Fascinating Facts on Why Napa Valley is a Great Place to Grow Grapes
Gently rolling hills. Picturesque horizons dotted with Chinese pistache trees. Endless sprawls of vineyards, interrupted only by the occasional entryway to a winery or restaurant here and there. From grandiose wineries befitting of the world’s most elite travel destinations to quaint wineries that look much like Grandma’s and Grandpa’s farmhouse back in Kansas or Arkansas — Napa Valley is like no other place on earth.
But here likes an interesting and unique culture, built entirely around the region’s spectacular ability to grow some of the best grapes anywhere. And from those grapes comes some of the world’s most notable wines. Cabernet Sauvignon … Chardonnay … Merlot … from red to white to sparkling, from crispy and sweet to dry and savory, Napa Valley is THE place to be if you love wines.
What makes Napa so conducive to growing delectable grapes and creating extraordinary wines? Let’s take a peek.
Napa Valley was Molded by Powerful Seismic Activity
Great grapes today actually got their start ages ago, as seismic activity molded and shaped the landscape. The same thing that triggers those nerve-racking little quakes in LA and Frisco delivers the rich potential to Napa Valley’s vineyards.
Scientists differ somewhat in opinion when it comes to the precise order of natural history — perhaps you believe in a series of events that unfolded over billions of years, or maybe you look to a single act of creation, followed by a monumental flood that radically altered the face of the earth — but all agree that a series of incredibly powerful seismic events churned the area that is now Northern California, bringing minerals that were deeply embedded in the earth and sea to the surface, depositing them into what is now the rich agricultural land of California.
Just north of the San Francisco Bay Area, a combination of activity along the San Andreas fault, combined with erosive winds and rains from the Pacific, broke up all of the rocks deposited by ancient volcanic and earthquake events. This spilled all of the mineral-rich deposits along the floor of what became Napa Valley, resulting in an amazingly diverse range of soil, which we’ll talk about in a moment.
So, the serene and pristine landscapes you witness in Napa Valley today were actually molded and formed by violent and powerful natural forces ages ago! The grapes are literally fed a steady diet of minerals kicked up from deep below the surface of the earth by volcanoes and earthquakes, and then exposed to growers by years of nasty storms blowing in from the Pacific.
Napa Enjoys an Incredibly Rare Mediterranean Climate
Only about 2% of the globe enjoys what scientists call a Mediterranean climate. A Mediterranean climate is marked by mild temperatures (it doesn’t get extremely cold or extremely hot) and receives adequate rainfall for growing crops, but typically not flooding rains that might damage a vineyard or lead to excessive erosion. Napa Valley’s average annual rainfall is about 20 inches. Other regions are too susceptible to severe drought or frequent heavy rains, either of which would damage or devastate delicate vines.
Mediterranean climates are usually on the western sides of their continents, and are named from the mild climate of the Mediterranean Sea so enjoyed by Greece, Spain, Italy, and other touristy regions. This climate also delivers long summers, aka, nice, lengthy growing seasons. Contrast this to areas like the Midwest, where growers have to keep a frantic pace to get a harvest before a killing frost, or in brutally hot regions like the Southwest or Southeast, where soaring temperatures would kill delicate vines. Temperatures in Napa typically stay between 30-degrees F (an occasional frost, but usually no hard freezes) and 65-degrees F (warm enough for growing, but not hot enough to scorch plants). Temps here hover around 50-degrees during the summer, with the warmest month almost never straying above 72-degrees.
A large body of water (like the Pacific Ocean or Mediterranean Sea) helps regulate the temperatures in a Mediterranean climate. In summertime, cold currents help keep the climate relatively cool and dry, while winter temps are kept moderate due to the large body of water retaining and dispersing the summer heat.
The lazy rise and fall in temperatures, combined with gentle moisture from humid marine air and frequent fog, mean grapes ripen at a leisurely pace, assuring the absolute highest possible quality. Within Napa Valley and surrounding areas (including Sonoma, Livermore, Alexander, and Healdsburg) there are many microclimates, each ideal for a specific variety of grapes. This means that the region can grow an amazingly diverse number of grape varieties with ideal consistency.
Mountain Ranges Shield & Protect Napa Valley
Napa Valley is actually a protected nook, tucked neatly between two mountain ranges. The Mayacamas Mountains, along the western side of the valley, protect Napa from the cold, sometimes harsh, environment kicked up by the storms that tend to brew in the Pacific. Along the eastern edge, the Vaca Mountain Range guards Napa from the brutal head in Central Valley.
These ranges were formed by the same ancient seismic activity that delivered the nutrient-rich soil that feeds Napa grapes. It created a natural incubator, perfect for the growth and preservation of the vineyards. Without this nestling by the mountains to the east and west, Napa Valley couldn’t be what it is today.
Napa Valley is Home to an Amazingly Diverse Range of Soil Types
Another favor ancient volcanoes and earthquakes did for Napa Valley was dispersing a variety of different soil types across the region. Many of these minerals were once part of the ocean floor. Others were buried miles beneath the surface of the earth, deep inside the rock. There are over 100 different types of soils in Napa Valley, which is about half the total number of soil types on earth!
When growing grapes for wine, various soil types (all located in a perfect climate) means the ability to grow an equally wide range of grape varieties. For example, soil composition along the southern edge of Napa is rich in calcium, which is perfect for growing pinot noir grapes. Along the northern edge, the soil is rich in volcanic materials, which is ideal for growing cabernet grapes. Each section of the region is perfectly suited to one of Napa’s many grape varieties.
How perfect is Napa for growing grapes for winemaking? Well, when the original settlers arrived, grapes were already growing there wild. The Europeans then established their own proper vineyards, some of which are still in operation today. Only a scant few regions on earth have the unique qualities of Napa Valley required to grow astoundingly good grapes that become world-class and award-winning wines.
Instead of hitting the not-so-friendly skies and heading to France, Spain, Italy, or Argentina, head to the safety of domestic wine land, Napa Valley, where world class wines aren’t a world away. Contact Allure to begin planning your limo wine tour of Napa Valley today!