Carneros Wine Alliance Adopts New Focus
Wineries and growers in California's Carneros region look to raise awareness of AVA
Napa, Calif.—Most of the winemakers pouring during a recent tasting hosted by the Carneros Wine Alliance agreed that the group—and the region to some extent—had lost its focus in recent years.
“It had been dormant for so long,” said winemaker Alison Crowe, who was joined by several other winemakers and winery staff at a recent tasting at the ZD Wines property on the Napa County side of the Carneros AVA. (To see more photos of the event, visit the Wines & Vines' Facebook page at facebook.com/wines&vines.)
Crowe was pouring samples of a 2013 Pinot Noir sourced from different parts of Carneros. The wines will ultimately be bottled under the Garnet Vineyards brand. Crowe is a member of the Carneros Wine Alliance board and said the historic appellation is undergoing something of a renaissance, with new leadership that’s implementing a focused and aggressive approach to marketing the region’s wineries and vineyards.
She said new restaurants and the Carneros Inn hotel are helping to make the area more of a destination for the thousands of wine tourists who regularly drive through Carneros on their way to other parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. The alliance currently has 25 winery and grower members.
A few feet away from Crowe, Larry Hyde and his sons Peter and Chris were showcasing their own Larry Hyde & Sons wines as well as the wines of HDV, or Hyde de Villaine, which is a partnership between the Hyde family and the de Villaine family of Domaine Romanée-Conti.
Hyde, who was a founding member of the alliance, said it lost its way after coming to be dominated by large wine companies. In 2010, Hyde grew so dissatisfied that he withdrew from the alliance and only rejoined this year. He said membership means more now that he’s making wine under his own label, but he’s also happy with the alliance’s board and its new direction.
This May the Hydes are starting construction on a winery on their property near the intersection of Highway 12/121 and Los Carneros Avenue. Once the winery is completed, the family plans to lease it to a winery client.
A relatively new name at the tasting was Carneros Hill Winery, which is located on the site of the old Buena Vista winery on Ramal Road. General manager Mitch Davis said owner Jackson Family Wines has made a significant investment in upgrading the property and winemaking equipment to produce quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the adjacent 275 acres of vines.
Push for publicity
The alliance recently hired the public relations firm Teplin+Nuss and launched a publicity campaign featuring a redesigned and updated website. In 2015, the appellation will be celebrating its 30th anniversary, and the campaign is intended to drum up publicity in advance of that milestone.
Speaking to the group of growers and winemakers, the board’s vice chair Anne Moller-Racke, who is the president of the Donum Estate, said she was thrilled to see the renewed focus of the alliance. She said the collaborative and cooperative spirit of the region is part of what sets Carneros apart—as well as the area’s excellent Chardonnay. “For myself, I think we should always pay more attention to Chardonnay,” she said.
Andrew Brooks, winemaker at Bouchaine Vineyards, said he’s come to appreciate and enjoy the soil and weather conditions that make Carneros an excellent home for Chardonnay. Brooks said that while Chardonnay may not be trendy, it’s become a pleasure for him to work with the variety.
What sets Carneros Chardonnay apart is an acidity that comes through ripe fruit flavors, making a refreshing wine that also has the potential to age, Brooks said. “You can make really powerful wines that are still light on their feet,” he added.
Bouchaine’s founding winemaker and co-owner Michael Richmond also pointed out that Carneros Chardonnay typically exhibits notes of lime and citrus as opposed to the lush tropical flavors found in other California Chardonnays. “Another thing about Carneros wines is that they endure,” Richmond said.
T.J. Evans, president of the alliance board and the still winemaker at Domaine Carneros, also referred to a “Carneros renaissance.” He said the challenge of being one of the first appellations to specialize in Pinot Noir is that Carneros can’t be the hot new region.
But he said he and other Carneros winemakers aren’t going to criticize other regions like Santa Barbara or Anderson Valley, or even claim Carneros is better. They want to regain a place on the short list of the top regions in California for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “We want to be in the conversation, because we have something to offer consumers,” he said.