An Educational Journey Through California Wine Country’s Los Carneros AVA

Los Carneros AVA

Straddling Napa and Sonoma counties, the Los Carneros AVA is a cool-climate appellation well-known for its robust Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. The name “Carneros” was derived from the Spanish term for sheep, “carnero,” which refers to the pastures that once filled the area where vineyards now grow. Wild grasses and herbs, including rosemary, thyme, and oregano, grew naturally and in abundance in soil composed of gravel and volcanic rock.

The area is known for its cool climate and rolling hills, which offer ideal conditions for growing grape varietals with a near-perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. The average temperature in Los Carneros is a full 10 degrees cooler than that of the rest of Napa Valley, allowing for longer hang time on the vine and more flavor development in wines made from the region’s grapes. The combination of cooler temperatures, rich soils, and fog-filled mornings make for an exceptional terroir that produces wines with intense aromas and flavors.

It is no wonder the AVA is home to over 100 wineries, many of which produce critically acclaimed wines.

History of winemaking in Los Carneros AVA

Winemaking in the Los Carneros AVA has been part of the region’s history for centuries. Spanish missionaries planted the first grapes in the late 1700s, and winemaking flourished in the area until phylloxera devastated vineyards across California during Prohibition. In 1983, the American Viticultural Area was officially established, and the Los Carneros AVA quickly gained a reputation for producing some of California’s best wines.

Today, winemaking continues to be an essential part of the region’s culture and economy. The area has become known as one of California’s premier wine-producing regions, with many critically acclaimed wineries calling Los Carneros home. From small family-owned wineries to world-renowned producers, the area is a mecca for wine enthusiasts looking for top-quality wines.

Climate and terroir specifics

The Los Carneros AVA is unlike any other California wine-producing region due to its nuanced microclimate. The area’s temperate weather is a product of the San Pablo Bay and Petaluma Gap winds, and these ideal growing conditions produce some of the finest vintages of any California wine region. With the wind delivering cool air from the bay, vineyards benefit from longer growing seasons and moderate temperatures. This yields a unique fruit character in the grapes that cannot be replicated elsewhere. The gradual growth also gives winemakers an opportunity for creativity when producing wines of varying flavor profiles, aromas, and acidity levels.

The concept of terroir refers to the environmental factors influencing a wine’s character and quality.

Los Carneros AVA has a distinctive terroir that sets it apart from other wine-growing regions. The area consists of rolling hills with an average elevation of 200 feet and a cooling afternoon fog that rolls in from the bay. The mix of clay and volcanic soils provides excellent drainage while maintaining moisture levels, making this an ideal environment for producing complex wines.

Winemakers in Los Carneros are passionate about perfecting the details of their craft, taking great care to ensure that each vintage is unique and memorable. From selecting specific clones of grapes to crafting blends that reflect the area’s terroir, winemakers in the AVA have mastered their craft and created some of the most memorable wines in California.

Grape varietals grown in Los Carneros AVA

Nestled within the micro-climates of California’s Los Carneros AVA lies a delectable array of grape varietals revered for their complex flavor profiles and exceptional quality. These include:


A classic grape varietal that produces light white wines with subtle citrus and apple notes.

Pinot Noir

A delicate varietal that can create a range of flavors from subtle berry notes to lush black fruit.

Cabernet Sauvignon

A classic red grape with rich dark fruit flavors, balanced tannins, and a bold structure.


A spicy, earthy red grape that can produce full-bodied wines with intense flavors.

Sauvignon Blanc

A light, refreshing white grape that produces wines with strong herbaceous and grassy flavors.


A popular red grape that yields soft tannins, dark fruit flavors, and hints of pepper.


A full-bodied red grape varietal that can produce wines with vibrant fruit flavors.

Signature Characteristics of Wines Produced in the Region

The area’s cool climate and distinct terroir create a host of signature characteristics that make its wines stand out from the rest.

  1. Bright acidity and balanced tannins: Both white and red wines produced here tend to display bright, balanced acidity and tannins.
  2. Sweet notes: Many of the wines produced in Los Carneros AVA carry a hint of sweetness, making them approachable and inviting.
  3. Intense fruit flavors: Wines from the region often have intense fruit flavors, with notes of cherries, blackberries, and plums.
  4. Robust structure: Reds from the region tend to be full-bodied and robust, making them ideal for aging.
  5. A lingering finish: Many wines from this region have a long finish, ideal for savoring.
  6. Complexity: The area’s unique climate and terroir create an opportunity for winemakers to craft multi-dimensional wines that display layers of flavor and complexity.
  7. Subtle earthy and herbal tones: Wines from Los Carneros AVA may have subtle herbaceous and earthy notes, attributed to the area’s terroir.

Final thoughts

Wines produced in the Los Carneros AVA are truly unrivaled. From their bright acidity and balanced tannins to their intense fruit flavors and subtle earthy tones, these wines are sure to please even the most discerning palates. Its unique climate and terroir allow winemakers to craft multi-dimensional wines that reflect the area’s signature character. With so many exceptional varietals, it’s clear why Los Carneros is renowned for its quality.

At McKahn Family Cellars, we have been crafting award-winning wines since 2014. Our winemaker, Charles McKahn, is the heart and soul of our family-run business, and he is passionate about creating unique and flavorful wines that capture the essence of Northern California.

This year is especially momentous as we proudly release our 2020 Syrah from the renowned Los Carneros AVA this Fall. After five years of hard work, Charles secured just the right grapes for this vintage. In addition, we are proud to offer our 2019 Syrah from the same region. The 2019 Syrah is currently available for purchase – don’t miss out on your opportunity to bring home a piece of California’s winemaking excellence! Los Carneros AVA is home to many outstanding wineries, and we are delighted to be part of its rich history.