If you’ve been following our Carneros regional history, you know that it was largely due to the Spanish and Mexican influence that this area of Sonoma and Napa became enticing to settlers. People flocked here from all over the world to settle and start farms: Germans, Americans, Irish, French, and more came to this fertile valley. The fertility and climate of the Carneros wine region made it an attractive place to put down roots — literally! The climate was much more temperate than most of the Napa and Sonoma areas, with cool breezes and fogs from the San Pablo Bay allowing for robust agriculture, including apricots, plums, apples and pears, and of course, wine grapes!
In addition to it being a farming paradise, Carneros’s proximity to waterways made transporting goods and services easy and cheap. Farming and wine growing flourished for several decades. The 300-acre Stanly Ranch emerged as the first wine-making winner in the area, winning competitive medals as early as 1888. Things were looking very good.
Sadly, right around the turn of the century, a two-pronged attack —the dreaded Phylloxera epidemic (1870-1880), and the dreaded Prohibition epidemic (1919-1933) — caught up with the Carneros wine region, and wine making came to a halt.
Miraculously, the Stanly Ranch wasn’t completely devastated by the Phylloxera infestation. In fact, the Stanly Ranch provided grapes for the first post-Prohibition wines in 1935. This was pioneered in part by none other than world-renowned Louis M. Martini, who eventually bought most of the Stanly Ranch. He saw the benefits of the region’s cool climate and capitalized by planting the cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
An explosion of planting, cloning, harvesting and diversifying happened throughout the ensuing decades. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay continued to be the top grapes. Carneros also became known for her sparkling wines, which very often feature Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
According to the Carneros Wine Alliance, “Carneros became an official AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1983, its unique characteristics based on climate and on its geographic features – the Pacific Ocean, the Coast Mountain Ranges and the San Francisco Bay – that affect the region’s terroir and put a distinctive stamp on its grapes.”
It is interesting to note that carneros means sheep or ram in Spanish, and was so named because of the sheep that wandered on the farms there.
Next week, we’ll look at some of the key characteristics to look for in Carneros wines. Until then, cheers!