Feature Coverage

Carneros, California’s Great White Hope

“The only American Viticultural Area (AVA) to straddle both Napa and Sonoma counties, Carneros, established in 1983, is fog-cooled and refreshingly undeveloped, compared to many nearby regions.

“While other areas have risen in reputation and favor with tourists for having more to do, many of Carneros’s most famous names haven’t offered much in the way of tastings or tours.

“That’s changing. There’s no doubt Carneros can produce enviable Pinot Noir, and, in smaller amounts, Merlot and Syrah. Its true calling card might be Chardonnay, a grape that has been quietly making it famous all along. And two of its most respected vineyard-designated growers are, after decades in the business, building wineries of their own.

“Larry Hyde and his sons, Peter and Chris, broke ground in February on a site across from the famed Hyde Vineyards, along Highway 12. It’s taken nearly eight years to get to this point, and the hope is to open by September.

“In the meantime, the 200 acres of Hyde Vineyards that have brought such renown to Carneros quietly ripen, with a waiting list of winemakers aching for the grapes.

“‘A lot of people are interested,’ says Chris Hyde. ‘Especially this year, after 2015 having a shortage, they want to keep up with the strong yields of 2012, 2013 and 2014. A lot of people want to make more wine.’

“Chardonnay is most in demand, and the Hydes also claim added interest in their Merlot and Syrah.

“The family feels it’s important to work with people they’ve collaborated with from the beginning, like John Kongsgaard, who first starting buying Hyde Chardonnay in the 1980s as winemaker at Newton Vineyard.

“Paul Hobbs, David Ramey and James Hall of Patz & Hall are the other major players who have been with the vineyard since the early days. Mark Aubert is also a key figure in Hyde Chardonnay.

“Hyde fruit has also been crucial from the beginnings of Hyde de Villaine (HdV), a partnership between Larry Hyde and his cousin’s husband, Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which began in 2000.

“It’s this relationship that has proved most interesting viticulturally, as HdV prefers to work with grapes from vines that are 20 years or older.

“‘They’d like them to be 50 or 100 years old, I think,’ says Chris.

“Since that’s hard to do, Hyde is slowly replanting blocks of its vineyard with that long-term mentality in mind, as well as maintaining older blocks and preserving clonal material.

“Citing observations about older-vine Chardonnay by Tyler Thomas, a former assistant winemaker at HdV, Hyde says that as grapevines age, they do everything more slowly.

“‘They accumulate sugar more slowly, and you get lower-alcohol, higher-acid wines,’ Chris says. …”

Virginie Boone, June 2016
Carneros, California’s Great White Hope