The oldest continuously operating winery in Carneros, Bouchaine has been revitalizing and expanding its estate vineyards in recent years, and with a minimalist approach (native yeasts and gentle extraction) is turning out elegant Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, plus some terrific Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling.
Buena Vista Winery
Founded in 1857 by one of California’s more colorful European winemaking immigrants, Agoston Haraszthy (aka the Count of Buena Vista, who reportedly finally met his demise in a crocodile-infested Nicaraguan river), the historic Buena Vista has been restored to its old-stone beauty by one of California’s most colorful current European vintners—French-born Jean-Charles Boisset. While many of the original Carneros vineyards were split off from the winery through sales, the property offers a terrific look at the history of the region.
Founded by the Mexican-American Ceja family, this winery was the dream of immigrant vineyard workers who achieved grower and winery ownership in one generation. Their graceful Pinot Noirs are worth seeking out.
The 400-acre (162-hectare) Los Carneros Ranch marks a complete shift in focus for Cuvaison, from Bordeaux varieties in northern Napa Valley to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot in Carneros (the latter a terrific example of how Merlot excels here). The winery is on the front edge of experimenting with styles, clones, and techniques among the myriad of distinct aspects present in the many hills on the property, revealed in Cuvaison’s Micro Lot bottlings.
Domaine Carneros by Champagne Taittinger
Founded in 1986, Domaine Carneros was a ringing endorsement by one of Champagne’s leading families of the capacity of the region to produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay propitious for top-notch sparkling wine, and now the producer is making critically acclaimed still Pinot Noir. The imposing château, the building of which was overseen by founding Winemaker and CEO Eileen Crane, is still the most recognizable landmark along the highway.
The Donum Estate
In close proximity to San Pablo Bay, The Donum Estate—largely developed by German-born Anne Moller-Racke, who was material in the launch of the Carneros Wine Alliance—is notable for both its distinctive Pinot Noirs and its eclectic modern sculpture collection tucked among its vineyards.
Of the 2,000 acres (809 hectares) of the stunning Hudson Ranch, about 200 (81 hectares) are under vine, with 40 percent planted to Chardonnay (but don’t overlook its exciting block of Syrah, made the most of by Napa’s Kongsgaard winery). Winemaking here is non-interventionist, using native yeasts and no filtering or fining.
Begun in 1979 by Larry Hyde, the now 192-acre (78-hectare), Chardonnay-driven vineyard has become a “Grand Cru-level” source of fruit for more than 30 of California’s most respected producers, from Paul Hobbs and Ramey to Aubert and DuMOL. Hyde Vineyards is the family’s own interpretation of the vineyard. In the early aughts, Hyde partnered with Burgundy’s DRC legend Aubert de Villaine (to whom he’s related by marriage) in Hyde de Villaine winery, an Old World–New World effort to push the boundaries on quality winemaking in Carneros.
Robledo Family Winery
On a piece of property purchased in 1984, Reynaldo and Maria Robledo launched the first winery in the U.S. founded by Mexican vineyard workers on their own land. All nine of their children worked from early years in the vineyards, and many have branched into their own wine businesses, including an extensive vineyard management company.
Schug Carneros Estate Winery
Walter Schug, with German heritage, made a commitment to Pinot Noir when he founded his namesake winery 30 years ago. His family continues the focus and legacy today.