History goes back to 1942, when the well-known Louis Martini bought the old Standly Ranch and replanted it. By the 1970s, the Carneros region had more than 1300 acres under vineyard cultivation. The Carneros region soon gained a reputation for its quality Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. This reputation quickly spread to the sparkling wine producers from the Champagne region of France. A big wave of investment in the 1980s brought Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, and Cordoniu Napa to Carneros. It soon became one of the best centers for sparkling wine in California. Later in the 1980s, phylloxera returned to Carneros, and forced replanting of the vineyards. Carneros producers used this opportunity to plant phylloxera resistant root stock, and the new French clones of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
With continued popularity of Chardonnays, the region now has over 6000 acres of this varietal. The Carneros region covers 90 square miles, along the low lying hills of the Mayacamas range. Each portion is allowed to use the Napa or Sonoma appellation, respectively. It is the coolest and windiest part of the area, and almost always had some morning fog. Recently, the area has also been planted with Syrah and Merlot. But the Chardonnays here have a higher acidity that balances the grapes from the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The Pinot Noir has a crisp acidity as well, and has a spicy berry fruitiness. Carneros was the pioneer for cooler climate plantings, like the Russian River, Alexander Valley, and the Santa Rita Hills.
Whatever the experts, viticulturists, and enologists say, I just happen to like the Carneros region sparkling wines more than any other. I particularly like the Domaine Carneros Brut Rose’, and rate it with Chateau Marguet from France. Both are a little out of my budget for everyday drinking, but I always keep a few bottles on hand.
I have attended the Winemaker’s Luncheon at Domaine Carneros twice now. Their winemaker, Eileen Crane was prominently mentioned in the popular book, The Widow Clicquot. In fact, one year, she sat next to me, and I proceeded to ask some questions that only an old farm boy would know to ask. Then, this past year, she rewarded us with her first vintage, her 1988 Carneros Brut champagne.
These are the wineries in Carneros:
I profess to have only tasted a few: Buena Vista, Ceja, Clos du Val, Cuvaison, Domaine Carneros of course, Gloria Ferrer, Merryvale, Raneswood, and ZD.
A few good places to eat can be found in Carneros as well. One is the Fremont Diner, not far from Domaine Carneros. Some of their specialties are: huevos rancheros, shrimp po’ boys, burgers, and pulled pork sandwiches. You vegetarians can order mac and cheese, or grilled cheese sandwiches, topped by a milk shake for dessert. Nearby also is the Boon Fly Cafe, casual and also serving three meals a day. Their rather rustic cuisine is based on availability of nearby agriculture of the region.
I joined the Chateau Society of Domaine Carneros last year. I have two bottles of bubbly sent to me every other month. I also receive 20% discounts on food and wine service. I also get a complimentary tasting for me and a guest, along with a free public tour once a year. But even without it, you will find me there several times a year. It is my favorite place in the entire wine region!!!!