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Label of Love

Smoke Tree signals Moët Hennessy’s arrival in Sonoma County

In 1973, two years after Moët & Chandon merged with Hennessy Cognac, the fabled French winery put down roots in Napa Valley with the establishment of Domaine Chandon. Nearly three decades later, in 2001, LVMH (the parent company of Moët Hennessy) bought Newton Vineyard, a producer of well-received and highly rated unfiltered Chardonnay. So, it was only a matter of time before the luxury goods powerhouse developed a recipe for success in Sonoma County. 

Smoke Tree, named for the colorful perennial tree which gives the appearance of smoke from a distance, is Moët Hennessy’s first new offering in 16 years. It launched last month with a duo of 2014 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines that carry the Sonoma County designation. 

“We’ve gone to all the coolest parts of Sonoma County, all the coolest American viticultural areas,” explains winemaker Joel Burt. “These cooler spots are going to give us the profile and acidity we want.”

Winemaker Joel Burt

Winemaker Joel Burt

The addition of a domestic Pinot Noir, previously missing from Moët Hennessy’s portfolio, fills the creative desire of the winemaker, as well as the growing market of Pinot drinkers. “Smoke Tree is my passion project,” says Burt. “It’s the kind of wine I want to drink, so I’m having a lot of fun with it.”

Having produced 15,000 cases of Chardonnay and the same for Pinot Noir, the company’s goal is to appeal to savvy by-the-glass drinkers who dine out and look for wines in the $14 to $25 range that pair well with food. 

Smoke Tree Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Smoke Tree Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

In addition to his role at Smoke Tree, Burt has developed the collection of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines for Domaine Chandon since 2009, and actively works on the Newton Red Label program. His goal for the new label is simple: “To produce a wine that is naturally elegant, not over-oaked, over-extracted or sweet. It’s a rare approach today, but something I believe in.” 

The Chardonnay ($19) and Pinot Noir ($24) were released in eight markets, including New York, Washington, D.C., Texas and California, and will go nationwide in February.