Carneros AVA

Bounded by climate and topography, the Carneros wine-growing region in Northern California is uniquely unbounded by political affiliation – Sonoma County shares Carneros with Napa Valley, and many vineyards of the Sonoma Valley American Viticulture Area (AVA) are also located within this sub-appellation.

Carneros is also distinctive, among Sonoma County’s wine regions, for its relatively uniform landscape of gently rolling, sparsely wooded hills above a wide, flat plain.

The name Los Carneros, ‘the rams’ in Spanish, dates from the 1830s, when Mexico administered this region. Sheep ranches, dairies, and hay fields continued to dominate until the 1970s. Today Carneros has 8,000 vineyard acres and more than 20 wineries. AVA status was given in 1983.

Top Grapes

Top billing goes to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for sparkling and still wine. Because Carneros garnered acclaim early in California’s wine renaissance, many vineyards here were planted with so-called ‘California clones’ like Martini, Swan, and old Wente. Syrah is an exciting newcomer, along with RhĂ´ne regional white varietals like Roussanne and Marsanne. Merlot remains strong, and there’s some Cabernet Sauvignon to be found. 

The Lay of the Land

The Cline Family Cellars estate vineyard at sunset in Carneros, Sonoma County
Cline Family Cellars

From certain vantage points, much of the entire Sonoma portion of the AVA can be seen at once. The AVA’s western border is shared with the Sonoma Valley AVA, roughly along the spine of hills that divides the Cotati Valley (and Petaluma Gap area) from the Sonoma Creek watershed.

The northern extent is marked by Napa Road on the outskirts of the city of Sonoma; the southern border is delineated partly by the NWP railroad tracks, but mainly by the wetlands and reclaimed hay fields bordering the San Pablo Bay.

Compared with Sonoma County’s other cool-climate AVAs, like the Sonoma Coast and Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, Carneros receives much less rainfall, and it’s farther from the Pacific Ocean.

The moderating influence of the San Pablo Bay, the northern portion of the greater San Francisco Bay, keeps Carneros cool and windy, but not too cold. Despite the broad agricultural vista it presents, the area’s dense, clay soils are not particularly deep or fertile.

Notable Wineries

Food pairing featuring three sparkling wines, a Pinot Noir, a creme fraiche and caviar bite, a bacon bite, and a baklavah bite at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards in Sonoma County, California
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards

Gloria Ferrer’s Sonoma Brut is a Sonoman’s standby sparkling wine. Down the road, Cline Family Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards have extensive grounds. Ram’s Gate is perched above the vineyards and the Bay; Viansa Sonoma also sports a good view and a deli for picnics. Last chance before Napa, Nicholson Ranch anchors the southeastern corner of Carneros Sonoma.

Backroad Bodegas

A couple tastes wine on the deck overlooking Carneros AVA at Anaba Wines, Sonoma County
Anaba Wines

Named for a local anabatic wind, Anaba makes Pinot Noir from Las Brisas Vineyard, named for the Carneros wind. Schug Carneros Estate and Larson Family Winery are off the beaten path. The Robledo Family welcomes visitors to their courtyard winery. Roche Winery & Vineyards opened a new 17,000-square-foot winery, complementing its Sonoma Plaza tasting room, with ample outdoor seating with sweeping vineyard views. Discoveries inside the Cornerstone Sonoma garden center include Meadowcroft Wines, and Obsidian Wine Co.

Restaurants and Lodging in the Carneros

An arch with plants growing on it at the gardens in Cornerstone Sonoma, Sonoma County
Cornerstone Sonoma

The Carneros region is easily explored from the historic town of Sonoma, where many of the best restaurant and lodging options can be found.

Along the Carneros Highway, Angelo’s Wine Country Deli (look for the red and white cow on the roof) features homemade cold cuts, sausages, and condiments like garlic salsa and garlic mustard; or relax in the half-acre outdoor space, under the shaded patio or in the tree-covered wine garden at Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery. Or, Lou’s Luncheonette focuses on locally sourced seasonal ingredients, with items like buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast and a variety of chicken platters and sandwiches for lunch.

Lodging can range from high-end luxury at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, nearby in Sonoma Valley, to vintage motor-court chic at the Vineyard Inn Hotel, and cottage charming at Sonoma’s Best Guest Cottages.

Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.

Sonoma County Appellations (AVA):

Alexander Valley
Bennett Valley
Carneros – Sonoma
Chalk Hill
Dry Creek Valley
Fort Ross – Seaview
Fountaingrove District
Green Valley of Russian River Valley
Knights Valley
Moon Mountain
Northern Sonoma
Petaluma Gap
Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak
Russian River Valley
Sonoma Coast
Sonoma Valley
West Sonoma Coast

You Might Also Like

Hamel Family Wines, wine tasting and non-alcoholic tasting

With a massive flood of zero-proof beverages recently hitting the market, it’s become fairly easy to find nonalcoholic alternatives on…

Girls Getaway in Sonoma County
Food & Wine

Winter might be considered the off-season for many of the world’s hottest travel destinations, but a Wine Country visit between…

Wine tasting at sunset.

Fall is a busy time in Sonoma County. Plan ahead with our weekend-by-weekend, month-by-month collection of popular experiences — from…

Farmhouse Inn exterior
Food & Wine

From Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow to Justin and Hailey Bieber, you may bump into a few celebrities at Sonoma…

Yellow wildflowers covering field
Outdoor Activities

Springtime in Sonoma County is hard to beat! Plan ahead with our weekend-by-weekend, month-by-month collection of popular experiences — from…

Menorah lit up

Sonoma County will celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights with a variety of traditional — and not so traditional —…

The Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival (Julie Vader/For Sonoma Index-Tribune)
Events & Festivals

The finest of Sonoma County’s art and agriculture will be on full display this autumn in a myriad of both…

Couple at beach with dog
Outdoor Activities

Find hidden gems, outdoor adventures and more with tips from those who know the coast better than anyone: The locals….

Buena Vista Winery barrels

The term “ghost wineries” may conjure images of restless spirits wandering winery corridors, but it doesn’t refer to haunted vineyard…

Dishes from Farmhouse in Sonoma County

Underground pop-ups, food-centric wine bars, and farm-to-table favorites are gathering all kinds of momentum in Sonoma County. For this list,…

See What’s Happening

Share your experience using #SonomaCounty or #LifeOpensUp