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Los Carneros and The Carneros Wine Alliance

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Preisers’ Reserve:  While one might argue that every producer cannot hit a home run with every vintage s/he makes, it seems that such logic does not apply to the Napa Sauvignon Blanc produced by winemaker Kristin Belair at the Honig Vineyard and Winery in the Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley. Long one of our gold standards for Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 ($16) exhibits those refreshing characteristics one searches for in a Sauvignon Blanc. They are all there – from grapefruit to grass – and not only in proper balance, but layered and smooth. Year in and year out, as they say, you can feel confident with this gently priced winner.                               


Los Carneros and The Carneros Wine Alliance

Rivalries have long existed between wineries in Napa and Sonoma. Fortunately, as growers and producers in each county seem to become more comfortable with the hard-to-dispute fact that certain grape varietals do (with some exceptions) grow better in one county over the other, the rivalry is dying down. It is no longer uncommon to see Napa wineries using Sonoma grapes to make Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, just as it is no longer a surprise when a Sonoma vintner markets a Cabernet Sauvignon with Napa fruit.

As most of our readers know, wine districts or regions with similar characteristics are referred to by a name, or “AVA” granted by the Government. Some of the famous such regions in Napa include Rutherford, Spring Mountain, and Stags Leap, while Sonoma, for example, boasts Russian River, Chalk Hill, and Alexander Valley.

Only one AVA traverses the two counties – Los Carneros, though in modern parlance it is referred to solely as “Carneros.” Literally meaning “Rams,” this AVA is a 13 mile strip that generally borders Highway 12/121 (Carneros Highway). Running through the southern corridor of both counties from about Rt. 29 in Napa to the east, to just west of the intersection of 116 and 121, the area is notable for its rolling hills, cool weather (due to its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay), and rural nature. It has already become famous for elegant and smoky Pinot Noirs, luscious Chardonnays, and crisp Sparkling wines, and is now seeing quality in a number of other varietals, such as Merlot and Syrah.

In the past few years, forward looking people in the Carneros region’s wine industry have, in effect, said, “Rivalries be damned.” In other words, to these thinkers it is more important to recognize that it really does not matter whether their properties lie in Sonoma or Napa County. It is their location in Carneros that is the common denominator for each, and therefore success should be enhanced by the appellation’s own marketing and educational cooperation.

From all of this came the formation of “The Carneros Wine Alliance,” a group dedicated to telling the story of the appellation’s vines and wines, as well as to promoting its distinct nature.  As a creature of the new century, the Alliance is committed to social, financial, and environmental sustainability in its farming and wine-growing practices.

We recently had the opportunity to join the Alliance in celebration of its 3rd Annual Heritage Fest (held during the last weekend in May or first in June, it is an event that is destination worthy).  From the initial Lamb Dinner, a four course extravaganza held at the romantic Carneros Inn, to the next day’s celebration featuring wine tasting, sheep herding exhibitions, a chef’s lamb cook-off,  music, a (what else?) lamb buffet, and artisan exhibits, this experience was wonderful in all respects, and at a very fair price.

Members of the Carneros Wine Alliance are:

Wineries: Acacia, Adastra, Ancien, Artesa, Bouchaine, Beaulieu, Bonneau, Buena Vista, Castle, Ceja, Clos du Val, Cuvaison, Domaine Carneros, Donum Estate/Robert Stemmler, Etude, Folio Winemaker’s Studio, Generations of Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer, Havens, Kent Rasmussen, MacRostie, Madonna, Merryvale, Nicholson Ranch, Patz & Hall, Pine Ridge, Ravenswood, Saintsbury, Schug, Talisman, Toad Hall, and ZD.

Growers: Allen, Beresini, Blue Creek, Broadway, Carneros Vineyard Management, Catherine Bonneau, Contessa de Carneros, Corotto, DeSoto, Donnell, Durell, Fotinaos, Gee, Geltis, GoFessel, Haire, Hi Vista, Hudson, Huichica Creek, Hyde, Kari Flores, Kosich Family, Lee, Leveroni, Martin, McCall, Molnar Family/Poseidon’s, Moretti, Rancho Carneros, Raevine, Sandbach, Sangiacomo, Sonoma Pinot, Stanly Ranch, Toyon Farm, TVL Carneros, Walsh, Wildcat Mountain, Wilkinson, and Yamakawa.

Before we end this piece by listing some of our picks as the weekend’s most memorable wines, we do want to thank those who made our time in Carneros a grand affair. They include Chair Scott Wallace of Buena Vista Carneros, co-chair Anne Moller-Racke of The Donum Estate, Armando Ceja and Lynda Handley of the event Planning Committee, and Executive Director Phyllis Gillis. To all of you we express our appreciation for the time and effort you extended. 

            Wines Not to Miss: 2005 Adastra Proximus Pinot Noir ($56); 2006 Saintsbury Brown Ranch Estate Chardonnay ($40); 2005 Donum Pinot Noir ($60); 2005 Robert Stemmler Ferguson Block; 2006 ZD Chardonnay ($44)

            Wines to Enjoy When You See Them: 2004 Bonneau Catherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay ($25); 2006 Saintsbury Chardonnay ($20); 2006 Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir ($35); 2007 Robert Stemmler Vin Gris Pinot Noir Rose ($20); 2005 Kazmer & Blaise Pinot Noir ($40)

            Good Choice for “By the Glass”:  2005 Egret (by Bonneau) Estate Chardonnay ($14); 2006 MacRostie Chardonnay ($23); 2006 Cuvaison Pinot Noir ($30)

So take your calendar and, if you are going to visit California in 2009, mark down this festival weekend as one of the times you might make the trip. The wine drinking public is quickly realizing what is happening throughout Carneros. Come be a part of the revelation.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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