This Episode's Region

The Napa Valley and Oakville

The Napa Valley and Oakville

Napa Valley is one of those rare places where it would seem as though the land was perfectly adapted to growing wine. Napa Valley enjoys a unique geography; the valley floor is bounded by the Mayacamas Mountains to the west and the Vaca Mountains to the east. As one travels through the valley from south to north, the elevation increases along the way. This geography suits itself almost perfectly to various grapes at different points along the valley and contributes to another of Napa’s most distinguishing characteristics – its propensity for diversity.

As one travels north through the valley, the temperature increases as the elevation does, too – a fact that is especially important to understanding who grows what and where. Generally, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown in the southern end of the valley where they get cooled off by morning and evening fog while hot-blooded grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominate the upper valley.

Within the Napa Valley Appellation or AVA there are 16 smaller and distinct AVA’s, each with a unique microclimate and soil profile that lends itself best to a particular grape and style. Oakville AVA is a great place to start when considering one of Napa’s leading grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly because of its location smack-dab in the middle of the valley.

The Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Oakville has a tendency towards rich black fruit, full body, and a particular earthy and slightly herby quality that sets it apart from those produced elsewhere in the valley.

Another aspect of Oakville that sets the AVA apart is a famed strip of land on the valley floor called the Oakville Bench – a thin parcel of land that has long been known to produce some of the best wine in the valley. Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bench is plump, rich, full-bodied, and only better with age. Robert Mondavi’s To Kalon vineyard, famous for a long history (it was planted first in 1868) of producing exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon resides on this Oakville Bench.

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Tasting Notes From This Episode

  • For more information on wines from the Napa Valley, be sure to check out the Napa Vintners Association website at, or on Facebook at
  • Perhaps the most famous Napa Valley wine event is the annual “Auction Napa Valley,” a four-day charity event that raises funds to support health, youth and affordable housing non-profit programs in the Napa community. Some of the most famous and sought-after wines of the region, travel packages and exclusive experiences are auctioned during the event. For more information, visit
  • The “Judgment of Paris” – Napa Valley wines burst onto the world scene as the result of a blind wine tasting in Paris 1976 that pitted California wines against French wines. All nine judges were French wine experts. To the shock of all, Napa’s 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Napa’s 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon won top honors in the white and red categories, respectively.
  • To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris tasting, the Smithsonian Institute added bottles of the winning wines to their permanent collection and displayed them at the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. for several weeks. The tasting was also discussed as part of a symposium on Wine in American History and Culture.
  • The 2008 movie Bottle Shock, is based on the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” competition. Alan Rickman starred as Steven Spurrier, the organizer of the event. The film premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
  • There have been vineyards in Napa Valley for more than 150 years. George Yount planted the first Napa Valley vineyards in 1838. Charles Krug established Napa’s first commercial winery in 1861, and by 1889 there were more than 140 wineries in operation, including Schramsberg (founded in 1862), Beringer (1876) and Inglenook (1879).
  • The Land Trust of Napa County is a local non-profit organization formed in 1976 charged with maintaining the rural character of Napa County by protecting the area’s most important open space and agricultural lands for present and future generations. The trust has worked with private landowners and public conservation agencies to permanently protect over 33,000 acres in Napa County.
  • Chef Jonathan Waxman, a pioneer of California Cuisine, and one of the guests on this episode, grew up near Napa (in Berkley) and went to camp in Napa when he was a kid!