Influenced by the cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean and a combination of summer fog, warm days and a long growing season, the Carneros wine region is an independent American Viticultural Area that straddles the southern boundaries of California’s Napa and Sonoma wine country.
Carneros became an official AVA in 1983, its unique characteristics based on climate and on its geographic features — the Pacific Ocean, the Coast Mountain Ranges and San Francisco Bay — that affect the region’s terroir and put a distinctive stamp on its grapes… and, ultimately, its wines.
Strictly translated, the French term terroir refers to the earth… to soil. In practice, it encompasses everything in the geography of a place that affects the grapes grown there: the slope and orientation of the hillsides, the climate and weather, the soil’s chemistry and myriad other factors.
All together, the terroir of a particular grape-growing region stamps its wines with a character recognized as unique.
When “Carneros” appears on a wine label, it assures you that at least 85% of the grape variety in the bottle comes from the Carneros AVA.
Noted wine historian William Heintz of Sonoma contends that Carneros may, in fact, be the second-oldest vineyard area in Northern California.
In the late 1830s, Jacob Leese planted a small vineyard on the Huichica grant. In the mid-1850s, William H. Winter of Indiana purchased 1,200 acres of the Huichica Rancho from Leese. By the early 1870s, Winter had not only one of the largest vineyard holdings in the area, but also had built the first winery in Carneros: Winter Winery.
Today, the Carneros AVA is known, in particular, for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — varieties that excel in the relatively cool climes. Those grapes are used to make sublime table wines, as well as expressive sparkling wines.