In our ongoing efforts to deepen your understanding of why you love the wines you love, we touch on the elusive subject of terroir. Nearly every wine tour and tasting includes a mention of the word. Terroir is French in origin and describes the seemingly endless environmental factors that contribute certain flavor and style in a finished wine. While there is much ongoing debate about these factors, generally the components of terroir describe climate, topography, soil type and the many human controlled elements of wine making. Wine tasting at Napa Valley wineries is a great way to get a hands on education in terroir.
Terroir can be described broadly, but narrows as focus from large-scale productions funnels down to smaller plots of land. California as a whole is a warm, fertile and diverse terroir, while the Napa Valley has a particular set of distinctions beyond that. The valley is approximately 30 miles north to south, and only a couple miles wide at it’s widest. The southern reaches of Napa are influenced by the cooler marine climate of the San Pablo Bay. North in Calistoga, the valley narrows and warms as it stretches beyond the reach of the ocean’s weather patterns. While “valley” is in the title, Napa is also dotted with familiar names like Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, and Mount Veeder. Another critical piece of terroir in Napa is it’s uniquely complex soil composition. Shifting coastlines, volcanoes, earthquakes, and Napa’s eponymous river have folded and tumbled many different soil types on, over and around each other. This soil diversity is part of the success of the Napa Valley as it allows for many different wines to be produced in many different styles. Last, but not least, are the decisions made by wineries and their winemakers. Picking before a storm or waiting to dry out after, deciding to use cultured yeast instead of natural yeasts or what type of oak regimen a wine sees are all in the spectrum of the human controlled elements of terroir. The culmination of these natural and human interactions make for endless possible microclimates and subsequent wine character.
To name just a small handful of this myriad of wine selection, we have narrowed it down to some of the best examples of what terroir means in the Napa Valley. First is Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc from Gamble Family Vineyards. Their namesake vineyard has been farmed for now three generations and is flanked by the Napa River and Conn Creek in Yountville. Located almost dead center in the Napa Valley, the foggy morning and sunny afternoon weather is a classic hallmark of great Napa Valley terroir. The resulting wine is rich with toffee apples, apricots, loads of citrus and a hint of white pepper and a creamy texture. Paradigm Winery is dedicated to great farming that results in equally great wines. Their winemaking style is solely determined by the uniqueness of the vineyard, or the terroir. Their 2012 Zinfandel is a reflection of their non-invasive winemaking techniques, allowing for a distinct and varietally correct representation of one of California’s most iconic wine grapes.
While these two vineyards are located on the rich and fertile valley floor, the Ladera Vineyard lies high above the fog line on Howell Mountain. At 1800 feet of elevation, the almost always-sunny terroir also features a red volcanic soil type. The 2012 Ladera Howell Mountain Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon showcases the best Ladera’s vineyards have to offer and fully delivers on the expression of high quality mountain fruit.
Napa Valley’s multiple variations of soil, weather and winemaker allow for a huge amount of diversity in the wines. We provide experiences that go beyond the joys of wine and teach us why certain wines are made in certain ways. A wine tour with Beau Wine Tours at these and other wineries can deepen your enjoyment of wines you already liked. A great wine tour goes deep into the wines and can explain why they exist in the style they do. Let us take you there today!
The Napa Vintners Association is the source for everything about Napa wine. Check out below why the terroir is so unique and why the resulting wines are so special!