The Napa Valley AVA – A Brief Summary and Regional Wine Guide

The Napa Valley AVA is considered one of the premier new world wine growing regions. This quick regional guide will give you an overview of Napa, its grape varieties, terroir and more.

Be sure to also check out our list of 10 Off the Beaten Path Napa Valley Wineries worth visiting.

Napa Valley AVA Wine Guide

When you think of Napa Valley, California, what’s the first grape variety that comes to mind? If you’re a red wine drinker, I hope your mind ran to Cabernet Sauvignon. If you favor white wine, it was probably Chardonnay. While these varieties are the most popular in Napa, this region is also prime real estate for Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc (there are others, we’ll list those out later).

Overtime, since around 1960, the Napa Valley wine region has begun to become associated with a sense of exclusivity. For me, this is unfortunate, as it’s difficult to find fairly priced hotel rooms and tasting costs have gone up to the not uncommon rate of $25. Wine should be available to the masses, and luckily there are some vineyards that remain detached from the traveling LA vibe.  

Napa Valley plays host to over 400 wineries, and is now visited by over 5 million people every year. There are over 43,000 acres of vineyard plot throughout Napa Valley currently.

No matter how you look at the region, you can’t deny that gorgeous, big fruit forward, relatively young wines are being cranked out of Napa. Vintners here are at the top of their game, often employing cutting edge technology and evolving biodynamic viticultural methods.

Napa Valley AVA Grape Varieties |
A close up image of Cabernet Sauvignon in the fall in Napa Valley, close to harvest time. Image courtesy Getty Images.

The Grape Varieties of Napa Valley California

While there are a select few vintners producing grape varieties outside of the spectrum mentioned below, these are the dominant grape varieties currently present in Napa Valley.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Zinfandel
  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc

Napa Valley Sub-AVAs

  • Atlas Peak AVA
  • Chiles Valley AVA
  • Diamond Mountain District AVA
  • Howell Mountain AVA
  • Los Carneros AVA
  • Mt. Veeder AVA
  • Napa Valley AVA
  • Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA
  • Oakville AVA
  • Rutherford AVA
  • Spring Mountain District AVA
  • St. Helena AVA
  • Stags Leap District AVA
  • Wild Horse Valley AVA
  • Yountville AVA

Terroir and Climate

Napa Valley is characterized climate wise as being predominantly mediterranean.  This means that weather patterns can be more predictable, and typically adhere to being warm to moderately hot in the summer, and conversely cool (but not excessively) in the winter.  Because of Southern Napa’s proximity to the San Pablo Bay, temperatures are cooler during the summer, while the Northern, insulated corner is characteristically hotter.

Napa Valley in general is a bit warmer in the summer than sister AVA Sonoma County.  ‘Cooler’ varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can still grow here, though are often touted as performing better in Sonoma.

In terms of soil composition, ground towards the Northern end of Napa Valley shows evidence of a volcanic past with ash and lava deposits. Contrastingly, dirt in Southern Napa Valley consists largely inland sea deposits.

In the future, we’ll cover more information on Napa’s Sub-AVAs, including some of our favorite wineries to visit within each. Subscribe to the Winetraveler blog below to stay up to date with new articles.

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Greig Santos-Buch is a Co-Founder at Winetraveler, WSET II Merit wine thought-provoker and off-the-beaten-path outdoorsman. He first became involved with wine traveling after a month-long solo trip to Spain about 10 years ago, planning the trip almost exclusively around the gastronomic scene of the country. Ever since that particular trip abroad, he developed a passion for traveling and making wine tourism the core driver behind where he ends up. This has since led him to exciting destinations including the Czech Republic, to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Portugal, California, Washington State, Canada and beyond. His primary aim through Winetraveler is to expose this style of travel to the world and make it accessible to everyone.

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