Los Carneros AVA – is it Napa or Sonoma? The answer is a little bit of both. The southernmost appellation for Napa, and the second southernmost for Sonoma, Carneros straddles the county border and gets its cooling influence from a close proximity to the San Pablo Bay. It spans west into Sonoma, just past Bonness Road, and east into Napa, up to the banks of the Napa River. This region typically produces perfumed, fruit-forward pinot noir, and brightly acidic, citrusy chardonnay with added complexity from oak and bottle age. And yes, there is a battle over who gets to claim Carneros.
A few days ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance about local wildlife in the Carneros region, to which I referred as “year-round avian residents of Napa Valley.” “Sonoma!” she protested, “Carneros is in Sonoma.” And then it hit me – this woman is a Sonoma resident. In that moment, I realized I was in a delicate situation. I was at risk of becoming an insensitive, entitled, elitist Napkin! And I had to backtrack quickly. Thinking fast, I thanked her for the correction, and henceforth referred to the region as Napa-Sonoma, which is also how my favorite birding marshes are titled. The compromise worked.
Napa, the first AVA in California and, by far, the most well-known, is flashy and pompous. And so too, are the residents. Sonoma, our cooler climate, and geographically larger, “little” sister is spunky and laid-back, yet still somewhat more refined. May I recommend a Green Valley Pinot Noir? Perhaps from Dutton Estate?
This discrepancy comes up often. My entire life, I’ve equated Carneros with Napa. Growing up, I had friends who lived in the far south-western part of the region and still went to school with me, in Napa. The actual border between counties is much farther out than expected, past the rolling wilderness, and closer to Napa Road and the city of Sonoma. There was definitely a time, in my lifetime, when Carneros was largely ignored as a premium winegrowing region, and nobody cared which county they were in, but as the region has become more prominent in the wine world, and as long as the appellation defies political borders, there will always be an argument.