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Beautiful Carneros: What Makes This California Region Special

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Rocky Hillsides in Carneros

Rocky Hillsides in Carneros

Carneros Wine Region in California

My husband and I have driven through this beautiful region and have tasted some of the delicious wines produced from the grapes grown in Carneros on several occasions. The lovely Carneros region is just south of the cities of Napa and Sonoma and north of San Francisco, California. Carneros is an appellation whose boundaries are in the counties of Napa and Sonoma.

In 1985, Carneros became a designated AVA (American Viticultural Area). Most of the grapes made into wine must come from that particular area in the state. Because growing conditions vary from one locale to another, often an AVA has distinctive characteristics. Wineries that adhere to those standards can often command higher prices with that AVA on their labels.

In some cases, AVA's overlap. The winery can decide which AVA is most important in defining their wine. It also gives knowledgeable wine consumers more information when purchasing wines. Some well-known AVAs command higher prices.

The Carneros AVA in relation to San Pablo Bay.

The Carneros AVA in relation to San Pablo Bay.

History of This Region

Historically the region was part of three Mexican land grants dating to the 1830s, and it takes its name from "Ranch El Rincon de Los Carneros."

As more people started settling in this area, conflicts took place with the Mexican authorities. On June 9, 1846, the Mexican military commander, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, was captured and imprisoned. The settlers no longer wished to be under the control of Mexico.

What ultimately became known as the Bear Flag Revolt led the way to California being independent of Mexico. The new flag of the California Republic had a bear as a part of the flag.

Interestingly, we know a person whose grandparents several generations back helped to escort Mariano Vallejo to jail and whose red pieces of an underskirt became a part of that Bear Flag.

On July 9, 1846, according to Wikipedia, the 28-star U.S. flag replaced the flying of the Bear Flag. On September 9, 1850, California became the 31st state in the U.S. A bear image is still on the official flag of California.


Located at the southern end of both Sonoma and Napa counties and bordered on the south by San Pablo Bay, this area of gently rolling hills has unique climatic conditions.

Carneros means sheep in Spanish. Sheepherding, cattle, and horse ranching were the primary occupations of early settlers. Grapes were first planted in the 1850s, making it the second oldest vineyard area in northern California. Sonoma was the first.

Coastal fogs cool many other regions, but the Carneros Appellation also has daily cooling winds blowing in from nearby San Pablo Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The lower temperatures, averaging 72 degrees Fahrenheit, provide a longer growing season and produce grapes with higher acidity, lower alcohol content, and highly developed flavors. There is plenty of sunshine annually.

Chardonnay displaying crisp acidity with citrus and green apple flavors and medium-bodied Pinot Noir showing red cherry and raspberry tastes are the primary varietals in Carneros. Both grapes are also well suited for the production of sparkling wine. Merlot and Syrah have also adapted well to the soils and climate.

Growing of Grapes

The wine industry took a hit back in the late 1870s and 1880s. It was due to the phylloxera insect that decimated many of the vineyards. New grafted phylloxera-resistant vines to American rootstock took place, saving the wine industry. Then Prohibition from 1919 to 1933 caused many wineries to once again close.

After Prohibition, the proliferation of wineries has continued to grow, with more and more of them coming to this Carneros region because of the perfect climate and growing conditions.

About 9,000 of the 27,213 acres in Carneros have vineyards planted. Rainfall averages about 25 inches per year, so additional irrigation of the vineyards takes place when needed.

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The rolling and rocky hills of Carneros provide ideal drainage. While the soil is not very fertile, this forces the grape roots to reach for water and nutrients. Often when vines are challenged like this, the results are better. Yields are not as heavy, but the grapes are top in quality.

The Carneros Wine Alliance is a member organization of vintners, winegrowers, and others who promote the exceptional wines from this AVA.

What to Do and See

It easy for visitors to enjoy a day trip up into Carneros from San Francisco to visit wineries. Or, if one has more time, there are plenty of places to stay in this region.

Through the years, we have visited wineries in Carneros. We have also gone to those in Sonoma and Napa counties and have made some good friends. Our experiences vary from staying in guesthouses to staying in inns. There are also bed and breakfasts, hotels, and vacation rental places. We have enjoyed simple picnics on the grounds of wineries and have also dined in some fantastic restaurants.

Visitors can take hot air balloon rides at dawn and see the land from a birdseye view. There are bike tours, train tours, numerous golf courses, art galleries, museums, theaters, shopping opportunities, spas, and more.

It is no wonder that California's Carneros region of the wine country is a dream destination for many people. It is a great place to relax and unwind or be as busy as one might wish with so many things to do and see.

For one country is different from another; its earth is different, as are its stones, wines, bread, meat, and everything that grows and thrives in a specific region.

— Paracelsus


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Peggy Woods


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 01, 2021:

Hi Mary,

If driving to Napa, or Sonoma, from San Francisco, you would have driven through Carneros. It used to have fewer wineries than the other two, but that has been changing over the years. All of these areas are so beautiful! I hope that you can once again start traveling later this year. Happy New Year!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 01, 2021:

We only think of Napa and Sonoma and have not explored the Carneros. Am dying to be able to travel again and enjoy some of these. Happy New Year, Peggy.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 01, 2021:

Hi Devika,

Thanks for your comment, and Happy New Year to you!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 01, 2021:

Hi Devika,

I am pleased that you enjoyed learning about the Carneros region in California. It is so beautiful.

It is interesting that most of the people in Croatia make their own wine. There are some people in our country that also do it, but not anywhere near the majority. Thank for your comment.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 01, 2021:

Peggy W Happy New to you. Beautiful and most interesting about California region.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 01, 2021:

Peggy Woods winemaking is interesting in Croatia most people make their own and when I first came to Croatia I was really impressed by the process. You share great ideas and information from your side of the world.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 31, 2020:

Hi FlourishAnyway,

The process of winemaking is fascinating for people who do not know the process. Winemakers have great discretion in tweaking the wines to make distinctive flavor profiles. The area is so pretty even if you are not a wine a wine drinker. There are plenty of other things to do and see in this pretty area.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 31, 2020:

I especially liked that story about the state flag. I cannot drink wine but would love to visit the region and take a hot air balloon ride and see the process of wine making.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 31, 2020:

Good evening Umesh,

I am pleased that you enjoyed reading this article about Carneros. Have a happy and healthy new year!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 31, 2020:

Very nice depiction.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 31, 2020:

Hi Pamela,

I am happy to know that you and your sister got to see the beautiful Carneros region as well as Napa Valley. It is such a delightful place to visit.

Happy New Year!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 31, 2020:

I really enjoyed reading about the history this beautiful area. My sister and I toured Napa Valley and the beautiful Carneros. Your very good article brought back great memories, Peggy.

Happy New Year!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 31, 2020:

Hi Linda,

We have enjoyed some fantastic trips to the wine country of California. We have always driven from San Francisco to Carneros, Sonoma, and Napa. There are undoubtedly many more wineries in Carneros than the last time we were there. It is an ideal growing region for certain varieties. I hope you get to see it someday. Happy New Year!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 31, 2020:

This sounds like a great area to explore. You've seen some interesting places during your travels, Peggy. I would love to explore the wine region that you've described.

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