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Los Carneros AVA
Los Carneros AVA
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Los Carneros AVA
Los Carneros AVA
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Los Carneros AVA
Los Carneros AVA

Images Courtesy of Suzanne Becker Bronk

Los Carneros AVA is an American Viticultural Area which spans across parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. known for a significanly cooler climate due to its proximity to fog and cooling breezes of the San Pablo Bay.

Appellation Details

Los Carneros AVA is a American Viticultural Area that spans across parts of Napa Valley and Sonoma. Los Carneros is known for its relatively cooler temperatures due to the marine fog and breezes coming in off the San Pablo Bay. Carneros is unique among American appellations in that it spans both Napa and Sonoma counties; because of this, it is not technically a “nested” AVA of Napa Valley and the Napa part of the area is referred to as “Los Carneros.”

Carneros is composed of a series of low rolling hills that sit above the San Pablo Bay and beneath Mount Veeder. The soils are predominately sandy loam over clay. Because of the cooling influence of the Bay and regular fog and ocean breezes, Carneros is widely considered to be “Napa’s Burgundy,” as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive here. That said, it might be more accurate to call it, “Napa’s Champagne” because multiple sparkling houses have set up shop here and produce truly world-class sparkling wine. Carneros has also been gaining attention recently for its Merlot, which loves the clay soils and excels in the warmer pockets of the region.

The relatively cooler climate of Los Carneros makes it suitable for varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Carneros may be cooler than Napa Valley proper but it is considerably warmer than the Sonoma Coast, so the Pinot Noirs tends to be comparatively ripe, round and rich with an intense core of cherry fruit. The Chardonnays can be both powerful and bright with pronounced minerality. Los Carneros AVA was officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 1983 and was the first AVA to be purely defined by climate characteristics instead of geographical characteristics.


  • Sea level to 700 feet (Sea level to 213 m)


  • Clay dominated
  • Very shallow in general
  • More loam and hillside alluvials in the northern areas
  • Grape yields are restrained by hard claypan subsoil, which prevents deep rooting


  • Cool, with prevailing marine winds from the San Pablo Bay
  • High temperatures during summer rarely exceed 80°F (27°C)
  • less diurnal range variation


  • Lowest in Napa Valley: up to 24 inches (61 cm) annually

Principal Varieties:

  • Chardonnay
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir

Los Carneros AVA History

General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo

General Mariano Vallejo

The name Los Carneros translates to "The Rams" in Spanish and dates to the 1830's when this region was controlled by the government of Mexico. Throughout the 1830's and 1840's, General Mariano Vallejo played a large part in the creation of many of Napa Valley Appellations through his practice of awarding large plots of land, or Ranchos, to friends and family. The area now known as Los Carneros AVA is comprised of at least three of these original Mexican land grants, Rincon de los Carneros, Entre Napa and Huichica Ranchos. The Ranchos Rincon de los Carneros and Entre Napa were given to Nicola Higuerra, a former soldier and Alcalde of Sonoma. Rancho Huichica was given to Vallejo's son-in-law, Jacob Leese.

Traditionally, the area that would come to be known as Los Carneros was dominated by large ranches and dairies. One of the first people to plant vineyards in Los Carneros was William Winter, who acquired 1000 acres of Huichica Rancho in the 1850's and by 1870 had one of the largest vineyards in the county. Winter was also the person to build the first winery in Los Carneros during the 1870's.

Wine production in Los Carneros diminished during the outbreak of Phylloxera in the 1890's and then Prohibition in the 1920's. However a resurgance in grape growing and wine production bagan in 1942 when winemaker Louis M. Martini bought the old Stanly Ranch property and other large producers began to recognize the potential of the area for cultivating grapes used in sparkling wine.

Now, the Los Carneros AVA is composed of over 8000 acres of vineyards and home to more than 20 wineries. Since then various new vineyards have been planted, often taking advantage of favorable sites previously planted in the 1800's. Los Carneros was officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 1983.


"Carneros is the southeaster-most AVA and is heavily influenced by its proximity to the San Pablo Bay. Carneros is generally the coolest AVA in the warm summer months, often covered by fog in the mornings coming off the bay. This provides for a slow, steady ripening of the grapes and wines that are fresh and vibrant, with natural acidity."
- Anthony Truchard II, Truchard Vineyards

"This region is more suited to the early ripening grape varieties - Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. These wines, when produced at our winery from Carneros region grapes, are significantly different in character to those produced from the same varieties grown in vineyards to the north of Carneros."
- Thomas B. Selfridge and Anthony A. Bell, Beaulieu Vineyard

Notable Wines sourced from Los Carneros AVA

Beaulieu Vineyard
Beaulieu Vineyard 2018 Chardonnay

We selected most of the grapes from our Beaulieu Vineyard Ranch No. 8 as well as some specific parcels from Ranch No. 9, where the vines, grafted to Dijon clones 95, 76 and Robert Young clone, yield small, intensely flavored berries. These Chardonnay vineyards are located in the cool, windy Los Carneros American Viticultural Area (AVA) at the southernmost tip of Napa Valley. The region’s shallow clay loam soils and marine-influenced climate foster ripe, beautifully balanced Chardonnay expression.

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Rutherford Hill Winery
Rutherford Hill Winery 2008 Chardonnay

The Carneros American Viticulture Area (also known as Los Carneros) is located at the north end of the San Pablo Bay. The proximity to the cool fog and bay breezes make the climate in Carneros cooler and more moderate. This makes Carneros ideal for the cultivation of varietals like Chardonnay. Receiving its AVA status in 1983, the Carneros area was the first wine region in California to be defined by its climate characteristics rather than political boundaries. The 2008 Carneros Chardonnay beautifully captures the recognizable attributes expected from this respected area. Pour a glass and you'll experience a full-bodied wine, offering a pleasant richness with a lengthy but bright finish.

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Cuvaison 2015 'Spire' Pinot Noir

For the past four decades, Cuvaison has focused on making estate-grown Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from its renowned vineyard in Napa Valley’s Los Carneros AVA.

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The Vice
The Vice 2020 'Batch # 75 "The Ram 2.0"' Cabernet Sauvignon

Los Carneros (Spanish for The Rams) was the first established Sub- Appellation of Napa Valley. The Ram is also my Zodiac sign, the truck that I drive and perhaps my favorite Football Team. Batch #75 reflects the potential of Los Carneros Cabernet Sauvignon, "the underdog of Napa Valley" to achieve a breakthrough in a region where Cabernet reigns king

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Los Carneros AVA Resources and References

  1. "§9.32 Los Carneros" (Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Part 9 — American Viticultural Areas; Subpart C — Approved American Viticultural Areas). Code of Federal Regulations. Retrieved October 30, 2007.
  2. Heintz, W.F. (1980) A brief history of grape growing and wine making in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, California. Sonoma, Calif,, CA: William F. Heintz.
  3. Elkjer, Thom (June 9, 2005). "Carneros conundrum - Even after 20 years, Napa-Sonoma region struggles to define its identity". San Francisco Chronicle.
  4. Robinson, Jancis, ed. (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-19-860990-2.
  5. Palmer, Lyman L.; Wells, Harry Laurenz (1881). History of Napa and Lake Counties, California. Slocum, Bowen & Company. ISBN 978-1363000555.
  6. Weber, Lin (1998). Old Napa Valley: The History to 1900. Wine Ventures Publishing. ISBN 9780966701401.
  7. Laube, J. (May 15, 1994). "What Lies Ahead for Carneros?". Wine Spectator.
  8. Sogg, Dan (April 6, 2002). "California Vintner Brings Iberian Grape to Carneros". Wine Spectator.
  9. The Carneros Wine Alliance is dedicated to promoting the rich viticulure area of Napa and Sonoma Valley’s that composes the Carneros AVA. (n.d.). Carneros Wine Alliance. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.carneros.com/

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