Carneros, located just north of the San Pablo Bay, is noted for its cool, breezy summer afternoons and the fine Chardonnay that grows here. Having "terroir" is a way of saying the wine has the character of the vineyard. There are approximately 6,000 vineyard acres in Carneros and though the moderate climate is well suited to a number of varieties, nearly half are planted to Chardonnay.
Soil composition plays an equal role in the quality of the wines. Carneros soils tend to be dense, and shallow, with low to moderate fertility. Chardonnay grown in Carneros is typically ripe with flavor profiles that range from citrus and tropical fruit flavors to lovely, more subtle stone fruits, like peach and nectarine.
At Saintsbury, the Chardonnay is fermented in French oak barrels and aged sur lie for about eight months. Thirty percent of these barrels are new; the balance has been used once or twice before. During the aging process, the barrels are stirred (batonnage) to increase yeast contact for added richness. The wine also completes malolactic fermentation in the barrel, which can add roundness to the mouthfeel and complexity to the aroma.
Saintsbury has asked the question "to filter or not to filter" Chardonnay since the 1992 vintage. Following the success of a small "unfiltered" bottling of the 1993 vintage, we have chosen to bottle each subsequent vintage without filtration. The wines show much more vibrant fruit character and rich mouthfeel, particularly in the first year of release, than their filtered predecessors.
The 2000 vintage was no disappointment after the superior 1999. This vintage has brighter fruit, is fresh and lively with similar weight as the 1999, and while enjoyable now, will benefit from cellaring.
Saintsbury specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay is fermented and aged in barrels coopered in Burgundy. Three styles of Pinot Noir are produced: "Garnet" is a fresh, lively wine full of cherry and raspberry fruit; the wine simply called Carneros Pinot Noir is a more classic rendition; and the Reserve Pinot Noir is the richest and most fully flavored of the vintage.
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Technically a part of Napa Valley, the Carneros region straddles both Sonoma & Napa counties. It's the Napa region closest to the San Francisco peninsula and the San Pablo Bay, which is instrumental in controlling the climate of the area. The winds from the San Pablo bay create a cool weather pattern ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Carneros are delicate, yet complex, with firm structure and acidity. And while the pair are the most popular varieties of the region, some winemakers have branched out, particularly with Syrah. The cool climate Syrah of Carneros is well structured and stylistically similar to Syrah from the Northern Rhone, though often fuller-bodied.
It's not rare to see a wine's country of origin listed as "California." A country into itself in the wine world, California makes enough varieties and styles to match many European wine countries. It produces a diverse range of wines that span the quality spectrum.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Crisp
Light to medium bodied wines that are high in acid and light to medium fruit. Typically no oak.
Fruity & Smooth
Light to medium bodied wines with lots of juicy fruit, typically medium acid and medium oak.
Rich & Creamy
Full bodied wines that have typically undergone malo-lactic fermentation and/or spent time in oak.