The Secret Behind Domaine Chandon’s Success Is This 36-Year-Old Winemaker

Domaine Chandon's Director of Winemaking, Pauline Lhote.

Domaine Chandon's Director of Winemaking, Pauline Lhote.

Courtesy of Domaine Chandon

The mastermind behind Domaine Chandon’s recent innovations, from its popular American Summer collection, to its single-serve AluMini bottles of Rosé Brut and its cleverly-designed packaging, is its director of winemaking, Pauline Lhote. A rising star in the global winemaking industry, Lhote is also one of the youngest head winemakers to lead a major wine producer.

Lhote, who appeared on the 2017 edition of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40, is a native of France where she grew up on a farm in the Champagne region. Since she was a young child, she dreamed of one day becoming a winemaker, specifically one who produced sparkling wines.

After earning a National Diploma in Winemaking from the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, Lhote worked leading champagne houses around the world.

When Lhote expressed interest in gaining experience abroad, Moët Hennessy was happy to comply giving her a choice of where in the world she wanted to go. She requested Napa and was promptly transferred to the headquarters of its subsidiary in the U.S., Domaine Chandon, in Yountville, California. Initially joining as an intern in 2006—three months later, Lhote was hired as a full-time employee in its winemaking operations.

Lhote’s rise at Domaine Chandon has been nothing short of stellar. Elevated to head winemaker in 2015, Lhote became its director of winemaking only two years later in 2017.

Impressively, Domaine Chandon has empowered Lhote and as such, enables her to have a tremendous amount of latitude when it comes to creating its wines. “I have the freedom to craft the best wine possible,” she says.

As a result, Lhote is able to buy and use grapes from other regions throughout Northern California. “The diversity of fruit and diversity of terroir is very important to me,” she explains. “If I was limited only to have the wines of Napa Valley I wouldn’t be able to recreate the style that I have in mind, which is for some of our wines, about the vibrancy and that California brightness in the glass.”

Napa Valley has never ceased to amaze the young winemaker. “When I first came to Napa Valley, what I was the most surprised about was the fact that you can only travel for 15 to 20 minutes by car and you have a total diversity of terroir,” she recalls. “It’s the only wine region where you can make Bordeaux-style wines, burgundy-style wines and make sparkling wines, too.”

Diversity in fruit and terroir remains a priority for Lhote, whether she is producing Domaine Chandon’s famous Brut, Rosé or Blanc de Noir sparkling wines. As a result, the vintage wines might be totally different from year to year, she says. “Every year I ask myself how was the year and what should I do to showcase the wines,” she adds. “One year the Carneros might be a Chardonnay-driven blend while the next year it might be a pinot-driven blend.”

Creativity is in the blending process, which is a talent that Lhote is especially good at. Her goal, she explains, is to showcase what the vineyard is about. “The alliance between elegance and terroir is very hard to do,” she says. “The creativity comes into play when you want to have in mind that style.”

Lhote is not only extremely talented when it comes to her winemaking skills, but she also has the rare ability to be in touch with her consumer—-especially the younger demographic that has proved to be so valuable in the industry. Take for example, the recent debut of Domaine Chandon Aluminum Rosé which followed in the footsteps of Chandon Aluminum Sweet Star in 2018 and is the brand’s newest offering available in a single serve bottle.

An effort to broaden the occasions at which its consumers can enjoy their favorite sparkling wines, Chandon introduced innovative packaging for its sparkling rosé in the form of an aluminum bottle which is available at locations around the country where glass bottles can’t be sold, such as music and sports venues.

Under Lhote, Domaine Chandon has also continued to produce its annual limited-edition American Summer collection. This year’s collection showcased a vibrant colorful design inspired by the flowing style popular during the winery’s 1970’s beginnings.  The sparkling wines have proved to be wildly popular for festive occasions throughout the summer, including weddings and other celebratory events. “American Summer represents a time to really celebrate Chandon’s American heritage,” says Lhote, who used Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes in the traditional method to create the Brut and the Brut Rosé. “It was very important to us that our California brightness shines through the wine bringing the vibrancy and intensity of our flavors and aromas.”

Not surprisingly, Lhote’s wines are recipients of numerous awards and recognitions. Last year, the company was awarded the Domestic Winery of the Year by the International Wine and Spirits Competition. Her Chandon Brut scored 90 points from Decanter in 2018 while her Etoile Rosé earned 92 points from Wine Spectator in August 2019.

Domaine Chandon offers a Wine Club that provides members with many benefits including discounts on all Chandon wines, including winery-exclusive and limited releases, as well as non-wine merchandise, priority access to winery-exclusive and limited production wines as well as wines made exclusively for Club Chandon members and special privileges when visiting the winery. Members receive an assortment of three to four Chandon wines, six times a year (February, April, June, August, October, December). The wines are shipped directly to the member’s home or office and each shipment includes winemaker’s tasting notes, in addition to culinary pairings and recipes.

Domaine Chandon welcomes visitors at its winery in Yountville, Calif. which offers a tasting bar and a mixology bar (for seasonal sparkling wine cocktails). No appointment is needed for groups fewer than ten people for daily tastings. Domaine Chandon also offers seated, semi-private hosted tastings that rotate regularly (reservations are required). See this link for hours and directions.

For more information about Domaine Chandon, visit this link.

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The mastermind behind Domaine Chandon’s recent innovations, from its popular American Summer collection, to its single-serve AluMini bottles of Rosé Brut and its cleverly-designed packaging, is its director of winemaking, Pauline Lhote. A rising star in the global winemaking industry, Lhote is also one of the youngest head winemakers to lead a major wine producer.

Lhote, who appeared on the 2017 edition of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40, is a native of France where she grew up on a farm in the Champagne region. Since she was a young child, she dreamed of one day becoming a winemaker, specifically one who produced sparkling wines.

After earning a National Diploma in Winemaking from the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, Lhote worked leading champagne houses around the world.

When Lhote expressed interest in gaining experience abroad, Moët Hennessy was happy to comply giving her a choice of where in the world she wanted to go. She requested Napa and was promptly transferred to the headquarters of its subsidiary in the U.S., Domaine Chandon, in Yountville, California. Initially joining as an intern in 2006—three months later, Lhote was hired as a full-time employee in its winemaking operations.

Lhote’s rise at Domaine Chandon has been nothing short of stellar. Elevated to head winemaker in 2015, Lhote became its director of winemaking only two years later in 2017.

Impressively, Domaine Chandon has empowered Lhote and as such, enables her to have a tremendous amount of latitude when it comes to creating its wines. “I have the freedom to craft the best wine possible,” she says.

As a result, Lhote is able to buy and use grapes from other regions throughout Northern California. “The diversity of fruit and diversity of terroir is very important to me,” she explains. “If I was limited only to have the wines of Napa Valley I wouldn’t be able to recreate the style that I have in mind, which is for some of our wines, about the vibrancy and that California brightness in the glass.”

Napa Valley has never ceased to amaze the young winemaker. “When I first came to Napa Valley, what I was the most surprised about was the fact that you can only travel for 15 to 20 minutes by car and you have a total diversity of terroir,” she recalls. “It’s the only wine region where you can make Bordeaux-style wines, burgundy-style wines and make sparkling wines, too.”

Diversity in fruit and terroir remains a priority for Lhote, whether she is producing Domaine Chandon’s famous Brut, Rosé or Blanc de Noir sparkling wines. As a result, the vintage wines might be totally different from year to year, she says. “Every year I ask myself how was the year and what should I do to showcase the wines,” she adds. “One year the Carneros might be a Chardonnay-driven blend while the next year it might be a pinot-driven blend.”

Creativity is in the blending process, which is a talent that Lhote is especially good at. Her goal, she explains, is to showcase what the vineyard is about. “The alliance between elegance and terroir is very hard to do,” she says. “The creativity comes into play when you want to have in mind that style.”

Lhote is not only extremely talented when it comes to her winemaking skills, but she also has the rare ability to be in touch with her consumer—-especially the younger demographic that has proved to be so valuable in the industry. Take for example, the recent debut of Domaine Chandon Aluminum Rosé which followed in the footsteps of Chandon Aluminum Sweet Star in 2018 and is the brand’s newest offering available in a single serve bottle.

An effort to broaden the occasions at which its consumers can enjoy their favorite sparkling wines, Chandon introduced innovative packaging for its sparkling rosé in the form of an aluminum bottle which is available at locations around the country where glass bottles can’t be sold, such as music and sports venues.

Under Lhote, Domaine Chandon has also continued to produce its annual limited-edition American Summer collection. This year’s collection showcased a vibrant colorful design inspired by the flowing style popular during the winery’s 1970’s beginnings.  The sparkling wines have proved to be wildly popular for festive occasions throughout the summer, including weddings and other celebratory events. “American Summer represents a time to really celebrate Chandon’s American heritage,” says Lhote, who used Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes in the traditional method to create the Brut and the Brut Rosé. “It was very important to us that our California brightness shines through the wine bringing the vibrancy and intensity of our flavors and aromas.”

Not surprisingly, Lhote’s wines are recipients of numerous awards and recognitions. Last year, the company was awarded the Domestic Winery of the Year by the International Wine and Spirits Competition. Her Chandon Brut scored 90 points from Decanter in 2018 while her Etoile Rosé earned 92 points from Wine Spectator in August 2019.

Domaine Chandon offers a Wine Club that provides members with many benefits including discounts on all Chandon wines, including winery-exclusive and limited releases, as well as non-wine merchandise, priority access to winery-exclusive and limited production wines as well as wines made exclusively for Club Chandon members and special privileges when visiting the winery. Members receive an assortment of three to four Chandon wines, six times a year (February, April, June, August, October, December). The wines are shipped directly to the member’s home or office and each shipment includes winemaker’s tasting notes, in addition to culinary pairings and recipes.

Domaine Chandon welcomes visitors at its winery in Yountville, Calif. which offers a tasting bar and a mixology bar (for seasonal sparkling wine cocktails). No appointment is needed for groups fewer than ten people for daily tastings. Domaine Chandon also offers seated, semi-private hosted tastings that rotate regularly (reservations are required). See this link for hours and directions.

For more information about Domaine Chandon, visit this link.

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I am a Manhattan-based writer covering luxury travel and real estate as well as the wine and spirits industries. I was a contributing writer at Barron's Penta magazine

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