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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sonoma County Appellations: Carneros

Los Carneros, as it's officially known, means "the rams" in Spanish going back to the time when this region was home to many sheep ranches along with dairy farms.

On the map you'll see it sits in southern Sonoma and Napa Counties near the cool waters of the San Pablo Bay. The Carneros appellation (grape growing region) is noteworthy in that it was first laid out based on the  uniqueness of the region rather than political boundaries. That is, it's the first appellation to cross into two counties.


In the 1970s grape growers began to take an interest in the region with Louis Martini probably being the most influential person to put Carneros on the map. When the popularity of Chardonnay took off so did grape growing in this area. In the 1980s several European sparkling wine producers came in and opened up winemaking facilities including Cordornui, Domain Carneros, Domain Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, and Mumm.

The Appellation

Los Carneros became an appellation in 1983. It overlaps with the Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley appellations besides overlapping into two counties. The land is mostly treeless rolling hills near sea level. The landscape may be unexciting, but the wines are anything but.


Temperatures are moderated by the San Pablo Bay (a northern part of San Francisco Bay). It's a cool region known for early morning fog and afternoon winds. The other well-known nearby cool growing region, Russian River Valley, is closer to the Pacific and receives more rain.

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It's all about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the two most popular cool climate grapes. Although everything is grown here--even Cabernet. Merlot and Syrah can be found, too. With so much Chard and Pinot brings sparkling wine.

Comparing Carneros to the Russian River Valley you find leaner, crisper Chardonnays and Pinot Noir that is more dark fruit than red fruit and with earthy flavors. This is a generalization, of course. Carneros was the most popular location for Pinot years before the Russian River Valley, Santa Rita, Anderson Valley, etc. started producing Pinot Noir in much quantity.


There aren't any huge names in California winemaking here and there are many small family operations. Some of the wineries located here are Acacia, Artesa, Ceja, Cline, Domaine Carneros, Gloria Ferrer, Saintsbury, and Viansa. There are other, smaller operations from Adastra to Truchard. Many other wineries own vineyards here including Buena Vista, Cuvaison, and Domaine Chandon.

Any must visit list should include Artesa, Domaine Carneros, and Gloria Ferrer.


It's relatively easy to get here from anywhere in the Bay Area plus the towns of Sonoma and Napa are right next door. Within Los Carneros itself there isn't a whole lot as far as eating and lodging. I mean, the most famous restaurant is probably the Fremont Diner, a breakfast joint!