One of California’s First American Viticultural Areas
150+ Years of Grape Growing
Los Carneros AVA, located at the southern end of Napa and Sonoma counties, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. This appellation, which is known for producing exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, was established in 1983 and was one of the first American Viticultural Areas to be designated based on its unique climate and geography.
Over the past four decades, Los Carneros has become a leading wine region in California, attracting visitors from all over the world to its picturesque vineyards and wineries. The 40th anniversary is a significant milestone for this AVA, as it recognizes the hard work and dedication of the growers and winemakers who have helped to establish Los Carneros as a premier wine destination.
Bordering the San Pablo Bay, with unique soils and a distinctive maritime influence, Los Carneros (“the rams” in Spanish), encompasses 37,000 acres, of which over 10,000 acres are under vine, approximately 70% of which are in Sonoma County. Carneros is home to 45 wineries, the first of which was established in the early 1870s.
The first post-Prohibition winery was established by John Garetto at the present site of Bouchaine Vineyards. Subsequently, Andre Tchelistcheff and Louis M. Martini sparked renewed interest in the cool-climate region, and Beaulieu Vineyards and the Sangiacomo family became powerhouses here in the 1980s. Louis Martini’s purchase of historic Stanly Ranch in 1942, now owned by The Duckhorn Portfolio, led it to playing a key role in viticulture. It was here that in the 1950s, Martini, the Wente family and UC Davis conducted clonal trials for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Today, the vineyard’s five clones of Pinot Noir and three clones of Chardonnay go to the Migration label.
Some say it’s dandy for sparkling, and those at Domaine Carneros would not disagree: after all, the rolling hills, already planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, reminded Claude Taittinger of his beloved Champagne. So much so, that in 1987, he purchased a 138-acre parcel of land in the heart of Carneros.
Among those joining Bouchaine Vineyards and Domaine Carneros in making stellar wines from this piece of land under the influence of San Pablo Bay, are Ram’s Gate, Hyde, Schug and Saintsbury. Of course, there are many others, but these provide a good random sampling.
Discover Los Carneros
Gloria Ferrer Winery and Caves was established in 1986 by José and Gloria Ferrer, two passionate wine enthusiasts whose family has been making sparkling wine for more than 100 years in Spain. Gloria Ferrer is known for its exceptional sparkling wines made using the traditional method to ensure the utmost quality, with some wines aged for up to 10 years before release. The winery’s focus on sustainable and environmentally friendly practices has earned it certifications from organizations such as the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance and International Wineries for Climate Action. Visitors to the winery can enjoy a range of unique and immersive tasting experiences, from guided tours to private tastings, all with beautiful views of the winery’s Carneros estate vineyards.
Bouchaine Vineyards lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating winery in the Carneros AVA – since the late 1880s. With 104 acres of land just north of the San Pablo Bay, they are blessed with a constant supply of wine and fog, the perfect environment for stellar Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Winemaker and General Manager Chris Kajani brings Pinot prowess and Carneros knowledge from nine years at Saintsbury and has upped the game at Bouchaine with a new event center and a focus on single clones. Tasting the 2019 Swan Clone Pinot Noir, 2019 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir, 2019 Dijon Clone Pinot Noir and 2019 Estate Pinot Noir reveals their diametrically distinctive personalities. Dijon is black fruit and almost obtusely dense, whereas Swan offers a perfumey red-lipped grace. Pommard hits a deeper earthy note of dusty cocoa and the combo of all of them is, well, divine.
Hyde Vineyards was founded by Larry Hyde in 1979, and today consists of 200 acres across five different vineyard properties in Carneros, providing fruit to 35 different wineries, including Dumol, Kistler, Ramey, Schramsberg and Paul Hobbs. Named Napa Valley Grower of the Year in 2020, Hyde’s efforts have helped establish Carneros as a premium region for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Artesa Winery is known for producing high-quality, small-batch wines that are crafted using sustainable farming practices. The winery's signature wine is the Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, which has been praised for its complex flavors and elegant structure. Artesa also offers a range of other varietals, including Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Visitors to the winery can enjoy tours and tastings, as well as stunning views of the surrounding vineyards and hillsides.
Donum Estate Winery is a premium winery that produces world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. The winery's focus on quality is evident in its commitment to organic and biodynamic farming practices, which result in grapes that express the unique terroir of the estate vineyards. Donum’s winemaking philosophy emphasizes minimal intervention, allowing the grapes to speak for themselves in each vintage. The winery also produces Chardonnay and a range of other Pinot Noir bottlings, including single-vineyard and estate blends. The winery's stunning grounds feature a sculpture garden with works from some of the world's most renowned contemporary artists.
Cuvaison boasts breathtaking views of rolling hills and lush vineyards. The winery's modern tasting room offers an inviting atmosphere to sample their award-winning Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Visitors can take a guided tour of the winery, which includes a walk through the vineyards, a behind-the-scenes look at the winemaking process, and a tasting of their limited-production wines. Cuvaison Winery is known for its commitment to sustainable and organic farming practices, which makes the experience of visiting the winery even more unique and special.
Ram’s Gate Winery’s Director of Winemaking and General Manager, Joe Nielsen, along with Assistant Winemaker Orrin Oles and Enologist Rachel Bordes, are making compelling wines from their front yard and back yard. High on a windy hill, it’s the first winery you see after passing Sonoma Raceway. The first wine you should taste is the estate Pinot Blanc. A standout is the 2019 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay, made from the Musqué and Robert Young selections for amped up aromatics and a sense of voluptuous minerality that is like a soprano lingering forever on the perfect note. The 2019 Ram’s Gate Estate Pinot Noir is a fascinatingly concentrated yet lifted concoction of chocolate, baking spice, tangerine and coriander.
Established over 40 years ago by Walter Schug, who was the founding winemaker of Joseph Phelps winery, Schug Winery is now headed up by young German-American winemaker, Johannes Scheid. It’s fitting as Schug’s heritage goes back to Germany’s Rheingau region, where Pinot Noir has been planted for centuries. Carneros called to Schug for its Pinot Noir suitability.
With its iconic block lettered “S” evoking illuminated medieval manuscripts, Saintsbury has been a bastion of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay since its founding in 1981 by two guys who met in a brewing class at UC Davis: the late Richard Ward and David Graves, who worked harvests together at Chappellet and Stag’s Leap. They named the winery for George Saintsbury, a literary historian and oenophile (1845-1933). Their first “Garnet” Pinot Noir was made to great acclaim in 1983. The 13-acre Home Ranch estate was planted in 1986, using Pommard cuttings from their friend David Adelsheim in Oregon. English Lit major Byron Kosuge was winemaker here from 1985 until 2001 before going to Miura and McIntyre. Since 2015, Tim Colla, a graduate of Columbia University, where he studied Fine Art and Chemistry, has been Lead Winemaker here. Try the Vincent Vin Gris: yes, named for that Vincent. The artful spirit lives on.
Visitors can enjoy wine tastings and tours, take in the stunning views of the rolling hills and grapevines, and learn about the winemaking process from knowledgeable staff. With its laid-back ambiance, breathtaking scenery, and exceptional wines, Carneros is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to explore California's wine country.