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by Fred McMillin
Carneros Up Close
There was a vineyard in Carneros as early as 1830. There was a winery in Carneros 40 years later. When wine-pioneer Prof. George Husmann set up headquarters in California, it was in the Carneros. By the end of the 19th century, the area's viticultural future seemed assured. But then came the phylloxera insect, the huge earthquake of 1906, Prohibition and the Great Depression. As a result, vine acreage declined continuously for decades.
Carneros is not grape-friendly. Located at the southern end of Napa and Sonoma counties, the area is windy and foggy, with infertile soil. A vine planted in the central Napa Valley will have a trunk as thick as a fighter's arm in five years. Plant it farther south in the Carneros, and in the same time the trunk will not be much thicker than a pencil. Yet, about 1970 vintners started to realize that those scrawny vines could bear exciting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Carneros vineyard acreage in 1972 was a mere 200. By nineteen ninety two it was over 6,000!...the Carneros comeback. (Sources, Bob Thompson and John Baxevanis).
Joining in the surge was Napa Valley's successful Cakebread Cellars. My panel just tasted the winery's second Carneros Pinot.
1995 Pinot Noir, 100% Carneros
While Carneros ("sheep" in Spanish) can claim to be the fastest growing viticultural district in California, it cannot claim a monopoly on the title. It received its name in a Spanish land grant in 1836. But, two years earlier there was a "Los Carneros" land grant in Monterey County. Later, Kern County had both a spring and a mountain named "Carneros." Also, Santa Barbara had a valley by that name in 1842, though an early atlas misspelled it Cameros. (Obviously, I use the same proofreader!)
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