Napa Valley is not only one of the most famous California wine regions, but also one of the most famous American, and even new world wine regions. In its relatively short history it has managed to create a successful wine industry and gain a stellar reputation.
Napa Valley is located north of the Bay Area in the larger North Coast region of California. On the west the Mayacamas Mountains form one border of the valley, and on the east the Vaca Mountains form the other. These two mountain ranges help protect the valley from the cold Pacific weather and storms in the west, as well as the heat from Central California in the east.
While Napa Valley is one of the most important wine regions in California, it’s actually pretty small. The valley is only 30 miles long, and 5 miles wide at its widest. The entire region is only 15% the size of Bordeaux. And all together Napa Valley makes up only 4% of California’s wine production. However, what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality; Napa Valley is responsible for 25% of California’s total wine revenue. So while Napa doesn’t produce very much wine, what they do produce is much more expensive than the average California wine.
Napa Valley’s Wine Regions
For such a small region, Napa actually contains plenty of subregions within its borders. There are currently 16 different official subregions or AVAs in the valley. These smaller regions were each created because they possess a unique geographical or climatic trait that makes the area unique compared to the rest of the valley. For example, many of the AVAs located in the south of Napa possess a much cooler climate than the AVAs in the central part of the valley due to their closer proximity to the bay.
These AVAs are also split into two groups, those located on the valley floor and those located at higher elevations in the mountain ranges on both the east and west. Generally the AVAs on the valley floor are warmer than the mountain AVAs, but there are some exceptions.
Napa Valley’s Climate
Part of what makes Napa Valley a great wine region is its unique climate. Napa possesses a Mediterranean climate; a unique climate not found in many parts of the world. This climate is known for having warm, dry summers, and mild, wet winters with large shifts in day and night temperatures. The Mediterranean climate is one of the best climates for growing grapes in the world.
Napa Valley’s Wines
While Napa grows various grape varieties there is no doubt that Cabernet Sauvignon is king in this region. Cabernet makes up about 51% of the grapes grown in Napa, and is the wine Napa is most famous for. In particular, Napa is famous for ripe, rich, heavy bodied, oaky styles of Cabernet Sauvignon. But there are other grapes grown and produced here, the second most popular is Chardonnay. Napa is known for producing very rich, oaky styles of Chardonnay. Although in recent years more and more winemakers are beginning to make more restrained styles of Chardonnay. Additionally, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel are grown and produced in Napa Valley.
To learn more about how Napa Valley’s wine industry got started take a look at our timeline below. It starts in the mid 1800’s when the first grapes were planted and continues into modern times.