Napa Valley: discovering California wines

Who I am
Joel Fulleda

Author and references


  • History and curiosities about Napa Valley wine production
  • Subregions of Napa Valley
  • The vines of Napa Valley
  • The wineries of Napa Valley not to be missed
  • What to do in Napa Valley: wine and more

When we talk about wine and viticulture, we inevitably think of countries with a long tradition such as France and Spain. In fact, even the United States can boast one own production, mainly concentrated in the State of California.

North of San Francisco is the so-called Wine Country, made up of Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma Valley.

La Napa Valley it is the most renowned and richest area in wineries and wineries, which have made great entrepreneurial efforts to combine Spanish and French customs with the most modern technology.

Its hills offer gods spectacular landscapes, made of wild flowers, rows of vines and thermal springs. On the country roads you can take relaxing walks or bike rides or explore the small towns of the valley that stand out for their rural elegance.

Here's everything you need to know about Napa Valley and where to stop for a good American wine.

History and curiosities about Napa Valley wine production

If you are passionate about wines but are not familiar with American products from the Napa Valley, perhaps the time has come to broaden your horizons.

At one time the market was essentially dominated by products from Spain and France. For many years, however, the Californian wineries have managed to conquer a good share of the market.

The rise on the international market was made possible thanks to the work carried out by the companies distributed in the Napa Valley region, where over 300 brands and labels reside. Today, about 60% of California's manufacturing is based in this region.

An hour and a half north of San Francisco you will find the city of Napa which gave its name to the county of the same name and to the valley. Napa Valley in 1980 becomes the first official American AVA (American Viticultural Area).

Grape cultivation in the region had already begun in the mid-XNUMXth century. Subsequently, the prohibition in force between the XNUMXs and XNUMXs marked a setback to the economic resources of companies. For this reason, only in the sixties development has regained vigor.

However, few focused on quality rather than quantity, and their stubbornness attracted new investors and producers.

In the seventies the first small wineries were born, including Mayacamas, which paved the way for other brands such as Heitz and Diamond Creeek.

Within a few years, other companies such as Chateau Montelena, Mondavi and Freemark Abbey have joined, with the aim of competing with the best wines in the world. In 1976 the famous'tasting of Paris'which somehow marked a turning point in American viticulture.

During the tasting the Chardonnay of Chateau Montelena beat the white wines of Burgundy and the Stags Leaps Cabernet had the better of the wines of Bordeaux.

Napa Valley currently welcomes both large and small producers and is one of the most popular territories for producing a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon. In quality, Californian wines are able to rival the Spanish and French ones, however, positioning themselves on a lower price range.

San Francisco: Excursion to the Land of Wine (with Tasting)

Subregions of Napa Valley

As a territorial extension the Napa Valley is not very large and consists of 13 different AVA areas. Each of these AVAs encompasses a small town with specific characteristics. Let's see some of the most important.


Rutherford is located north of Oakville and more precisely in the center of Napa Valley. The climate is warm enough, but without excess. In fact, there is a decent one temperature range between day and night, from which the grapes benefit. Here the wines are distinguished by a certain diversity and complexity.


This AVA is the northernmost one in Napa Valley and is also very muggy and hot. At the same time it offers greater difference between day and night temperatures. The soil of the vineyards is slightly volcanic, with gravel in the flat areas and rocks in the sloping sections. In Calistoga you can drink wines with great depth.


The Carneros AVA extends across the bottom of Napa Valley and follows the north line of San Pablo Bay. The climate is therefore cooler almost all year round and is also very stable and not very rainy. This climatic balance makes the area ideal for the production of Pinot Noir, but in recent years the Syrah grape is also gaining ground.

Oak Knoll District

This district covers the southernmost part of Napa Valley and is heavily affected by the breezes from San Pablo Bay. The soil is a mix of volcanic and alluvial soil and the lower temperatures allow for excellent results Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon e Sauvignon Blanc.

Monte Veeder

Mount Veeder is located along the western side of the valley, almost on the border with the Sonoma Valley. The vineyards are located approx 800 meters above sea level and the soils have good drainage, even if they are poorer. The dominant wines are mainly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

From San Francisco, full day tour of Napa and Sonoma Valley

The vines of Napa Valley

The different kinds of soil and the different climatic exposure of Napa Valley allow you to cultivate a certain variety of vines, all precious and of the highest quality. Here are the most common ones in the valley.

Cabernet Sauvignon

This is the main grape of Napa Valley, for fame and quantity. More than 50% of the grapes planted in the valley are Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes take root very well at different altitudes and the wines stand out for a compact and intense structure which becomes more acidic on the hills.


Chardonnay is the second most used grape variety and corresponds to 15% of the grapes present in Napa Valley. In cooler areas the wine has a richer bouquet. On the other hand, in the hottest places, more complex and powerful wines are obtained. Sometimes the wines are also aged in cask for greater balance.


Merlot grapes make up about 8% of the vines present in the Californian valley. In some cases it is grown alone to produce excellent ones Single vine Merlot. A part is then crossed with Cabernet Sauvignon, as happens in some companies in Bordeaux.

Finally, among the other grape varieties with lower percentages there are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.

Napa Valley: Guided Tour with Packed Lunch

The wineries of Napa Valley not to be missed

Around Napa Valley you will have the opportunity to try many food and wine tours at one of the hundreds of wineries scattered throughout the region. In this regard, it is good not to overdo the tastings, especially if you travel by car.

In fact, the controls of the American authorities are very strict and frequently motorists are stopped to check the alcohol level of the driver.

That said, there are many wineries available and you will be spoiled for choice. However, there are at least a couple of really famous places that deserve a stop.

The most famous and established winery in Napa Valley is undoubtedly Robert Mondavi, whose founder has left an indelible mark on the history of stars and stripes wine production, bringing Californian wines to world attention.

The company resides in Oakville, at number 7801 of Saint Helena Highway and is completely surrounded by greenery.

You can book food and wine tours with tasting and cooking experiences of the highest level. For more information on the experiences to do and on access times, please refer to Official site.

Another winery among the most fascinating and unmissable is the Castello di amorosa, located just before arriving in Calistoga. The location is nothing short of exciting and will leave you speechless.

It is a medieval fortress faithfully reconstructed on the model of the Tuscan buildings of the twelfth century. In addition to the cloister, the tower, the cellars and the internal rooms, there is also a curious torture room.

Here too there is a chance to taste one of California's infamous wines, including an excellent Merlot. In order to visit the estate and make tastings it is necessary book in advance.

What to do in Napa Valley: wine and more

In addition to eating and drinking, there are many other things to do in Napa Valley, whether alone or with friends or family.

For example, many people decide to make pleasant ones cycling to enjoy the splendid countryside of the place.

There are real guided tours that take you along routes of several kilometers with packed lunches and visits to the best local wineries. Instead Napa Valley Bike Toursit is perfect for the bravest who want to do some off-road mountain bike tours.

Equally fun is the Napa Valley Wine Train, an excursion of several hours aboard a vintage train.

During the trip you can enjoy gods gourmet lunches composed of several courses, observing the most beautiful vineyards from the window. Along the way there are also stops at some wineries, including V. Sattui, Robert Mondavi and Charles Krug.

Finally, there is the possibility to admire the splendid Napa Valley from the other of the hot air balloons. The society Napa Valley Balloons organizes tours with flight sessions over the valley and final toast.

Tour from San Francisco to Muir Woods and Wine Country Redwoods
add a comment of Napa Valley: discovering California wines
Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.