10/18/06 – Napa Valley (pt. 1)

By Jesse on October 18, 2006


Yo, it’s definitely time to cut loose and get crazy, because starting this week, we’re gonna be dealing with some serious prestige.  The Napa Valley is probably the most prestigious wine region in the United States, and is certainly the best known AVA that we’ve visited (AVA = American Viticultural Area, roughly similar to the French Appellation Controllee that you lifers will remember from last spring).  It’s not the largest wine region in California by any means, nor is it the oldest or most historical.  Napa’s international fame is the result of the arrival of a number of talented winemakers (including Robert Mondavi) in the mid-60s, at which time California’s best selling wines were cheap, sweet “ports” made from nameless seedless grapes, and at which point Chardonnay was so infrequently grown that it wasn’t even recognized by the California Agricultural Service.  A decade later, two Napa Valley wines shocked the world by beating out the top French wines in a blind tasting at the infamous Paris Tasting of 1976, and the region has been in the international limelight ever since.

Napa Valley is further divided into about a dozen smaller AVAs, and I’ve been losing sleep lately trying to decide how to deal with this reality — do we examine the region as a whole, or do we go segment by segment, or in groups of segments?  After much deliberation, I feel it’s best to do the entire region — whites one day, reds the next — rather than getting into the minutia.  My feelings on that were influenced heavily by this interview with a Napa Valley winemaker who has started a project to produce and taste identical wine from each of Napa’s smaller AVAs.  His feeling seems to be that, currently, there isn’t enough of a documented difference in terroir (the French term that refers to the microclimate of a vineyard’s location) between the various regions, and that their borders may have been originally motivated by marketing or political concerns.  It’s a fascinating interview, which I encourage you to read — or, for a map and descriptions of the various Napa Valley regions, check out this page…. also very informative.

So for now, we’ll do whites one day, reds the next, and then I feel like we should put aside a third day as a swing meeting… if we really liked the Cabernets, for example, we can revisit those, or maybe dip into the kitty a little bit and buy a high-scoring bottle from one of Napa’s top producers.  That’ll be a lot of fun.  On Wednesday, we’ll start with the whites.  Expect to find primarily Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, both of which produce nice “sunny” examples in Napa.  If you’re more of a European-style “cool-weather” fan, take a look at the map above and pick a wine that comes from one of the cooler sub-regions (i.e. Stag’s Leap or Rutherford), which are further south and thus closer to the bay’s maritime winds.

We’ll be meeting at Leah’s house in Santa Monica.  Also at the meeting, I’d like to discuss the possibility of taking a field trip down to Temecula next weekend (not this weekend), which is October 28-29.  How does that work for people?  Which day is better, Saturday or Sunday?  Check out the info: www.temeculawines.com

Bring a nice cold bottle of Napa white or a crisp ten-dollar bill, and we’ll see you at 9 PM on Wednesday.