Napa Valley Regions
Napa Valley AVA was the first official wine region of California established in 1981. Let’s learn how to find great wines by understanding this region.
Getting a Lay of the Land
Napa Valley is located about 2 hours drive northeast of San Francisco. Its location in the Bay Area's idyllic Mediterranean climate makes it a perfect spot to grow wine grapes. The climate warms up more as you travel north in the valley so you'll find a plethora of different wines here.
Of the 40 or so grape varieties planted in Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most prolific. It accounts for more than 50% of vineyards planted here. It's Napa Valley's hallmark wine.
Facts About Napa Valley Wine Region
- The major wine grapes of Napa Valley include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel – in that order.
- There are around 475 physical wineries in Napa Valley and about 700 grape growers.
- Napa Valley has 16 official subregions which include famous AVAs like Stags Leap District, Howell Mountain, and Oakville.
Napa Valley Wine Label Tips
The "AVA" in "Napa Valley AVA" stands for American Viticulture Area and it's a regulated name in the United States. Here's what buying a bottle labeled "Napa Valley" means:
- Wines labeled "Napa Valley" contain 85% or more wine from grapes grown in Napa Valley AVA.
- Wines labeled "Napa County" contain 75% or more wine from grapes grown in Napa County.
- Single varietal wines (such as "Merlot" or "Chardonnay") must contain 75% of the listed variety which must be grown in Napa Valley AVA.
- If a bottle says it's a Napa Valley "Estate" wine that means 100% of the wine came from grapes grown on the winery's land and made into wine at the winery premises in Napa Valley.
Napa Valley Wines By Subregion
Looking at the Napa Valley wine map you'll see there are 16 subregions. Each subregion has unique qualities that produce different-tasting wines. Interestingly enough, you can break down the subregions into three major categories: valley, mountain, and bay.
Eight subregions in the Napa River valley are known for producing lush and refined styles of [Cabernet Sauvignon](/wines/cabernet-sauvignon) among others.
Seven subregions in the Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges are known for their dusty and bold red wines.