The most iconic wine region in the United States is Napa Valley. While the region is a staple for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wine enthusiasts, varietal diversity is increasing year by year. The wines coming from Napa Valley AVA are rich and concentrated and can age for many years in your cellar or be enjoyed immediately. The higher price tags associated with Napa Valley AVA wines might make you hesitate. Indeed, they are often more expensive than the average California North Coast AVA, or even Willamette AVA wines, but read along to see if you think the price is validated, or not.
What is an “AVA?”
If you’ve read some of our content, you might already be familiar with the concept of AVAs in wine.
AVA stands for American Viticultural Area. The AVAs are officially determined areas that help identify the origin of a wine. For instance, if a wine comes from the Napa Valley AVA, the grapes must be grown within the agreed-upon geographical area. While AVAs are found all over the United States, most of them are located in Northern California and characterize high-quality products.
Europe also has its own version of “AVAs” which are named “European Protected Designation of Origin,” or PDO. A key point of distinction between European PDOs and AVAs is that PDOs have strict limits on the grapes allowed as well as the wine styles the producers can make. AVAs don’t have that limitation. Europe uses PDOs to protect the historical wine styles and varieties. In the United States, wine history is still written as we speak, so producers have the freedom to experiment with any variety and style they want to produce. As long as the grapes are grown within the limits of the AVA, the wine can showcase its origin on its label. In some cases, the grapes and style are tied to the AVA, as is the case with Napa and Cabernet Sauvignon, or the Russian River Valley AVA and Pinot Noir.
Where is the Napa Valley AVA located?
Napa Valley AVA is located in the heart of the grape-growing North Coast region of California. Just 2 hours north of San Francisco, east of Sonoma, you’ll find a beautiful valley with picturesque towns and a valley floor full of vineyards as far as the eye can see.
The world-famous grape growing region consists of a 30-mile-long valley that’s open towards the bay area to the south but surrounded by tall mountains on all other sides. Looking at the Napa Valley map, you’ll see Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain, and Diamond Mountain to the west, and Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain to the east of the valley.
More than 44,000 acres of vineyards are planted both on the valley floor and the mountainsides, providing slightly different wine styles depending on the altitude and aspect of the vineyard.
The Climate of Napa Valley AVA
Napa Valley AVA has a variety of climates due to its diverse topography. In general, the climate is considered “Mediterranean,” with warm and dry summers, but different locations within the Napa Valley AVA have their own specific mesoclimate.
The defining component of the mesoclimates of Napa Valley is its proximities to the Bay Area. Cool fog enters the valley from its southernmost opening at night, and stays there until the first morning hours, lowering the temperatures. The further north a vineyard is, like in the St. Helena area, the warmer it is, creating riper grapes and fuller wines, often with higher alcohol.
Another factor that determines the climate is vineyard altitude. With so many mountains in Napa Valley AVA, many vineyards are located in high altitudes. Vineyards in those regions generally experience cooler temperatures than the valley floor and produce wines with a lighter color and fresher flavors.
Common Varietals in Napa Valley AVA
The king of reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape variety in Napa Valley AVA. Naturally, at Dough Wines we provide you with two expressions, the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. 24,000 acres (or 55% of all Napa Valley vineyards) are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon. It is grown all over the valley and creates different wine styles based on its specific origin. Top Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is usually aged in French Oak, at least for a year (ours is aged for at least 22 months!), in order to create beautiful soft tannins and increase its complexity with vanilla and cedar aromas.
Chardonnay is the most planted white grape in Napa Valley with 6,000 acres planted. Since the climate is warmer than neighboring Sonoma, the wines are often riper and fuller-bodied than those of Sonoma. They often exhibit vibrant aromas of yellow apple, lemon tart, pineapple, along with delicious butter and vanilla. Our Napa Valley Chardonnay has had a full malolactic conversion and has been matured for almost a year in new French oak barrels, showcasing our winemaker’s interpretation of this iconic style.
Sauvignon Blanc is the second most planted white grape variety in Napa Valley, covering almost 3,000 acres of the valley floor. The variety, known by many for its intensely perfumed New Zealand expression, has been growing in Napa for a long time. In fact, a new winemaking style emerged from Napa, called “Fume Blanc,” which is Sauvignon Blanc fermented and matured in oak barrels. The Dough Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc exhibits a contemporary wine style, mixing the precision and bright acidity of the French examples, with the intensity and light oak of Napa.
The final popular grape in Napa Valley is Merlot, which is the second most planted red grape, taking up more than 4,000 acres of vineyards. Merlot has historically been the partner of Cabernet Sauvignon in all great Bordeaux wines, be it from the Left or Right Bank of the region. Merlot’s round palate and red fruits are a perfect complement to the rich tannic profile and black fruits of Cabernet Sauvignon. Through the Red Blend Pack of Dough wines, you can explore the ways each of the grapes contributes to the blend!
Which are the main sub (or child)-AVAs?
Napa Valley has been the most studied wine region in the United States and is actually the first AVA in California, officially designated in 1981. Through observation of the climatic effects within the valley and the wines produced, 16 AVAs have been approved within the Napa Valley AVA. Calistoga AVA and Oakville AVA are arguably the most well-known.
On the northern end of Napa Valley, lies the city of Calistoga, which gives the name to the homonymous AVA. It is a unique AVA of the Napa Valley region because the soil is almost entirely of volcanic origin. Calistoga AVA also has the highest diurnal range in Napa Valley, meaning it has the widest range of day and night temperatures. The hot days create fruit that has sweet, ripe aromas, but the cool nights result in high acidity in the wines. It is one of the youngest sub-AVAs of Napa Valley, officiated in 2009.
Oakville AVA is, for many, the most highly-regarded AVA in Napa Valley. It’s located approximately in the middle of the valley, benefiting from the cool fogs at night, but getting enough sunlight during the day to ripen the fruit perfectly every year. Here lies the iconic “To Kalon” vineyard, and almost all the cult wine producers of the US, like Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate. Oakville wines, like our Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, are powerful and long-lived, with a great balance between alcohol, tannin ripeness, and fruit intensity.
What makes wines from the Napa Valley AVA special?
Napa Valley AVA has always been and will be the epitome of American wine. Many reasons contribute to this. First of all, the climate is ideal for grape growing, with low disease pressure, due to low rainfall in the summer. The cool nights help the grapes retain their natural acidity. What makes the wine so special however is the people who make it. The most talented viticulturists and winemakers of the US have been attracted by the challenge to create beautiful and high-quality wines that are worthy of their reputation. What’s more the University of California, Davis has a Research Station, the Oakville Station, right in the middle of the valley, doing top-notch research on improving wine quality even more. With so much passion going into the Napa Valley AVA wines, it’s no wonder they are among the best wines in the world.
Napa Valley AVA, located in North Coast California, is one of the most important AVAs in the United States. It is mainly known for its top Cabernet Sauvignon and top Chardonnay wines. High quality and rich flavors are the common characteristics of all wines coming from the Napa Valley AVA. Learn more about our Napa Valley wines here.