Napa Valley Wine Regions

Napa Valley certainly enjoys a rich wine history. The first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California and the second in the USA was established in Napa Valley in 1981.[1] Napa Valley has since grown to hold 16 smaller AVAs within the Napa Valley AVA. [2] The region encompasses diverse soils and weather that allow various grapes to flourish. The superior terroir of the region has made Napa Valley the wine capital of the United States. Knowing the regions of Napa allows you to understand the origin of some of the best wines from California, and potentially the United States.

Sub-Regions

Los Carneros AVA

The Los Carneros AVA was established in 1983 and is the arguably coolest of the AVAs in Napa Valley. It is located in the southernmost part of the valley near cool breezes and frequent fog which enables the growth of cool weather varietals. This includes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The AVA boasts 9000 acres of planted vineyards and is the pioneer of Pinot Noir in Napa Valley. Consequently, its key varietals are Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

Howell Mountain AVA

The Howell Mountain AVA, founded on December 30, 1983, was among the first appellations created in Napa Valley. The AVA’s elevation is 1400-2600 feet above sea level. As a result, it is above the fog line, and the appellation experiences lots of sunlight. The key grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel. Pre-prohibition, the AVA was particularly popular for its Zinfandel wine. The appellation boasts volcanic soils across its 600 acres of planted vineyards.

Wild Horse Valley AVA

The Wild Horse Valley AVA is located close to San Pablo Bay, submerging it in fog and breeze. The elevation is at 850-2130 feet above sea level. Founded on November 30, 1988, the AVA consists of two distinct regions: the western part is moderately elevated and experiences fog and breeze from the bay area. while the eastern part is protected by slopes, making it warmer than the western part.

Napa Valley AVAs, Napa Valley Wine Regions

Charles Krug Winery by Susie Wyshak

Stags Leap District AVA

Founded on January 27, 1989, this appellation is home to California’s most historic wineries.[3] The appellation holds the Fay Vineyard, which produced the grapes of the wine that won the 1976 Judgement of Paris blind wine tasting competition. Interestingly, it is also the first appellation to be recognized for its distinctive soils. The Stags Leap District AVA comprises of mostly volcanic and river sediment soils. Despite being relatively small, the appellation boasts 1200 acres of planted vineyards. The key grape of this subregion is Cabernet Sauvignon.

Mt. Veeder AVA

The Mt. Veeder AVA was established on February 20, 1990, and is located in the Mayacamas mountains. The AVA boasts 1000 acres of planted vineyards, with an elevation of 500-2600 feet above sea level. It has a unique terroir that gives its wine a ‘briary’ taste. It experiences cool to moderate temperatures, with an elevation high enough to keep most vineyards above the fog line. As a result, it cycles through warmer nights and cooler days than most AVAs in the valley. Key varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay.

Atlas Peak AVA

Founded on January 22, 1992, this AVA encompasses hillside terroir and the rockiest soil of all the Napa Valley AVAs. The elevation is at 760-2600 feet above sea level. Its high altitude means it is windier than the valley floor AVAs and fog and breeze from San Pablo Bay is limited. The appellation comprises 1500 acres of planted vineyards. Key varietals in this AVA are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Spring Mountain District AVA

The appellation, founded on May 13, 1993, has grown popular for its red varietals. It is elevated and does not experience fog from San Pablo Bay like other appellations down in the valley. In addition, its elevation allows it to warm faster in the mornings and experience warmer temperatures for longer in the evenings. The Spring Mountain District AVA boasts 1000 acres of planted vineyards and 30 wineries. Producing mostly red wines, its key grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Oakville AVA

The Oakville AVA was established in 1993. Centered around the town of Oakville, it boasts sandy and gravelly soils. The AVA’s elevation is at 130-1000 feet above sea level and is the home of 5000 acres of vineyards. The region’s warm climate supports the growth of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc varietals. The appellation’s wines are among the most sought after in the world.

Rutherford AVA

The Rutherford AVA was founded on July 2, 1993. The appellation comprises of gravel loam soils with volcanic deposits that make its wine stand out among other subregions. The appellation is located at the widest point of the valley, receiving plenty of sunshine. The elevation is 155 to 500 feet above sea level and spans 6550 acres. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Zinfandel are its key varietals. In addition, the appellation houses 13 wineries, including the Beaulieu vineyard and Caymus.

St. Helena AVA

Founded on September 11, 1995, this subregion is a viticultural area sandwiched between the Mayacamas and Vaca mountains,  with an elevation of 200-475 feet above sea level. Its soils are mostly loam with varying gravel. The AVA holds the oldest winery in Napa Valley, Charles Krug.[4] The St. Helena AVA is significant in the Napa Valley region, having more than 30 wineries. Many varietals do well in this viticultural area, but the most commonly planted include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Franc, Syrah, and Merlot. Approximately 6800 acres of the AVA is planted to vineyards.

Chiles Valley AVA

The Chiles Valley AVA was established in 1999 and is located in the Vaca Mountain range in the northeastern part of the valley. During the winter and the spring, the AVA experiences cooler temperatures than the other AVAs. The Chiles Valley AVA elevation is 600-1200 feet above sea level. Due to its terroir, there are fewer wineries, but more vineyards. The key grapes grown include Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.

Yountville AVA

Founded on March 19, 1999, this appellation consists of 4000 acres of vineyards. The AVA centers around the town of Yountville, named after George Calvert Yount who planted the first vineyards in the region in 1836. Its soils are mostly gravelly silt loams. The elevation is 20-200 feet above sea level; Yountville AVA has a unique terroir and climate, allowing the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal to flourish.

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Diamond Mountain District AVA

The Diamond Mountain District AVA was established in 2001. The AVA possesses volcanic soils, hence its name, and 500 acres of vineyards. Jacob Schram planted the first vineyards in this AVA in 1868. The AVA’s temperature fluctuates less than in the other regions. It is home to several well-known grape varietals, including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Coombsville AVA

The Coombsville AVA was established on December 14, 2011, and boasts cooler temperatures due to its proximity to San Pablo Bay. The AVA’s elevation is 100-1000 feet above sea level. Its key varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA

Founded on February 25, 2004, this appellation is located at the intersection of the northern warmer appellations and southern cooler appellations, elevation is sea level to 800 feet above sea level. Consequently, it is positioned at Napa Valley’s sweet spot. The appellation has 4150 acres of planted vineyards. Merlot and Chardonnay are the key grapes in this appellation. Sparkling varietals that do not do well in other Napa AVAs perform excellently in this appellation, giving its wine a distinguished and delicate taste.

Calistoga AVA

Founded in 2010, this AVA is located in the far northern part of Napa Valley. Its distance from the cooling effects of San Pablo Bay ensure it receives the warmest temperatures. The appellation’s elevation is 300-1200 feet above sea level. The Calistoga AVA experiences significant diurnal temperatures that are a favorite for the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal. As a result, its key varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.

This Day in History

1 March 1825 – On this day, Charles Krug was born in Prussia. Krug moved to the United States in 1847 and was hired as the first commercial winemaker in Napa Valley. He established the first winery in Napa Valley in 1861, the Charles Krug winery, and is often referred to as the father of wine in the region. Krug also introduced the cider press as an efficient way of winemaking. Krug’s influence sparked the growth of the winemaking industry across Napa Valley. By 1889, there were more than 140 wineries in Napa Valley thanks to Krug.

18 April 1906 – On this day, a catastrophic 7.8 magnitude hit San Fransisco Bay and the surrounding areas, causing structural damage to many wineries.[5] The Californian industry learned a hard lesson following the destruction of more than 10 million gallons of wine. Before the earthquake, most of the wine was stored centrally; however, following the earthquake, major restructuring occurred, and wineries were from then on constructed closer to vineyards.

2 July 1993 – On this day the Oakville AVA was founded. The AVA is the fourth from the north and south among Napa Valley AVAs. It is home to the Screaming Eagle Winery and Vineyards which produces the most expensive wines in America. Its first vintage was made in 1992 and released in 1995 at 75 dollars a bottle.[6] Currently, a bottle costs more than 7000 US dollars. The Oakville AVA produces fewer grapes but focuses on those that are in high demand.

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References

  1. [1] Napa Valley Vintners, “Napa Valley Nested AVAs,” napavintners.com, 2022, https://napavintners.com/napa_valley/appellations.asp.
  2. [2] SevenFifty, “Napa Valley,” SevenFifty Daily, July 11, 2017, https://daily.sevenfifty.com/regions/napa-valley/.
  3. [3] Stags’ leap Winery, “Sites-StagsLeapWinery-Site,” www.stagsleap.com, 2022, https://www.stagsleap.com/en/stags-leap-district-ava.html.
  4. [4] Napa Valley Vintners, “History of Wine in the Napa Valley,” napavintners.com, 2022, https://napavintners.com/napa_valley/history.asp#:~:text=Charles%20Krug%20is%20credited%20with.
  5. [5] Joseph Temple, “Wine’s California Comeback: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Its Impact on the Industry – IWFS Blog,” blog.iwfs.org, August 29, 2014, https://blog.iwfs.org/2014/08/wines-california-comeback-the-1906-san-francisco-earthquake-and-its-impact-on-the-industry/.
  6. [6] WineCountry Staff, “The History of Notorious Napa Valley,” Napa Valley, May 23, 2016, https://www.napavalley.com/blog/napa-valley-history/.

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