Could Chandon be the future of sustainable wine?
For more than 40 years, Chandon has crafted sparkling wines of the highest quality; now, the brand is doubling down on sustainable farming to produce its exceptional wines responsibly
Sunday 30 October 2022 By Dominique Fluker Photography by Ian Tuttle
It’s a misty October morning amid the Mayacamas Mountains in Northern Sonoma County. The scenery is beautiful, light dew covers the green foliage of the Carneros landscape, and I’m heading up to Chandon’s vineyard, not to be confused with its popular winery in Yountville. Once I arrive at the company’s office, I’m warmly greeted by Carlos Danti, Chandon’s Winegrowing Director. He oversees all Chandon’s vineyard activity – throughout over 1,000 acres of estate vineyards in California – and their relationships with trusted grower partners.
Danti’s roots are inextricably tied to winemaking. He was born in Mendoza, Argentina, which he says is ‘like California in the sense that it produces about 70% of the grapes grown in Argentina, as California produces the grapes grown in the United States. It’s a wine country.’
After graduating with an agriculture engineering degree from Argentina’s Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, he specialised in forestry management in Milan, Italy. His passion for cultivating exceptional wine grapes manifested when he began working with the viticulture team at Moët Hennessy Argentina. Soon after, he managed grape purchasing for Moët Hennessy’s Argentinian wineries – Terrazas de los Andes and Bodegas Chandon – and held that role for over a decade.
Promoted to Director of Winegrowing in 2017, Danti now leads a passionate, dedicated team that focuses on vineyard development, potential new growth areas, sustainable farming, green practices, and overseeing long-term supply strategies for all Chandon brands.
Not only is Chandon globally recognised for its premium sparkling wines, but it’s also widely known for its concerted sustainability farming efforts. The brand considers caring for the land a vital part of its practice, given that winemaking is impossible without a healthy terrain. Danti also takes this task seriously, as he believes Chandon’s sustainability efforts are in the DNA of the products he’s helping the vineyard to make. In Danti’s opinion, careful consideration of the vineyard’s ecosystem will help ensure that the both the grapes and the land thrive. His strength is his vision, always concerning the future of the vineyards. ‘I like to consider how much is going to be feasible to continue doing in 50 years, in 150 years, in 300 years, because Chandon will be here for many more generations,’ he says.
Danti considers using regenerative farming strategies a vital part of continuing and strengthening Chandon’s legacy. ‘It’s an important part of our sustainability efforts, because we want resilient vineyards to last for a long time. We need healthy soils,’ he emphasises.
After pleasantries at the Chandon office, Danti and I hop into his car for a tour throughout his favourite part of the vineyard, the northern side. He prefers this section because of how the fog rolls into it. ‘We like that fog because it’s protecting the grapes and keeping them cool during the day,’ he explains. I notice how intimately he knows the land routes, which is unsurprising as he’s here almost every day, working alongside his team. In 2017, the year that Danti joined Chandon, the Wine Country Fires – a series of 250 wildfires – caused severe damage to the vineyards. With them came uncertainty for Chandon and catalysed change for its sustainability efforts.
Danti and I parked on the top of the ranch. From there, we could see 500 acres of Chandon’s vineyards, planted with three varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
Although the vines grow nicely in California soils and weather, the company is diligent in maintaining nutrient-rich soils and water retention. To conserve water, they gather information on the water level in the soil and use this data to ensure it is needed. Chandon uses recycled water irrigation systems for over 90% of the vineyards.
Another sustainability practice Chandon employs is composting. The technique has helped to develop its soils, making them rich in organic matter and nutrients, which results in a better capacity to hold water, in turn helping to enrich the vines. Danti mentions they also have plans to phase out gas-powered equipment to use electric and solar-powered energy instead to reduce their carbon footprint. Lastly, they’ve eliminated the use of synthetic herbicides in the vineyards.
Chandon is now partnering with the Wild Oyster Project, a collective working to restore native oysters to the San Francisco Bay. It works with local farmers and enthusiasts to recycle oyster shells to build native reefs. The collective also partners with local planners and developers to create sustainable natural habitats to protect against erosion and rising sea levels. Chandon is protecting and restoring balance to marine habitats by ensuring water streams within its vineyards are protected. The goal is for the water in San Francisco Bay to be as natural and clean as possible.
Chandon’s recent partnership with the Wild Oyster Project made sense to Danti. ‘Our two companies have many things in common. We are very close to the Bay. Also, from the consumer’s point of view, our products go very well with oysters.’ To showcase that, Chandon hosted two ‘Oysters by the Bay’ dinner series at Little Beach House Malibu, and Brooklyn’s DUMBO House. At the events, guests learnt about restoring and preserving oyster reefs, before enjoying a special oyster tasting.
His wine pairing recommendation with oysters? Chandon By The Bay, a Blanc de Blancs that pays tribute to their Carneros terroir and an ode to Chardonnay. Served at both the Malibu and Brooklyn dinners, Danti said the wine ages well, and its taste is layered and powerful. A perfect palate-cleanser for the brininess of oysters, adding complexity to the flavour.
To Danti and Chandon, each parcel of land is considered precious, and it’s clear that they don’t take their vineyards for granted. Their sustainable farming practices consider the entire ecosystem: vines, water, insects, animals, sea life, soil life, and soil type. With Danti at the helm of these sustainability efforts and projects, Chandon is in great hands.
‘My vision is to have all our vineyards be 100% sustainable,’ says Danti. ‘I would like to see a vineyard in the future that has the minimal intervention possible with the maximum quality and output in terms of quality.’