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Exploring the 16 Unique AVAs of Napa Valley: A Wine Lover's Guide


Finally! The long overdue Napa Valley AVA log is here.



Image Napa Valley AVAs via Wineriff.com

What Are Napa Valley AVAs And Why They Are Important

If you remember from earlier blogs, an AVA (American Viticultural Area) is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States, distinguished from other areas by its unique geographic features, climate, soil, and elevation. The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) regulates AVAs in the United States.


AVAs are a big deal, and winemakers will go to considerable lengths to have a particular area designated as a separate agricultural area. Why, you may ask? Some will insist that AVAs are just a marketing ploy to increase the prices of wine in certain areas. While that may be true in some cases, the primary purpose of AVAs is to help consumers understand how the characteristics of a particular AVA will influence what grapes are grown and how the ultimate product, wine, will taste. For example, Russian River Pinot Noir wine tastes much different than Pinot Noir wine from the Willamette Valley (Oregon AVA). Both grapes are Pinot Noir, but the temperature and soil are much different in those AVAs. Overall, AVAs help the consumer make educated choices when selecting what wine to purchase and drink.


Atlas Peak AVA

Location: Eastern Napa Valley, Atlas Peak is part of the Vaca Mountain range. The Vaca Range separates Napa Valley and the Sacramento Valley. Atlas Peak is the most prominent peak in the area at 2663 feet elevation. 

Soil & Climate: Volcanic soils and high elevation provide cool temperatures and intense sunlight

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese

Who Will Love It: Adventure seekers who enjoy bold, aromatic wines with pronounced acidity,  minerality, and floral aromatics.

Wineries to Visit: Antica Napa Valley – Known for its exceptional Cabernets and stunning mountain views, it's a lovely winery. William Hill Estate – Superb wines and a stately winery with beautiful grounds and terrific views. Check out Atlas Peak AVA's List of Wineries for a complete list of wineries at this AVA.


Calistoga AVA

Location: The very north part of Napa Valley.

Soil & Climate: Volcanic soils with hot days and cool nights. Calistoga AVA has the biggest diurnal shift in temperature (hot days and cool nights), which makes Cabernet Sauvignon grapes particularly thrive.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel

Who Will Love It: Fans of powerful, full-bodied wines with intense flavors.

Wineries to Visit: Chateau Montelena – Famous for robust Zinfandel, rich Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay (this was the winery that unseated the French for the best Chardonnay wine during at the historic "Judgment of Paris" wine competition). It is a must-visit if one is in the Calistoga area. Frank Family Vineyards should be on the list to visit as well.   Check out Calistoga AVA's List of Wineries for a complete list of wineries in this AVA.


Chiles Valley AVA

Location: North central region of  Napa Valley; eastern side of the Vaca Mountains. It is described as a "long skinny valley." This AVA has more vineyards than wineries.

Soil & Climate: Cooler temperatures with well-drained, rocky soils. Soils are mostly marine, with silty clay on the valley floor and clay loam on the hillsides.

Best Grapes: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon

Who Will Love It: Those who appreciate vibrant acidity and rich fruit flavors.

Winery to Visit: Green & Red Vineyard – Renowned for balanced and complex Zinfandel (love the name!!). Check out Chiles Valley Wineries List  for a complete list of wineries in this AVA


Coombsville AVA

Location: Southeastern end of Napa Valley

Soil & Climate: Volcanic and alluvial soils with a cooler climate influenced by San Pablo Bay.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot

Who Will Love It: Aficionados of elegant, refined wines with complex profiles (think Bordeaux wines).

Winery to Visit: Favia Erickson Winegrowers – Sophisticated wines highlighting Coombsville's unique terroir and Paul Hobbs,  known for their incomparable wines, which you must taste. Check  Coombsville Wineries for a complete list of the wineries in this AVA.


Diamond Mountain District AVA

Location: Mayacamas Mountains, northern Napa Valley

Soil & Climate:  Because the entire AVA is 400 feet from sea level, it's considerably cooler than other AVAs.  Soil is heavily volcanic with bling (bits of volcanic glass that appear as diamonds, hence the name of the AVA).

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon

Who Will Love It: Those who enjoy deeply colored, intensely flavored wines with firm tannins.

Wineries to Visit: Schramsberg Vineyards – Known for robust Cabernet Sauvignon and sparkling wines, Castello di Amorossa is a personal favorite, a real European castle with yummy Cabs. Check out Diamond Mountain District Wineries for a list of wineries in this AVA.


Howell Mountain AVA

Location:  Howell Mountains within the Vaca Range on the northeast side of Napa Valley.

Soil & Climate: Volcanic ash and clay soils at high elevation, resulting in cooler temperatures.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon

Who Will Love It:  This is one of the most admired AVAs for their remarkable Cabernet Sauvignon. Enthusiasts of powerful, age-worthy wines with intense flavors will love the wines from this AVA.

Winery to Visit: There are a plethora of wineries to visit in this AVA.   Cimarossa, Hall Wines, and Cakebread Cellars are just a few of the stellar wineries that call this AVA home. Check out a complete list of wineries at Howell Mountain Wineries.


Los Carneros AVA

Location: Southern Napa Valley, straddling Napa and Sonoma counties

Soil & Climate: Clay loam soils with a cool, marine-influenced climate.

Best Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Who Will Love It: Fans of crisp, elegant wines with bright acidity.

Wineries to Visit: This is another AVA rich with stupendous wineries. Just a few: Domaine Carneros – Offers stunning views and exceptional sparkling wines; Donum Estates, with its memorable art and equally memorable wine; and Bouchaine, with its terrific patio, is the perfect place for sipping its lovely wines. Check out the complete list of wineries at Los Carneros AVA Wineries


Mount Veeder AVA

Location: Southwestern Napa Valley, as part of the Mayacamas Mountains.

Soil & Climate: Steep slopes with rocky, thin soils and cooler temperatures.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay

Who Will Love It: Those who appreciate bold, complex wines with high acidity. The AVA produces Cabernet Sauvignon with briary notes (somewhat woody), (moderate to bold tannins, and herbal, floral aromatics).

Winery to Visit: Two exquisite wineries are O'Shaughnessy and Darioush; they both do a great job of showcasing the wonderful wines from this AVA. Check out Mount Veeder AVA Wineries for a list of wineries in this AVA.


Oak Knoll District AVA

Location: Southern end of the valley floor.

Soil & Climate: Gravelly silt loam and clay soils with a cooler climate. The appellation's proximity to San Pablo Bay results in a cooler and more moderate climate than any region in Napa Valley other than the Los Carneros AVA. The AVA boasts more vines planted than any other wholly contained AVA within Napa Valley.

Best Grapes: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon

Who Will Love It: Lovers of balanced wines with nuanced fruit profiles.

Wineries to Visit: Trefethen Family Vineyards and James Cole Winery are two of my favorites in this AVA. Check out both wineries' steller offerings if you're partial to white wine. Both make a sensational Sauvignon Blanc. Check out Oak Knoll AVA Wineries for the complete list of wineries in this AVA.

 

Oakville AVA

Location: Central Napa Valley

Soil & Climate: Gravelly soils with warm days and cool nights.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon

Who Will Love It: Fans of deep, rich fruit flavors and luxurious textures.

Wineries to Visit: More of my Cabernet Sauvignon wineries call this AVA home than any other Napa AVA. Two to book a visit to are Nickle & Nickle, famed for fabulous single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Far Niente. It is also home to the famous Screaming Eagle winery. Check out Oak Knoll AVA Wineries for the complete list of wineries in this AVA.


Rutherford AVA

Location: Central Napa Valley, centered around the town of Rutherford

Soil & Climate: Gravel, sand, and loam soils with moderate temperatures.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon

Who Will Love It: Aficionados of classic, structured wines with earthy minerality. Known for classic Rutherford Cabernets with fine, dusty tannins affectionately referred to as Rutherford dust.

Wineries to Visit: Home to famous wineries such as Inglenook, Beaulieu Vineyard, and Grgich Hills Estate.   Check out the complete list of Rutherford AVA wineries at Rutherford AVA Wineries.


St. Helena AVA

Location: Northern Napa Valley, centered around the town of St. Helena. It lies along the narrow northern end of the valley between the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains.

Soil & Climate: Loamy, gravelly alluvial soils with warm temperatures.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot

Who Will Love It: Those who enjoy robust, full-bodied wines with rich, concentrated flavors.

Winery to Visit:  Pay a visit to Beringer Vineyards, which is perfect for history buffs and fans of bold wines. Check out St. Helena AVA Wineries for a complete list of wineries in St. Helena AVA.


Stags Leap District AVA

Location: Eastern Napa Valley, about 6 miles north of the city of Napa

Soil & Climate: Volcanic soils with a mix of loam and clay, featuring warm days and cool nights.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon (the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon won the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine tasting for red wines).Who Will Love It: Lovers of wines that balance power and elegance.

Winery to Visit:  Visit a bit of history for a tasting at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, renowned for world-class Cabernets. Check out Stag's Leap District AVA Wineries for a listing of all wineries in this AVA.


Spring Mountain District AVA

Location: Northwestern Napa Valley; it sits on the steep terraces of the Mayacamas Mountains (separate Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa Plain). The AVA lies in a northwestern portion of the Napa Valley above and behind Saint Helena.

Soil & Climate: Diverse soils with steep slopes and cooler temperatures.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay

Who Will Love It: Fans of vibrant, high-acidity wines with complex flavors.

Winery to Visit: Spring-Madrone Vineyards and Winery offers panoramic views and amazingly complex wines. Check out Spring Mountain District AVA Wineries.


Yountville AVA

Location: Central Napa Valley, centered around the town of Yountville

Soil & Climate: Alluvial soils with a cooler climate influenced by the bay. It is one of the coolest appellations in Napa Valley and one of the factors for a long growing season.

Best Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon (pretty tannic here), Merlot,  Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.

Who Will Love It: Enthusiasts of crisp, refreshing, and red wines with structure.

Wineries to Visit: In the midst of all this red wine, it might be fun to check out some bubble wineries. Check out  Domaine Chandon or JCB Tasting Salon to sample some excellent sparkling wine. Check out Yountville AVA Wineries for a complete list of wineries in the Yountville AVA.


Wild Horse Valley AVA

Location: Eastern Napa Valley, spanning Napa and Solano counties

Soil & Climate: Volcanic soils; the AVA has a cool climate due to elevation; the cool climate makes them attractive to Pinot Noir. 

Best Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Who Will Love It: Fans of bright acidity and delicate fruit flavors.

Winery to Visit: Olivia Brion Vineyard (which is currently the only winery in the AVA). Small and intimate, the winery is lovely for a personal tasting experience.

 

Conclusion

Napa Valley's 16 AVAs offer a remarkable diversity of wines, each reflecting the unique terroir of its region. From powerful Cabernets to elegant Chardonnays, there's an AVA for every wine lover. So, pack your bags, grab your wine glasses, and get ready to explore the distinct AVAs of Napa Valley! Cheers!


See our blog about Sonoma AVAs at https://www.winebyappt.com/post/sonoma-avas.


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