Napa Valley or Napa County?


By Bruce Cochran

Hello Everyone,

This week we complete our look at California’s most important wine regions.

As a former teacher of wine classes at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s continuing education department, I have to say that if you remember everything we’ve discussed in the past eight weeks in eWine of the Week, you could teach a pretty good California wine class yourself.

We explored the vast and varied Central Coast counties between San Francisco and Los Angeles and took an up close look at the four counties north of San Francisco, including this week’s final episode, Napa.

Try a new wine this week!


Cellar Arts Napa Valley Cuvee

Napa Valley of Napa County? In answer to that question, they’re about the same. Unlike Sonoma, where the valley is only about a quarter of the county’s total wine production, almost all Napa County wine is from Napa Valley and both valleys have a town named for them.

But like Sonoma Valley, its neighbor over the Mayacamas Mountains to the west, Napa Valley has a diverse collection of microclimates that influence what types of grapes are grown, and to a large extent their styles. Here is a list of some of the most important appellations or place names within the valley that you might see on a label of Napa Valley wine:

1. Carneros. Southern Napa Valley shares this cool climate district with the southern tip of Sonoma Valley. Cooled by an offshoot of San Francisco Bay, Carneros is known for pinot noir, elegant chardonnays and sparkling wines, all of which are associated with cool weather.

2. Stags Leap. In the hills overlooking southeastern Napa Valley, the Stags Leap District is best known for elegant, Bordeaux-like cabernet sauvignon, though other grapes are grown here as well.

3. Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Calistoga. These are the towns you drive through from south to north along Highway 29. Each is best known for cabernet sauvignon and while each area has much to say about it, we can generalize by saying that wine styles seem to gradually become fuller-bodied as you move north. It also becomes warmer, as you move away from the bay.

4. Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain are some of the mountains that surround Napa Valley. Each is sprinkled with vineyards and wineries, and it’s great fun to drive the winding mountain roads to find them.

While in recent years cabernet sauvignon pretty much replaced chardonnay and other grape varieties in most of Napa Valley, a new term has recently emerged called “Right Bank blend.” This harkens back to the original birthplace of cabernet. While a typical blend from the “Left Bank” or western side of the Gironde Estuary, is mostly heat-loving cabernet and a little cool-loving merlot, on the eastern side or “Right Bank” much more merlot, cabernet’s earlier-maturing cousin cabernet franc, and sometimes a little malbec and petit verdot make up a major part of the blend.

Blending different grapes together gives the wine a more complex flavor profile than using only a single grape variety, and this practice is now very common in this most famous of California’s wine regions.

A new “Right Bank” blend, Cellar Arts Napa Valley Cuvee 2006, retails for about $40 a bottle. Only 200 cases were produced.

Categories: Legacy Archive