Napa Valley Wine
The Napa Valley is California’s most famous and widely recognized winemaking region. It is the symbol as well as the center for top-quality wine in California. Napa Valley is the region that forged the modern California wine industry, setting standards and quality benchmarks that are not limited to California but also influence the rest of the world.
In terms of size and production, Napa Valley is relatively small when compared with the other great wine regions of the world. Napa produces only 5 percent of California’s wine output, and while vines cover 35,000 acres in Napa Valley, it is a mere one-eighth the size of Bordeaux plantings. It is Napa’s quality and reputation rather than its size that drives crowds of tourists to visit the palatial wineries along Highway 29.
Despite its limited acreage, Napa Valley is diverse growing region with many microclimates and varied soil types. Starting from the cool San Francisco Bay and traveling north through Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and into Calistoga, the average temperature rises dramatically. The temperature range from the cool south to the warmer north can show a 10 percent difference in this 30-mile span. This diversity strongly influences the type of grapes grown. Cool-weather grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrive in Carneros whereas warm-weather grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc fare better in the central and northern Napa regions. The hillsides benefit from morning sun above the fog and late afternoon mountain breezes that cool the area.
The soils of the Napa Valley are varied, a combination of types resulting from the Napa River’s ancient outflows of mineral deposits, along with volcanic activity in the north near the town of Calistoga. The two principal soil types are upland soil, which is thin, nonfertile, gravely-loam, and the quick-draining soil located on the sides of the valley and the lower slopes. The foothills and slopes are generally planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, where the valley floor is dominated by deep, fertile alluvial clays to which Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are better suited.
Over the past 20 years the valley has been divided and subdivided into numerous smaller appellations, including Oak Knoll, Carneros, Stag’s Leap District, Oakville, Diamond Mountain, Rutherford, Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain, Yountville and Spring Mountain. This trend toward smaller appellations helps define which grapes excel in different areas. For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon from the cool Stag’s Leap district tends to create elegant, softer wines while still retaining crisp definition. Traveling further north along the valley, the Cabernet-based wines tend to be richer with firmer tannins. Along the hillsides, the wines produced gain concentration due to the grape’s prolonged exposure to sunshine.
Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme in Napa Valley. Some of the finest and most famous Cabernet Sauvignons in the world come from this area. Opulent, velvety-smooth and firm, these wines drink remarkably well even at an early age. Merlot also is rising in popularity and is sometimes blended with Cabernet to produce Bordeaux-styled Meritage (rhymes with heritage) wines.
Shop for Napa Valley Wines