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What's so great about Napa Valley?

Erin O'Reilly - Certified Specialist of Wine

Ah! Napa Valley - home to some of the world's most iconic wines. But why all the hype? Just what makes Napa Valley so great? Here's what you need to know about California’s most famous winegrowing region.

A fog rolling over Napa Valley

Why Is Napa Valley Good for Wine?

Napa Valley sits just north of San Pablo Bay, a large bay east of the Golden Gate Bridge. The bay funnels in cool maritime winds and, just as important, coastal fog. Nestled between the Maycamas, and Vacas mountains, the wind and fog funnel up Napa Valley during the growing season.

Wind and fog are Mother Nature’s air conditioners, helping to moderate what would otherwise be a toasty Mediterranean climate.

The grapes warm up in the daytime, and then, as the afternoon fog rolls in, they cool off. This natural phenomenon helps grapes preserve acidity while still developing complex aromas and flavors. Both are key ingredients to world-class wine.

Moving from the southern end up to the northern end through Napa’s American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the AVAs closest to the bay, like Los Carneros, experience a more tempered climate, while AVAs furthest from the bay are hotter. Carneros specializes in Pinot Noir and Napa Valley Chardonnay and you’ll discover amazing Champagne-style sparkling wines from Los Carneros. On the far north end of Napa Valley, up in the Calistoga AVA, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel dominate - both grape varieties need long, hot days to mature.

These conditions, along with a mosaic of soils leftover from seismic activities, ancient volcanoes, and riverbed deposits mean that growers enjoy unique vineyard sites that reflect true terroir.

Napa Valley wine train

Why Is Napa Valley So Popular?

Like so many things in this world, a lucky confluence of events propelled Napa Valley into the spotlight as a frontrunner in world-class wine production.

The 1976 Judgment of Paris, where Napa’s Stag’s Leap won first place beating out the best (up-until-then) Bordeaux, drew the world’s attention to the region. A thirsty America yearned for great wines and discovered them right here, in their backyard.

Another advent of the 80s and 90s was the Robert Parker 100-point scale. Full-bodied, rich, and fruity Napa Cabs performed well with Parker’s scoring matrix, promoting Napa wines across print media and with shelf-talkers in stores that drew attention to the valley.

Cult wineries like Stag’s Leap, Screaming Eagle, and Harlan Estate brought further acclaim to Napa wines, and their limited production translated into soaring bottle prices for avid collectors.

Location also helps.

A quick day trip from both Silicon Valley and San Francisco brings thirsty tech entrepreneurs and tourists to the area looking to spend a relaxing day tasting Napa Valley wines. Unfortunately, Napa’s built out with restrictions on future vineyard and winery development. Both the region’s proximity to large cities and limited development opportunities equate to demand outstripping supply.

vineyards in Napa Valley

What’s the Best Wine in Napa Valley?

You’ll find Napa Valley wine at any wine shop and on just about every restaurant wine list.

As the board of tourism touts, Napa Valley is the king of Cabernet Sauvignon. If you’re looking for the best Napa Valley wine, then you’ll want a Cab.

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon exemplifies diversity.

Wines on the valley floor generally show more restraint, thanks to the afternoon fog cover. You’ll detect mint and crunchy black fruit. Vineyards perched above the fog line produce jammier Cabs. Likewise, vineyard sites on the north of the valley will have riper fruit than those closer to the mouth of the valley that experience more coastal breezes.

The range of styles means that it’s worth tasting around to find a producer or AVA that speaks to you. At Gold Medal Wine Club, we feature a multitude of Napa wines, Cabernet or otherwise. For a perfect mix, try out our Wines of Napa combo case which is stocked with a variety of wines that share one common trait: they were all grown and produced in Napa Valley!

Erin O'Reilly Author Bio Image Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly, Certified Specialist of Wine, is a wine writer and educator. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers dedicated to crafting great wines.