Philippe Jeanty is well known these days as the chef and owner of his eponymous Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. But he first landed in the quaint town in 1977 as the chef saucier at Domaine Chandon. Two years later he was promoted to chef de cuisine and ran the kitchen at what’s now étoile Restaurant for 20 years. Ken Frank’s La Toque is another noteworthy wine country restaurant; the general manager Patrick Loomis once ran étoile. Meanwhile, chef Jessica Gorin, who started her culinary career creating bubbly-friendly food pairings at Chandon, now applies those same principles to craft beers at the new American Big Grove Tavern in Champaign, Ill.
Not surprisingly, many Domaniacs have gone on to big things in the wine business. Top management at Medlock Ames and Don Sebastiani & Sons in Sonoma, as well as Oregon’s Domaine Serene held pivotal roles at Chandon.
It also helped open up top winery management jobs to women. Michaela Rodeno, who, as the second employee of Chandon, helped shape the business as she climbed to the position of vice president of marketing. She went on to spend 21 years as CEO of St. Supéry in Napa, another French-owned vineyard known for estate-grown cabernet sauvignon and distinctive sauvignon blanc.
Chandon’s grande dame veteran is Dawnine Dyer, who ran the sparkling wine program for 24 years. A pioneer in making naturally fermented sparkling wine using the French method, Dyer advocated for the American Viticultural Area system and headed the prestigious Napa Valley Vintners. Along with her husband, Bill, she founded the Dyer Straits Wine Co., known for stellar Diamond Mountain cabernet sauvignon. They consult on projects including Sodaro Estate Winery and Meteor Vineyard, a project in Napa’s growing Coombsville sub-appellation with Internet trailblazer and former AOL CEO Barry Schuler and his wife, Tracy.
Photos Courtesy of Domaine Chandon