Soils of the Napa Valley AVA

I love this map of the many soil series within Napa Valley, and I am so into it, I forgot to explain in an interview today that the point of my wine is to be a food-friendly blend that’s complex, elegant, and affordable–THAT’s why I’m in the business, not just because soil & climate diversity in Napa Valley support producing such a wine in the temperate hillsides of Carneros.  But I love when there’s a good reason for things, so I keep going off about the soil series…

Here’s an astounding fact:  within the boundaries of the Napa Valley AVA are half of the world’s soil orders.  “Orders” are classified by the soil formation process.  Let’s stop there because I’m not a geologist, but HALF?  Go ’round the globe–deserts, mountains, plains, etc.  Half?  Here in Napa Valley.  Amazing.

The next level of differentiation in soil science are ‘soil series’ where we have 33.  That number compares–according to winemaking consultant Aaron Pott–to four (4) soil series’ in all winemaking regions of France.

So we’ve got all this diversity and yet I commonly hear, “Why aren’t you doing Cabernet Sauvignon, isn’t that the best grape?”  A former Marketing Director of the Napa Vintners Association told me, “Cabernet Sauvignon is more valuable because it develops more complexity than Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals.”  This is so not true.  Complexity is a result of the right grape in the right place, as the French have learned with thousands of years of practice.  And many notable Napa vintners have been growing cool-climate Bordeaux varieties with great success in protected pockets of Carneros for years–Newton, Hyde, Hudson, Havens, Sinskey, to name a few.

Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive, but cool climate does not mean thin, lean, green, unripe or weak;  quite the opposite –long, cool, even growing conditions (not too hot by day, not too cool by night) create long hang time in the pursuit of ripeness, and long development time creates character and complexity.  Just like with people.

Check out the map:  Napa Valley AVA Soil Series

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About Emily Richer

Investment banker turned right banker.
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3 Responses to Soils of the Napa Valley AVA

  1. Terry Hall says:

    Hey Emily-interesting post on the soils of Napa Valley–lots of good information, but the editorial on the Napa Valley Vintners is a little cutting–and untrue. While your friend and former business partner may have her own beliefs about the nature of Cabernet Sauvignon and the Napa Valley, the NVV uses the great diversity of soils and microclimates of the appellation to promote the great diversity of varieties and styles of wines that come from this unique, world-renowned region. The fact that 95% of wineries in Napa Valley produce a Cabernet Sauvignon is not surprising, yet the variety accounts for maybe half the region’s production. The NVV seeks to promote and protect the entire AVA, not cherry-pick by a certain grape–perhaps you will check out some of our educational seminars and promotions on Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir–for example–the varieties that along with Cabernet round out the top producing wines of the Napa Valley.

  2. Emily says:

    Hi Terry! Thanks so much for your comment! I am not competitive in the least with Cabernet Sauvignon and I admire people –including my former business partner–for choosing to produce and sell what they love most! I offer something different, a Bordeaux-style blend which I find an equally fabulous expression of Napa Valley as the market favorite today, Cabernet Sauvignon. If you ever do any education about Cabernet Franc in the Napa Valley, I’d LOVE to attend, help, participate in any way I can! I was impressed with the presentation on the diversity of Napa Valley, not sure why it doesn’t translate into more diversity in planting and blending, yet, but the market moves in mysterious ways… Do you track the planting by varietal, by appellation? If so, I’d love to see the stats on Carneros – I’ll post them here for our readers.

  3. Terry Hall says:

    Hi Emily, Sorry for the delay. While I do not have a lot of detail by the nested or sub-appellations, the Ag Commissioner has an incredible amount of information at http://www.countyofnapa.org and you can link to the crop report. Here there is at least 100 years of Napa Valley wine grape information–varieties, acres planted to each, bearing and non-bearing (this shows trends and disruptions–ie: replanting in the 90s or increase in vines during Prohibition–sort of intersting cultural stuff like this can be gleaned from the reports). It is wonky information that is fascinating to read and explore!

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