Carneros Wine Company produces several brands including Mahoney, Fleur de California (first vintage 1987), Carneros Ranch and Redwood Empire wines. This wine company and related brands are owned by Francis V Mahoney and his wife Kathleen; Mahoney Vineyard’s first vintage dates from 2004. However, Francis has been strongly associated with the Carneros region and Pinot Noir since the early 1970s. He and his business partners Balfour & Anita Gibson and attorney Arthur Formichelli of San Francisco founded Carneros Creek Winery in 1972. Winery construction started in 1973; this was the first new winery built in Carneros since Prohibition. Gibson and Formichelli were already in the wine business having operated Connoisseur Imports which imported select European wines to the San Francisco market.
The family’s heritage is Irish; Francis’s parents immigrated to California from County Cork, Ireland in the 1920s. Francis still has family in Ireland and both of his parents’ families continue to own and operate farms in County Cork. Francis began to appreciate European wines after spending time working his family farms (in the 1960s) and traveling to some of Europe’s most well-known wine regions, where he became intrigued with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Francis’s father worked at what is now known as Syar Industries located just south of the city of Napa. And he also helped build the iconic Veteran’s Home of America in Yountville. As a result of his father’s work in Napa Valley, Francis was introduced to the region at a young age. Eventually Francis took a job in San Francisco at Connoisseur Wine Imports where he met Balfour. Through his position there, he also met Robert Mondavi who encouraged him to come to Napa Valley.
Francis studied enology at the University of California, Davis. In the early 1970s he and Kathy moved from San Francisco to Carneros; Francis worked up at Mayacamas Winery with then owner Bob Travelers for a short while. Francis was in his late 20s at the time, had a strong passion for wine and was confident that the Carneros growing region could produce world class Burgundian styled wines (encouraged by iconic winemaker André Tchelistcheff).
Francis was one of the first to plant Pinot Noir grapes in Carneros. He worked with Pinot Noir research and UC Davis helped determine the best Pinot Noir clones to plant in the region. His research has proven critical in helping advance the overall quality of Pinot Noir in not just the Napa Valley but throughout cooler climate regions in California and Oregon. While not known for Zinfandel, in the early days Mahoney also produced Zinfandel from Amador and Yolo counties for Carneros Creek Winery.
In the early 1970s Carneros was not known for its grapes rather it was home to a number of sheep and cattle ranching operations (dairy cattle). Several factors long discouraged farmers from growing grapes in this part of Napa – often making generalizations for all Carneros: it’s too cold here to ripen grapes, soils are thin and clay and do not retain moisture and the groundwater is salty from the nearby San Pablo Bay. Today Carneros is primarily planted to cooler weather varieties including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
In 1972 with Balfour, he established Carneros Creek Winery and built the physical winery in 1973 (the first modern winery established in Carneros since Prohibition). Through its ownership Francis had several investors including high-tech investment banker Bill Hambrecht and Briarcliff Wine Group. Francis and Kathleen sold this winery back in 2006.
Francis loves experimenting; while Pinot Noir is the variety, he has spent his life focusing on he’s always explored Italian, French and Spanish varieties. Currently Mahoney Vineyards owns three vineyards on the Napa side of Carneros including Mahoney Ranch (his home vineyard) which is planted to numerous clones of Pinot Noir; the nearby Gavin Vineyard which produces Chardonnay and Las Brisas Vineyard located on the Sonoma side of Carneros which is planted to additional clones of Pinot Noir and a what is an extremely rare variety for Carneros, Vermentino (a white grape prominently grown in Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and Liguria Italy). Mahoney was inspired to plant this variety after returning from a trip to northern Italy he made in the late 1990s.
Francis has long touted the varietal expression in wines focusing on making balanced wines which pair well with foods, rather than wines which are heavily oaked. He prefers wines which are terroir driven and matching varieties best suited to certain soils and micro-climates.
While Mahoney makes a number of wines under their own label, the number of grapes sourced from his Carneros vineyards are just a fraction of what he grows. Most of the fruit is sold to premium primarily Napa Valley based producers. Even in Carneros with its proximity to the San Pablo Bay there are a variety of micro-climates on their own vineyard. Parts of the vineyard are windier, parts are more sheltered, and parts are warmer (where the Syrah grows).
Francis founded several wineries and wine brands over the years. Pinot Noir is the variety that they are most known for; when we visited their now closed tasting room years ago, 4 of the 5 wines on their tasting menu were Pinot Noir wines. Our favorite was the Las Brisas with various fruit flavors, mostly cherry, a little spiciness and a beautiful long finish.
In the past, they have made an excellent very dark in color “cold weather” Syrah from their Mahoney Vineyard in the Carneros region. It is ready to drink now, shows a little pepper typical of this type of wine and has lots of berry flavors on the palate.Their Montepulciano shows berries and black pepper spice with decent acidity. One will not find a wine made from this variety at another Napa Valley associated winery.
Tastings are now by appointment with either with one of the Mahoney’s or one of their long-time employees. As of our latest update to this review, they have been approved for a tasting permit at their property on Dealy Lane in Carneros. Plans call for building a tasting room on site; we will update this once we have more information.
Their offices, Mahoney Vineyard and headquarters for Carneros Wine Company are located down the street from what used to be Carneros Creek Winery on Dealy Lane (later owned by Michael Mondavi and now home to Ru Vango Winery).
Note: This review has been identified as needing a major update. We originally tasted at their old tasting room located across from Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa many years ago. That tasting room has long since housed another vintner collective.
And we are not sure where they are making their wines; we last heard their wines were being produced just outside of the town of Sonoma at a production facility, but we have also seen other sources indicating the wines are made in Suisun Valley (neighboring Solano County) at Carneros Wine Company, Scarlett Vineyard. As of our last check, their bond from the TTB lists their Napa Valley address. If no wines are made on their Napa property and there are no plans to do so, this review will be archived.
For more information or to purchase wine, visit www.carneroswinecompany.com
Las Brias Vineyard, Sonoma Carneros