In the early 1970s, Balfour Gibson and Francis Mahoney came to the Napa Valley looking for ways to expand their San Francisco operations.
“In the southernmost area of the Napa Valley, just north of San Francisco Bay, lies the Carneros District. Because of the bay’s moderating effects, the Carneros District enjoys more temperate weather than other areas of the Napa Valley- warm, breezy summer days and mild summer evenings. The climate especially favors Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The sandy loam soil, punctuated by small rocks and gravel, provides the superior drainage essential for producing classic wine grapes.
To this hospitable site came Balfour Gibson and Francis Mahoney. They recognized it as a superior location in the Napa Valley, one in which they could create memorable wines. Gibson was a successful wine importer who sought to produce fine, European-style wines in the Napa Valley. Mahoney, who had assisted him in the import business, brought a connoisseur’s appreciation of wines to his winemaking skills.
Together they founded Carneros Creek Winery, a small winery dedicated to producing distinctive wines. Since its first bottling in 1972, Carneros Creek Winery created wines that have achieved national and international recognition along with their on-going success.
Francis was captivated by the concept of terroir – the influence of soil, wind, fog, sun exposure, and rainfall on the style of wine they produced. Turning his focus towards the undiscovered “Los Carneros” region in the southern portion of Napa and Sonoma valleys, Francis felt that conditions in this wind-swept countryside were ideal for Pinot Noir to thrive. So it was here that the Mahoneys set their roots.
Rather than choosing Pinot Noir clones because of their propensity for high yields (a factor that played a major role in their lackluster quality of the varietal up until that time), Francis planted and studied clonal selections of Pinot Noir that had proven track records in European vineyards along with some selections from California that lacked only the right climate and proper vineyard management.
Using his Carneros vineyards as his laboratory, Francis, along with a team from U.C. Davis, began a tedious clonal research project to better understand the intricacies of the more successful clonal selections. Over the course of that twelve-year research project, it became evident that the best Pinot Noir was not to be found within a single clonal selection. Each of the clones had unique flavor, structure, and aromatic characteristics and each had its own preference for vineyard location, pruning techniques, water tolerance, soil type, sun exposure, barrel, and bottle aging.