Wine Talk: Exploring Napa AVAs

Wine talk can be a bit overwhelming at times, can’t it? What does ” Napa AVA ” even mean?

Terrior has been all the rage in wine conversations in recent years. People speak of “tasting the terrior” in the wine. From there they go on to discuss the merits or challenges of certain AVAs. As you know, Napa AVAs are HUGE topics of conversation with folks, isn’t it?

What are they talking about?


Like many things involving wine, the terminology used is of French origin.  Terrior is one of those terms. One of the best definitions we have found is one shared by the website, Musings of the Vine.

Consequently, it says of terrior – “At every wine tasting, especially those comparing “old world” wine to “new world” wines, the inevitable question of terroir arises. Terroir is a French term that literally translated means: earth, or soil. However, there is no such thing as a literal translation of anything French. In a larger context, wine tasters try to define terroir as the specificity of place, which has come to include not only the soil in a region, but also the climate, the weather, the aspect of the vineyards and anything else that can possibly differentiate one piece of land from another.

“Terrior” is much bigger than a zip code in true French concept. As people, we tend to want to be specific and to delineate things. As you may know, this is the driving tendency to assign American Viticultural Area labels on to certain wine growing areas.

Wine Talk- Exploring Napa's AVAs

American Viticultural Areas = AVA

In 1981 Napa Valley was the very first AVA in California. Therefore, six years after the “Decision of Paris” the American Wine Industry was truly beginning to take form and wanted to codify this with distinctions.

Napa AVA Map shared from Seven Fifty Daily's Site

Most California AVAs have been drawn according to established political/ voting districts. Today the 30 mile long Napa Valley is the home of 16 different Subappellation AVA’s.  Because wine aficionados assign different growing characteristics to each of Napa AVA’s you may want to know more.

Napa Valley’s Subappellation AVAs Listed in Order of Creation as shared well by Wikipedia

List of Napa AVA’s  & The Year That SubAppellation Began –

Los Carneros – 1983

Howell Mountain – 1983

Wild Horse Valley – 1988

Stags Leap – 1989

Mount Veeder – 1990

Atlas Peak – 1992

Spring Mountain District – 1993

Oakville – 1993

Rutherford – 1993

St. Helena – 1995

Chiles Valley – 1999

Yountville – 1999

Diamond Mountain District – 2001

Oak Knoll District – 2004

Calistoga – 2009

Coombsville – 2011

85% of the grapes which were used to create a wine must come from one AVA for it to carry that listing on the label. “Approximately 45,000 of the 225,300 acres that make up the Napa Valley AVA are under vine” according to Seven Fifty Daily’s article.  For a nice history and explanation of the Napa Valley’s region read more from the Seven Fifty Daily’s Napa page. 

Napa is Known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Right?

Yes, Cabernet Sauvignon is what most people think of as the quintessential Napa wine. Chardonnay is another varietal that is thought to grow very well there. Yet, there are MANY grape varietals grown there that create award winning wines.

Interestingly, each of the sixteen Napa Sub AVAs have different specialties due to climate and soil differences. (Although, a few are too young for a distinctive style to have been agreed upon yet.) The differences in growing conditions are thought to create slightly different grapes regarding flavors that will be tasted in the wine that is made from them.

Because much has been shared about these different specialities by many more wine knowledgeable folks and I would like to share some helpful links to their articles to help you learn more about each of the Napa AVA.

1.  Steve Heimoff’s Article in April 2013 shared by Wine Enthusiast, Dissecting Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, does a particularly nice job of sharing information about the Napa AVA’s and exploring Napa Cabernet Sauvignons. (He even recommends a few – including our CKJY Exports’ Winery Portfolio Partners, Flora Springs .)

2.  Napa Valley Nested AVAs – Published by the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association this article shares much of the history of Napa’s AVAs. If you would like to learn even more, the right column on this article has links to many other aspects of wine production that are worthwhile to read.

Napa AVAs = More Meaning Than Pretty Words on a Wine Label

So, you can see there are distinct differences in the climate within the 30 mile long Napa Valley. The temperature, moisture, elevation and soil create differences that are vibrantly displayed in wines created by fine craftsmen.

In the future blog posts, we will discuss more details of differences we can enjoy tasting in different wines.


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