11 Feb 2009
As a wine country tour guide I'm often asked "What makes the Napa Valley so special?" There are several easy to understand semi-technical reasons.
The soil is perfect for growing wine grapes.
The flavor of wine comes from several sources including the barrel. But most important is the grape juice itself, and, in the case of red wine, the fermentation of the juice with the skins of the grapes. Let's digress and consider the wonderful table grapes grown in California's Central Valley. When farmers grow the table grapes you find in your local grocery store, they are plant the vines in fertile soil and irrigated liberally. The resulting grapes are the large and juicy (think watery) grapes that you find in your local store.
The best wine grapes are different in that they are smaller and much more intense in flavor than a table grape. Napa, and to large degree Sonoma, are the perfect environment to grow wine grapes because of the consistently rocky soil.
The vines must then fight or stress to seek the nutrients they need out of the soil. The root of a mature grape vine can go down into the earth from fifteen to thirty feet! The wine grape growing farmers then irrigate only as much as they have to keep the vines healthy and alive – again stressing the vines for the moisture they need.
The result is a smaller grape with intensely flavored juice that is typically about the size of a large blueberry. These smaller grapes are the ones that make the best wines.
The climate is perfect for growing the best wine grapes.
Northern California is blessed with a dry heat during the summer. It is nothing like most of the country where extreme humidity accompanies the heat of summer. We generally have a long growing season starting in the spring and lasting well into October. This allows the grape growers and wine makers to work together deciding when they want to harvest the grapes rather than when the have to harvest. Much more often than not, Mother Nature tends to work with us to produce the best wine grapes in the world.
The skill of the winemaker is continually improving.
Most of the new regime of Napa and Sonoma winemakers are graduates of the University of California, Davis, Viticulture and Enology Department. U. C. Davis's program is regarded to be THE foremost in the world. Even the French, who don't believe we know how to make wine, send their budding winemakers to U.C. Davis for their academia and then to Napa to intern!
Soil – Climate – Winemaking Skill The Perfect Storm!
Tom Delaney, VinoVan Wine Tours