Explore the region & wines of Napa Valley

The Napa Valley is relatively small (about 30 miles long and 5 miles across) and produces just 4% of California’s wine. Yet the Napa Valley AVA and its 16 nested appellations are America's most celebrated wine regions. Numerous varietals are grown there: cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, syrah, even sangiovese - but cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay reign supreme.

Both cabernet and chardonnay thrive in the Napa Valley, a magical place that enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and reliably dry, sunny summers. Those summers would be too hot were it not for the cool and wet coastal morning fogs - drawn from the Pacific coast, across San Pablo Bay - that temper the heat that would otherwise bake the vines. The swing in temperature (as any San Francisco native will tell you) is dramatic - yet it proves an advantage for viticulturists, for it favors the gradual formation of ripe, healthy, and intensely flavorful cabernet and chardonnay clusters.

Welcome to Napa Valley

But despite its modest size, climatic conditions can vary across the Napa Valley, especially during the summer months when there can be a 10º to 15ºF difference from the cooler, south end of the valley to the warmer, north end. The valley’s topography - which can range from sea-level valley floors to 2000 feet mountain vineyards - also has a significant impact on the vines as does the extraordinarily diverse number of soil types.

In fact, some of Napa Valley’s best vineyards are rooted upon soils known today as benches or alluvial fans. Eons ago, receding waters left in their wake alluvial debris rich with organic nutrients. The volcanic and alluvial debris, flowing downward upon the mountain ranges that flank the Napa Valley, collected upon the valley floor. A measure of debris remained on the base of the slopes, forming alluvial fans or benches. Water flowing through the highly porous debris washed away nutrients in the soil, leaving in turn starving conditions for vines rooted in such soils. These conditions compel vine roots to delve deeper for nutrients and water; and the ensuing root system not only ensures that the vines receive a naturally moderated supply of nutrients and water, which encourages the vine to turn away from vine growth and focus on the formation of ripe and flavorful fruit.

Those varying climatic conditions, topographical differences, and diversity of soil types inevitably spurred proprietors and growers to divide the Napa Valley into the following 16 nested AVAs.



Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA

The Oak Knoll District is at the southern end of central Napa Valley. It’s north of Napa city, placing it directly in the path of the fog that scampers up from San Pablo Bay, making it among the coolest of the valley’s nested AVAs. Because of this, many white varietals are grown here, along with a smattering of merlot, zinfandel, and cabernet sauvignon.



Yountville is named after pioneer and frontiersman George C. Yount, who in 1836 was the first to plant grapevines in the area. Neighboring the Oak Knoll District, Yountville’s southerly position within the valley renders it cooler and windier, leading to supple wines with brighter fruit flavors and finer tannins.


Stags Leap District

The Stags Leap District is not only Napa’s smallest nested VA, but also the only valley floor appellation that doesn’t fully extend over the width of the valley. It is in essence a valley within a valley. The Palisades to the east not only reflect sunlight onto the vineyards, but they also (along with the hillsides to the west) funnel the cool Pacific fog and breezes flowing north from the San Pablo Bay. This combination of hot days and cool afternoons and evenings extends the growing season and yields clusters with especially ripe and vibrant/flesh flavors.


The Oakville AVA is situated in the very middle of the valley, seeing both the heat and warmth of the northern reaches of the valley and the cool fogs and breezes scampering across San Pablo Bay. Because of this, the cabernet sauvignons are not only ripe and powerful but also lively, energetic, refined, and polished.


Napa Valley Mountains


The Rutherford AVA and its vineyards are situated in the widest point of the Napa Valley and therefore on any given day see more sunlight than any other Napa Valley floor appellation. Those sunny days make for ripe wines, concentrated fruit flavors, and soft, almost grainy tannins poetically described as “Rutherford dust.”


St. Helena

Located on the northerly side of the valley floor, St. Helena only on occasion sees the cool morning fogs that frequent the southern end of the valley and is therefore fairly warm. As a result, wines from St. Helena can be opulent with riper flavors and higher alcohols.



This is Napa’s warmest nested AVA, due to its location and topology. Surrounded on three sides by mountains and situated far away from the cooling influence of the San Pablo Bay, Calistoga sees a hot climate that yields luxuriantly ripe reds with dark colors and deep, resonant flavors.


Los Carneros

Spanning both Napa and Sonoma County (the only AVA to do so), Los Carneros is relatively cool given its proximity to the San Pablo Bay and to Mount Veeder. Due to the cooler climate, Los Carneros is famous for pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling wines.


Mount Veeder

On a clear day, the Golden Gate Bridge is visible from certain vantage points of Mount Veeder. Because of its proximity to San Pablo Bay and its steep, east facing slopes which enjoy the cool morning sun, Mount Veeder is the coolest mountain AVA, with the longest growing season and the latest harvest in Napa - Mount Veeder proprietors have harvested their cabernet fruit as late as Thanksgiving! Its cabernets are often very high in tannins and acidity, can age for decades, and often feature a distinct minty flavor.


Spring Mountain District

This mountain nested VA is on the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Range, which separates Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley. Resting approximately 30 miles east of the Pacific (and therefore seeing a coastal influence) and 25 miles north of San Pablo Bay, the Spring Mountain District is the coolest and wettest of all the Napa Valley nested AVAs and offers elegant, tannic, that can age for decades.


Napa Valley Vineyard

Diamond Mountain District

Southeast of Calistoga, the Diamond Mountain AVA sits on east side of the Mayacamas mountains. Though the AVA is rooted upon the warmer northern end of the valley, cool air from the coast is still able to enter the hillside, prolonging the growing season and tempering any heat spikes later in the season. Additionally, since most vineyards face east, they see only the cool morning sun. Taken together, these factors along with elevation combine to yield rich, ripe wines, with pronounced tannins and bright fruit flavors.


Howell Mountain

Unlike other Napa Valley mountain AVAs, which run down to connect with the valley floor, the entirety of the Howell Mountain AVA is at least 1400 feet above sea level and was selected by the AVA’s founders because that was the elevation at which the fog crested. Essentially a plateau, this nested AVA and its position above the fog line leaves many of its vineyards open to unmitigated sunshine. As a result, the wines of Howell Mountain are fragrant and decadent with firm tannins and great ageability.

Chiles Valley

Situated on the eastern side of the Vaca Mountain range, the Chiles Valley AVA is completely surrounded by mountains. Though cool thanks to the high elevation, the valley's topography traps warm air. The few wines from this AVA are full flavored as well as elegant thanks to the extended growing season created by the AVA's elevation.


Atlas Peak

The Atlas Peak AVA is situated on the western slopes of the Vaca Range and is relatively close to San Pablo Bay. The westward aspect of its vineyards exposes the vines to the midday, afternoon, and early evening sun. The long sunny days combined with the almost 30°F temperature drop between daytime and nighttime yields ripe yet balanced reds with an acidity that saves the wine from being blowsy.



Directly east of Napa city and with a wide range of elevations, Coombsville is known for its cooler, marine influenced climate. Historically known for its pinot noirs and chardonnays, this nested AVA sees later harvests of ripe fruit with soft tannins, moderate alcohol levels, refreshing acidity, with both red and black fruit flavors.


Wild Horse Valley

Located in the southern section of the valley and just east of Coombsville, and therefore close to San Pablo Bay, the Wild Horse Valley AVA is, like Los Carneros, a cool growing area. Chardonnay and pinot noir rather than cabernet sauvignon thrive. The AVA's wines are ripe and especially vibrant due to more elevated acidities.


Napa Valley Winegrowing Regions