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Los Carneros Wine Tours

Los Carneros—Spanish for “the ram”—is the closest wine producing region to San Francisco, California and includes portions of both the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

This appellation's predominant varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—which are often converted to sparkling wine, benefit from its cool, marine climate.

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Carneros wetlands view from Viansa wineryCarneros’ location straddling the mouths of the Sonoma and Napa valleys—both rising away from the region—combined with its proximity to San Pablo Bay gives it a climate similar to San Francisco’s; temperate, without drastic variation through the year, with frequent night and morning fog. Cool breezes escalate to strong winds as the two valleys heat up and rising air pulls the cooler air off the bay.
View north from ArtesaAlthough there is considerable variation in Carneros soil, it is predominantly a poor to moderately fertile shallow clay composed of sediment from the bay marsh.
Los Caneros view north from Los Amigas RdSoil and climate conditions mean that vines planted here will not be nearly as robust as those planted in the central Napa Valley for instance. The vines’ struggle to produce fruit, combined with a long growing season (increased hang time) results in a low yield of highly concentrated fruit, with a naturally high acidity and relatively low sugar. In addition to the predominant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Carneros warmer areas produce Syrah, cool climate Merlot, Viognier and other varietals.
Struggle builds character and grapes grown in Carneros are highly sought after by wineries both within and outside the AVA.

Wineries in the Carneros AVA

Map to wineries in CarnerosMuch of the fruit grown in Carneros is processed by wineries situated outside of the AVA and much of it goes into the production of sparkling wine.
The side bar to the right lists twenty wineries within the region in alphabetical order. Follow the links for descriptions, pictures, wines produced and wine tasting details or, alternatively, use the interactive map to navigate between wineries.
Sculpture and view at Artesa WineryLike much of the rest of the Northern California Wine Country, Carneros wineries and wine tasting rooms range from extravagant showplaces featuring original art, panoramic views and beautiful gardens to mom-and-pop farm houses with wine tasting in a converted barn. The California Mission Museum at Cline Cellars has to be near the top in a list of surprising extras found at wineries in the region.

A brief history of grapes in Los Carneros

Grape growing in Carneros dates back to the mid 19th Century. Wine historian William Heintz of Sonoma believes that Carneros may be the second oldest vineyard area in northern California.
Wine GrapesIn the late 1830s Jacov Leese planted a vineyard on the Huichica land grant. William H. Winter purchased 1,200 acres of the Huichica Rancho from Leese and by the early 1870s had built the first winery in Carneros, Winter Winery.
Although the wine industry thrived in Carneros in the mid-1800s, it was nearly destroyed by the combination of phylloxera, the 1906 earthquake, Prohibition—which lasted from 1919 to 1933—and the Great Depression.
John Garetto established the first post-Prohibition winery in Carneros, at the present site of Bouchaine Vineyards, in 1935.
Bouchaine Winery in CarnerosIt wasn't until the 1980s that Carneros popularity as a grape growing region returned. There were only 200 vineyard acres in the AVA in 1972. By 1992 there were over 6,000 which quickly grew to 8,000 and there seem to be more vineyards every time I visit the area.
Carneros was made an official American Viticultural Area (AVA), in 1983. AVA districts are designated based on unique micro climate and soil conditions, what the French call terroir.
Climate characteristics, as opposed to political boundaries, are the defining aspect of the Carneros AVA which is why it overlaps parts of two counties.
Continue to the first Carneros AVA winery in the link below to explore them in alphabetical order or use the map or sidebar above to jump to a specific winery.

First Winery | Map

Slideshow—all photos on this page

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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2015 Lee W. Nelson