By the numbers

Year End 2019
  • 1
    # AVAs
  • More than 20
    Wineries
  • 24%
    % Plantings
  • 9,000
    Acreage Under Vine (Acres)
  • ###
    Crush (Tons)
  • ###
    Crush (Liters)
  • 3,642
    Acreage Under Vine (Hectares)
Key Varieties
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah
Climate
Cool-climate Mediterranean (csb)
Key Soil Types
Thin clay soils, with Haire-Coombs being the most prominent series type

Overview

Los Carneros—which can also legally be called just Carneros—was established in 1983 across the county line between Napa and Sonoma, occupying southern portions of both. It was the first California AVA to be drawn according to geographic detail and climate patterns instead of political boundaries.

Situated just north of San Pablo Bay, an extension of San Francisco Bay, the 90-square-mile (230-square-kilometer), 37,213-acre (15,060-hectare) region is cooled by morning fog and brisk afternoon breezes off the bay. The eastern, Sonoma side of the AVA (the larger portion) is cooled even further by fog and breezes from the Pacific Ocean, entering through Sonoma’s Templeton Gap. As the coolest and windiest of Napa’s nested AVAs—and one of the coolest in Sonoma—Los Carneros excels with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and in recent years has attracted attention for its elegant, cool-climate Merlot and Syrah.

The marine soils in the region derive from the bay, which 10,000 to 15,000 years ago stretched much farther north. For the most part consisting of thin clay, they offer poor drainage and fertility, stressing the vines and keeping yields low. Moderated by morning fog and regular afternoon breezes, temperatures during the growing season rarely top 80° Fahrenheit (27° Celsius), resulting in a long, albeit sunny, growing season. Sugar levels rise slowly and evenly without spiking, and the fruit retains great acidity, so growers and winemakers have the luxury of letting grapes hang at the end of the season and picking later than in most California regions, resulting in impressive flavor, color development and tannin maturity.

Beginning in the 1980s, prominent sparkling-wine producers moved in to capitalize on the success the champagne varieties had come to enjoy here: The region had earned a reputation worldwide for good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Gloria Ferrer was founded by the Spanish house Freixenet, and Domaine Carneros by Champagne’s Taittinger Family. Domaine Chandon and Mumm Napa also bought vineyards in the region. Los Carneros became a high-profile center of sparkling-wine production in California.

The region was also the hub of much viticultural research—in irrigation, trellising, rootstocks, and clones—by some of the state’s most influential viticulturists and academics, giving it a leading edge on quality. Today, some of the region’s iconic vineyards, such as Hyde Vineyard, Hudson Ranch, and the Sangiacomo Vineyards, are sought-after sources of fruit for many of Northern California’s top producers of still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as, increasingly, Merlot and Syrah.

The wine character that has developed in this very cool growing region is earthy and spicy—not necessarily fruit-driven, even though newer clones lend pretty, darker fruit than the older, red-fruited clones did. The flavors they carry are developed and complex, and their tannins rounded from the long growing season; at the same time, the wines are fresh and linear from the beautiful acidity that gives them tension in the mouth—a character that sets Los Carneros wines apart in California.