From farm to glass - Two Carneros Wineries that Do Things Differently
In the world of wine, it’s not unusual for winemakers to source their grapes from vineyards that are not grown by them. These partnerships are mutually beneficial and often highly-selective. Both sides of the equation have brands, reputations, and quality standards to protect. While I’ve spent a lot of time sipping wines that have pedigree vineyards on their labels, it’s unusual for me to have the opportunity to go straight to the root of things -- heading to the property of the vineyard growers themselves. Oftentimes, these winegrowers don’t have their own tasting rooms or welcome the public in. After all, what they do is rooted in agriculture. Farming is where their business focus is, not enotourism.
In an unusual twist, however, both Sangiocomo and Hyde Vineyards have turned around to make their own bottles, holding onto a small percentage of their best grapes to craft their own wines and tell their own story of their land. In an unexpected twist of events, I recently found myself at two of these outstanding vineyards on the same day, sipping their homegrown, hand-crafted wines.
Sangiocomo and Hyde Vineyards are both located in Carneros -- the only wine region that overlaps between Napa and Sonoma. They both are family-owned and operated properties that started off in the grape growing business and hold high-esteem in the world of wine. Both are highly sought out by winemakers all over who want to use their beautiful grapes to produce wine. And after years of successfully selling grapes to wine producers, both have now started to save some of those grapes to craft their own delicious wines.
I recently fell in love with Sangiacomo wines while sipping a bottle of their Robert Road Vineyard Pinot Noir over the holidays (it was my Christmas dinner wine, actually). The wine is deliciously drinkable and has immense complexity. Think: bing cherry, raspberry, and violets with a dusting of forest floor. Soft tannins, long finish. Incredibly memorable.
I knew when I was sipping this bottle at home that Sangiacomo Wines were incredibly small production — but what I didn’t realize is that they actually grow over 1600 acres of vineyards and provide grapes to more than 70 different producers, saving just 1% of the harvest for their own bottles. So while they’re “small production” as far as wine goes, they’re by no means a small operation.
As a third-generation farming family, it wasn’t until their second generation that the Sangiacomo’s started making their own wine. The family now crafts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon from some of their best plots and bottles it under their own label. As true stewards of the land, they view their vineyards like family heirlooms. They all have a story, an emotional connection. By crafting their own wines, the family is able to directly tell that story and share the vines’ unique terroir in the glass.
With sprawling vineyard views, a gorgeous tasting room, delicious wine, and some of the sweetest tasting room staff I’ve ever met, Sangiocomo needs to be on your itinerary for your next visit to wine country.
Learn more about Sangiacomo Wines here.
Hyde Vineyards was the first vineyard I ever, ever knew by name, thanks to a certain bottle of Chardonnay that changed my life forever. Until having a glass of Ram’s Gate Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay (the 2015 vintage, to be specific), I thought I truly hated Chardonnay. It wasn’t until this particular glass, a welcome pour during a tasting event, that I realized how delicious and expressive the grape could truly be... and now you could call me Chardonnay-obsessed. That bottle was the first “splurge” bottle of wine I ever purchased, and it certainly lit a fire in my soul for high-quality wines from great vineyards. That bottle stood out so much in my head that I will never, ever forget the vineyard name!
Larry Hyde has been growing world-class fruit since 1972 and selling to winemakers around the area. Hyde Vineyards has been listed in the “top five California vineyards” and has long been hailed as a grand cru-caliber site, primarily known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit, used by some of the most highly acclaimed wine producers in Napa and Sonoma Valley. It wasn’t until recently, in 2009, that he started saving some of the best grapes for his own small-production wines. And it wasn’t until just the other day that I learned he produced wine under his own name! But I’m so glad he does. The winery now crafts Viognier, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay here on the Napa side of Carneros. Larry’s wine embodies the love and dedication to the land he so proudly farms and the whole lineup is beautifully delicious.
Forging into wine production means the opportunity to open a tasting room, and so the family recently built one on the property. Due to current COVID regulations, however, our tasting was held outside on the crush pad with beautiful, sprawling views of vineyards all around us. It was stunning, especially with the late-winter mustard flowers blooming all around us!
Christopher Hyde, Larry’s son, is now involved in the Estate, having helped his father establish Hyde Estate Winery and taking on the role of General Manager at Hyde Vineyards and Director of Viticulture at HdV Winery in 2012, making this now a two-generation family operation.
Learn more about Hyde Vineyards and Wines here.
More about Carneros
While the Carneros AVA was officially designated an AVA in 1985, the land has a history that dates back to the 1800s. Named after the many sheep that once dotted the hillsides of Sonoma and Napa counties, Carneros AVA is inextricably linked to the Mexican jurisdiction that originally settled the lands in the area. Farmers flocked to Carneros to raise sheep and cattle as well as cultivate wine grapes, pears, plums, apples, and apricots. Such was the bounty of the region that wharves along the Napa River and Sonoma Creek. Railroad stations (Schellville and Buchli stations) were built in the late 1800s to accommodate the flow of fruit, milk, grain, cattle and hay to the markets of San Francisco.
Early on grapes played a prominent role in Carneros agriculture. Today, thanks to it’s cool to moderate climate variations, the Carneros AVA offers some of the most versatile wines in the valley, from crisp sparkling’s wine to bold merlot.