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Carneros, Napa Valley
Carneros sits just north of the shores of the San Pablo Bay, a northern extension of the San Francisco Bay, and is divided between Napa and Sonoma Counties. The division is purely political, and from a viticultural standpoint Carneros stands alone, separate and distinct from Napa or Sonoma, and is one of California's most homogenous and best-conceived AVAs.

Like other areas that are showing promise for Pinot Noir, Carneros, or Los Carneros more properly, has a chilly climate. It is moderated by the waters of the bay, and the maritime fogs and winds. The late afternoon winds in particular, are notorious in their strength as they race from the bay and the Petaluma Gap to the warmer inland valleys. Indeed, recent research has shown that the winds may have an effect even beyond the temperature. It has been shown that in response to high winds a grapevine will slow or shut down the photosynthetic process in order to avoid dehydration. This additional stress coupled with the lengthy growing season should bode well for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The results, however, though competent, had not often been as exciting as one might expect. Carneros Pinot Noir tended to wind up in the delicate red cherry flavored end of the spectrum with little of the exotic notes that make great Pinot Noir so thrilling.

Suspicion was directed to the clones of Pinot Noir that were originally planted. Mainly the product of U.C. Davis, these clones were more suited to viticultural regions that don't share the more marginal climate of Carneros. These questions have been addressed, and Francis Mahoney of Carneros Creek has been in the forefront of research in this area. In a classic example of the maddening properties of Pinot Noir, Mahoney spent 25 years in a three-part clonal selection program that he began in 1975. With the arrival of Phyloxera in the area 15 years ago, the more unfortunate aspects of having to replant were offset by a greater understanding of how new Pinot Noir clones would help to boost Carneros Pinot to the forefront.

Fortunately Carneros Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have taken the next leap forward in the last decade and Carneros is responsible for some of the finest examples in California. (Wine/Appellations)