The Grape Varieties of Napa: A Guide for Newbies

Just a few days ago while conducting a tour a lovely guest asked me about the main varietals of grapes cultivated in Napa Valley. We touched on how wineries here in Napa manage their vineyards for low yield and I had the opportunity to share a little knowledge of what and how we grow different types of grapes in our beloved valley

Cabernet Sauvignon

cabernet grapes napa

Over 50% of what we grow in Napa Valley is Cabernet Sauvignon. This relatively new variety of grape is the result of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. This is a low yield grape that blooms late avoiding the risks of loosing a crop to an early spring freeze. These grapes yield a high tannin full bodied wine with lovely acidity that can be enjoyed when the wine is young but also allows for a wine that ages with great elegance.

Chardonnay

chardonnay grapes Napa

Chardonnay grapes originated in the Burgundy region of France. Chardonnay is a green grape used for white wines. The flavor of the chardonnay grapes is quite neutral and most of the nuances that happen on a wine are the result of terroir and oak. Chardonnay is the base for many sparkling wines including champagne wine. Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape around the globe with over 400,000 acres growing in many appellations across the planet. A wine made with chardonnay grapes can range in flavor from crisp to buttery and it is a reflection of the wine maker’s expertise and style.

Merlot

merlot-grapes napa

Merlot is usually harvested late to allow for physiological ripeness resulting in a rich purple wine with high alcohol content. When Merlot is harvested early it will have higher acidity resulting in richer berry-like flavors. Generally Merlot grapes are used as a blending grape to add body and complex fruit flavors to a wine. Merlot imparts a gorgeous depth to the color of a wine. As a varietal Merlot is an offspring of Carmenere, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pinot Noir

pinot-noir-grapes napa

The name Pinot Noir refers to the shape of the clusters which mimic a black tightly set pine cone. Pinot Noir grapes require slightly cooler weather making them ideal to grow in microclimates present in the Carneros region as well as Russian River. While Pinot Noir generates some of the finest wines around the globe it is incredibly difficult to cultivate and even more to manipulate in the wine-making process. Thin skinned grapes with low phenolic compounds generate a complex medium bodied wine very low in tannins and quite unpredictable when it comes to aging. A fine Pinot Noir from a great vintage produced by an expert wine maker is a gift to the palate you won’t soon forget.

Napa Valley grows many other varietals which hope I can share with you in the near future. Having a basic understanding on how the grape varietal influences the flavor and quality of your wine will help you better appreciate each bottle and make smart purchasing decisions when trying to expand your wine cellar.

The team and I look forward to hosting you in the next few months when we can take time as we explore and learn the ins and outs of wine production.

At your service,

Javy

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