History of the Carneros Wine Region

In the eastern part of Napa Valley, you will find Carneros. While Napa Valley has certainly become famous around the world in the last thirty years, Carneros has become decidedly unique. While you will certainly find plenty of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Carneros, you will also find plenty of Syrah and Merlot as well.

Some of the most well known wineries in Carneros include Talisman Cellars, Etude and Truchard Vineyards. One of the reasons that the wineries in the Carneros region have become so successful is widely attributed to the cooling by the fog and the wind from the San Pablo Bay. Still, you will typically find that compared to numerous other wine regions in California, the weather in Carneros is still rather warm. On the Napa side of Carneros, the weather tends to be warmer than on the Sonoma side.

The rolling, low hills of the terrain in the Carneros region have also contributed significantly to the way in which vineyards are developed in this region. Due to the fact that the soil in this area is quite shallow, the vineyards tend to grow at a slower rate. As a result, you will typically find that the vineyards will only measure two or three inches in diameter even when they are more than ten years old.


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The Carneros region was originally developed from both Mexican and Spanish land grants. The rugged pioneers in this region were determined to develop the area despite the unfertile soil. The great majority of the Carneros region in Napa Valley was granted to Jacob Lease in 1840. The thousands of acres that were received by Jacob Leese, as well as Nicholas Higuera, were then subdivided and sold.

Grapes have been grown in this particular region for more than 150 years; however, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that this part of the Napa Valley became involved in winemaking. Jacob Leese is credited with planting the first vineyards in this region on Rancho Huichica, an 18,000 acre parcel of land. Several years later, Higuera sold a portion of his land to Nathan Coombs. The land was then surveyed by Coombs and the town of Napa was established.

During the 1850s a good portion of Leese’s land was purchased by William H. Winter. Winter Winery was then established during the early 1870s. For a long time San Francisco served as the primary market for the wines produced in this region. Beginning in the 1880s the Phylloxera Louse devastated many of the vineyards in the Carneros region.

The Winter Winery was purchased in 1881 by James Simonton and it was renamed Talcoa Vineyards. This winery became the first to experiment with a specific type of rootstocks that were resistant to Phylloxera. A significant amount of damage had already been done to the vineyard; however. By the time Prohibition was enacted, it seemed as though the Carneros region was doomed. In fact, the region might very well have ended if it had not been for the commitment of several people.

John Garnetto constructed the first winery in the region following Prohibition in 1935. Louis M. Martini purchased more than 200 acres in the region in 1942 and began to experiment with a number of varietals that were suited for cool weather. By 1983, Carneros had become established as an AVA.

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