Napa Valley is one of the smallest wine growing regions in the world. It’s rolling hills are contained within a 30-mile long 5-mile wide valley. But unlike many grape regions in the world, it is home to diverse microclimates and soils all packed into one little valley. Well, known world wide as one of the greatest wine regions in the world and visited by more than 3.3 million people annually. This bustling valley produces only 4% of all the grapes grown in California!
Napa is divided into American Viticultural Area’s (AVA). The most common you will see on a label is Napa Valley AVA. But Napa has 14 distinct viticultural areas that are considered subappellations of the Napa Valley AVA itself.
The following are the standing Napa Valley AVA’s:
• Mount Veeder; Spring Mountain District; Diamond Mountain District
• Oak Knoll District; Yountville; Oakville; Rutherford; St. Helena
• Howell Mountain; Stags Leap District; Atlas Peak
• Chiles Valley District
• Wild Horse Valley
• Los Carneros
Each region is grouped into climate and soil. Mountain fruit tends to be richer, deeper in color with more mineral characteristics. The vine has to struggle to survive in the spare, rocky soils and naturally sets a smaller crop, producing smaller grapes of highly concentrated color and flavors.
Valley floor soils tend to be deeper and more fertile and produce vigorous growth so the crop must be tightly managed to produce concentrated grapes. Tannins, the dry mouth puckering sensation from wine varies from soft in the East to firmer on the West side of the valley. This is a result of the path of the sun and which side are in shadow due to the angle the vines receive light.
Grapes are fickle and to be perfect representations of their true flavor they like to be planted in different regions. Sandy, clay with brisk winds and cooler temperatures are home to the great grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Simple delicate wines, of depth of aroma, flavor and higher acidity. Fogbanks rule this area and keep it cool during hot Napa days allowing the grapes to have more acidity. This acidity is important to Sparkling Wine production and making vibrant table wine.
Drier air with volcanic soils, less fog and more sun and heat produce richness and depth of flavor. This is the home to reds. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Petit Syrah and a host of other. Sauvignon Blanc is virtually the only white grape that likes to be planted in red areas as it really was once a red grape itself. Over hundreds of years, Cabernet Sauvignon mutated naturally and produced this crisp, rich white grape. Hence the name, Sauvignon Blanc.
To understand the AVA’s of Napa simply look at the AVA first, then the grape. If you love the firm tannins, and deep rich flavor of Oakville you will find similarities in the adjoining regions of Rutherford, St. Helena and Yountville. The wines will have a common thread of fruit essence that is has it unique characteristic styled by vineyard management and the winemakers hand.
So revel in the diversity that is Napa, don’t judge a wine by first sip, or a region because it’s not sunny. There is no bad wine just differences that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.