Napa Valley Wine Regions
Napa Valley certainly enjoys a rich wine history. In 1981, Napa Valley became the first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California and the second in the United States. Since its inception, the valley has expanded to include 16 minor AVAs inside the Napa Valley AVA.  The region encompasses diverse soils and weather that allow various grapes to flourish. The region’s exceptional soil has made it the wine capital of the United States. Getting to know the unique areas of Napa lends a holistic perspective of the origin of some of the finest wines produced in California, and maybe the whole United States.
Los Carneros AVA
The Los Carneros AVA was founded in 1983 and is likely the coldest of Napa Valley’s AVAs. It is situated in the most southern portion of the valley, close to chilly winds and frequent fog, which allows for the cultivation of cool-climate varietals. This consists of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This AVA is the pioneer of Pinot Noir in Napa Valley, with 9,000 acres of planted vines. Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Chardonnay are its primary grapes.
Howell Mountain AVA
Howell Mountain American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established on December 30, 1983, making it one of Napa Valley’s first AVAs. The average altitude of the AVA is between 1,400 and 2,600 feet. Thus, the area enjoys abundant sunshine due to its location above the fog line. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel are the primary grapes grown in this area. The AVA’s Zinfandel wine was especially well-liked prior to the Prohibition era. The appellation’s 600 acres of grapes are situated on volcanic soils.
Wild Horse Valley AVA
The Wild Horse Valley AVA is adjacent to San Pablo Bay, making it susceptible to fog and wind. The altitude is between 850 and 2100 feet above sea level. The AVA was established on November 30, 1988, and comprises two separate regions: the western section is fairly high and is affected by fog and wind from the bay area. The eastern portion is shielded by hills, making it warmer than the western portion.
Stags Leap District AVA
This appellation was established on January 27, 1989, and it is home to some of the oldest wineries in all of California. The Fay Vineyard, located inside the region, supplied the grapes for the winning wine at the 1976 Judgement of Paris blind wine tasting competition. Not only does it have the distinction of being the first appellation to be designated for its unique soils, but it also has a unique history. Volcanic and river sediment soils predominate in the Stags Leap District American Viticultural Area. This little appellation consists of about 2,700 acres, about half of used for vineyards. Cabernet Sauvignon is the primary varietal grown in this area.
Mt. Veeder AVA
The Mayacamas Mountains are the home of the Mt. Veeder American Viticultural Area (AVA), which was designated on February 20, 1990. There are one thousand grape acres in the AVA, located between 500 and 2,600 feet above sea level. Because of its unique terroir, the wine produced there has a distinctive “briary” flavor. The height is high enough to keep most vineyards out of the fog, and the temperatures range from chilly to mild. As a consequence, it experiences more extreme diurnal temperature swings than other AVAs in the valley. Some of the most popular grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay.
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Atlas Peak AVA
This AVA, established on January 22, 1992, comprises hillside terroir and the stoniest soil of all Napa Valley AVAs. The altitude is between 760 and 2600 feet above sea level. It is windier than valley-floor AVAs due to its high height, and fog and breeze from San Pablo Bay are restricted. The appellation consists of 1,500 acres of vines. In this AVA, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot are prominent varieties.
Spring Mountain District AVA
Since its inception on May 13, 1993, the appellation has been well-known for its red wines. Being higher up, it avoids the fog that settles over the valley from San Pablo Bay. In addition, because of its height, the area warms up more rapidly in the mornings and stays warmer for longer at night than in lower-lying areas. 1,000 grape acres and 30 wineries may be found in the Spring Mountain District American Viticultural Area. Mostly used for making red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The Oakville AVA was established in 1993. It has sandy and gravelly soils and is centered around the town of Oakville. The AVA’s elevation ranges from 130 to 1000 feet above sea level and has 5000 acres of vineyards. The region’s environment is ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The wines of the area are among the most coveted in the world.
Rutherford AVA was established on July 2, 1993. The appellation’s gravel-loam soils with volcanic deposits distinguish its wines from those of other subregions. The appellation is situated at the valley’s broadest point, where it receives abundant sunlight. The elevation ranges between 155 and 500 feet above sea level. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Zinfandel are its major varieties. Additionally, the appellation has thirteen wineries, including the Beaulieu vineyard and the Caymus winery.
St. Helena AVA
This subregion is a viticultural area that was established on September 11, 1995, and it has an elevation ranging from 200 to 475 feet above mean sea level. It is tucked in between the Mayacamas and the Vaca mountains. The majority of its soil is loam, with varied amounts of gravel. Charles Krug Winery, the oldest winery in Napa Valley, is located inside the AVA. There are more than 30 wineries in the St. Helena AVA, making it an important part of the Napa Valley wine industry. While many grapes thrive here, the most popular ones planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Franc, Syrah, and Merlot. The AVA has over 6,800 acres of vines.
Did you know? Napa Valley has 420 physical wineries that create over 815 different wine brands. 95% of the wineries are run by families.
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 primary grapes grown in this area are Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.
This appellation, which was established on March 19, 1999, is home to over 4,000 vineyard acres. Yountville is in the heart of the Yountville AVA, which was named for George Calvert Yount, the man responsible for establishing the first vineyards there in 1836. Mainly gravelly silt loams make up its soils. Yountville AVA’s distinctive soil and climate, at an altitude of 20–200 feet above sea level, are ideal for growing the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.
Diamond Mountain District AVA
The Diamond Mountain District AVA was established in 2001. Its 500 acres of grapes thrive in the area’s volcanic soils, which gives the AVA its unique moniker. In 1868, Jacob Schram established the first vines in this AVA. The AVA experiences far less temperature variation than the rest of the world. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc are all native to this region. Its 500 acres of grapes thrive in the area’s volcanic soils, which gives the AVA its unique moniker. In 1868, Jacob Schram established the first vines in this AVA. The AVA experiences far less temperature variation than the rest of the world. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc are all native to this region.
The Coombsville AVA was established on December 14, 2011, and it has 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
This appellation was established on February 25, 2004, and it is between the northern warmer appellations and the southern cooler appellations. Its height ranges from sea level to 800 feet. As a result, it is situated in an ideal part of Napa Valley. There are 4150 acres of vines in the area. In this region, Merlot and Chardonnay are the top varieties grown for wine. This appellation is ideal for growing sparkling grape varieties that struggle elsewhere in Napa County, giving the region’s sparkling wines a unique and refined flavor.
This AVA was established in 2010 in the extreme northern region of Napa Valley. It experiences the hottest temperatures due to its isolation from the cooling effects of San Pablo Bay. The elevation of the region is between 300 and 1,200 feet above sea level. Significant diurnal temperatures are favorable for the Cabernet Sauvignon grape in the Calistoga AVA. As a result, its key varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.
This Day in History
March 1, 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. By 1889, there were more than 140 wineries in Napa Valley thanks to Krug.
April 18, 1906 – On this day, a catastrophic 7.8 magnitude hit San Fransisco Bay and the surrounding areas, causing structural damage to many wineries. 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.
July 2, 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. 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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-  Napa Valley Vintners, “Napa Valley Nested AVAs,” napavintners.com, 2022, https://napavintners.com/napa_valley/appellations.asp.
-  SevenFifty, “Napa Valley,” SevenFifty Daily, July 11, 2017, https://daily.sevenfifty.com/regions/napa-valley/.
-  Stags’ leap Winery, “Sites-StagsLeapWinery-Site,” www.stagsleap.com, 2022, https://www.stagsleap.com/en/stags-leap-district-ava.html.
-  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.
-  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/.
-  WineCountry Staff, “The History of Notorious Napa Valley,” Napa Valley, May 23, 2016, https://www.napavalley.com/blog/napa-valley-history/.