Wednesday, October 01, 2014

From Weird Science to Kelly's Kitchen: Reinventing Kelly Le Brock

Life is a journey. High points, low points all melding into the path we call our lives. Those strong of heart and mind, realize at some point that to get to the high points, we must start at the low points and climb. Sometimes those hills are outside, sometimes, they are inside. For actress, model, mom, rancher and foodie Kelly Le Brock, it seems the hills are almost something she looks forward to now. A self testing if you will. Overcoming obstacles.

I recently sat down with this iconic lady to discuss her new passions, her incredible life and as she put it, "her new found voice." She opened up about finding peace in her life and reinventing herself, well outside the lime-light and glitz of Hollywood. I remarked on her recent reemergence.
"Well, I have a rather passionate, and sometimes painful past. It's time to tell my story. I have a book coming out soon and I think that with it, I'm going to empower people who say, 'I'm too hurt to get out of bed in the morning.'" She explained, "they'll get out of bed in the morning after they've read my story and say '...if she can do it, so can I.'"

Her recently launched Kelly's Kitchen, while about food, is more about a lifestyle, with its center, the kitchen and the table, as the 'core of the family' as she put it. "Getting people back to the table," she stated, "is really the bones of any relationship in any family. I think that good healthcare actually starts at the table and I encourage and am actually disappointed in the mothers of America for not taking their kids to the table."

An accomplished horse-woman, most days will find her riding one of her horses, either, Ruby, Kiwi, Tess and Chubby. "He is," she laughed. She rides on her 700 acre farm where she grows her own produce, raises and butchers her own beef and is now, as she put it, "going into the pig business." Far flung from the pages of Vogue, and the 'glitz' of Hollywood this is the Kelly LeBrock who took her horse and spent a week with the grizzlies of Yellowstone Park...with a homeless person.

"I really wanted to be a veterinarian," she stated, "how I got into Hollywood I'll never know. I was raised in England and I spent a lot of time in the field by myself. I'm really a very simple girl. When I had my first child, when she turned 3, I was outta there (Hollywood), I headed for the hills. I wanted to raise my children in an atmosphere where I did not lose control of being a parent. I am happy that I grew my kids up in an atmosphere that was not all, Facebook, tv and online."

I asked her to elaborate on her love of the outdoors and about raising her own beef, produce and now, pigs on her 700 acre ranch. "I have a large spread, one might say," she quipped. Her British accent becoming a bit more pronounced. "I've been living in the wilderness for the last 20 years. We have cattle, and I've just gone into the pig business. Raising pork. We have a freezer full of beef and a freezer full of pork. I will not eat meat out. We treat our meat correctly. No corn and we finish off with barley. We actually make our own little things to finish off, using apples, or carrots, or beets. When you eat our meat you feel happy. I love collecting eggs, butchering meat, growing the produce. I even learned how to make my own cheese!" she claimed proudly, her inner foodie coming out. "I make yogurt too!"

Her love of all things natural started when her children were young when she took to making her own baby food. "It just came from wanting the best ingredients for my children. Seeing how contaminated our food system is, the want and need to be more proactive in my health. 'Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.' I really live by that."she stated. That led me to questions about one of her new passions,  "Kelly's Kitchen" and her love of cooking and being in the kitchen.

She explained, "You know, for a time in England, I did Health Kitchen for a number of years, and I was lucky enough to be in the kitchen with 3 Starred Michelin Chef, Marco Pierre White and that was the most exciting two weeks of my life. I learned how to burn myself," she laughed, "I was known as the screamer because I kept burning myself, but I was on the line and we got out service for 76 people every night. I did it. From 7 in the morning til 1 am. I got to do all the stations, but my favorite thing was Prep. You work all day getting these ingredients ready and then the dish is cooked and served eaten in 25 minutes. But, the prep is the kitchen to me" she added. "It's a quiet time, to think about the people you are making the meal for. You look at the colors, how beautiful and all the work you put in, and that it's going to be given to the people you love."

With Kelly's Kitchen, Kelly is all about healthy eating and good healthcare, starting in the kitchen, at the table. "It came about within the last four years," she offered. "I am just horrified at the way people are eating and I really want to get out there and show people how to make a delicious meal out of a bag of beans or a bag of brown rice. It doesn't have to be expensive to eat well. Yes it is expensive in time, but that is something that people have come to confuse with eating healthy being expensive in dollars. Seems that people don't have time anymore," she lamented, "but you can make a decent meal in 30 minutes. Families should have to drop their phones in a little basket when they come through the door and sit down every night at the dinner table and look at each other. Really talk to each other."

She has lent her voice and become an ambassador for a cause she believes in, foodtweeks™ and has re-emerged from a self imposed cocoon with a new-found, vibrant voice. "It's time to give back,"she declared. "We don't need to leave our country to help people, they are right here in our face. I know what it's like to struggle for food or not have enough to eat. There are people in this country a paycheck away from hunger. I am the ambassador for this great new app that is affiliated with 50 food banks across the country. The beauty of it is that there are people who are always trying to get healthy cutting calories, they take those calories and put them into foodtweeks™ and those calories go into the food bank and translate to available food."

Here's how the program works;
For every calorie users "tweek" from their food, foodtweeks™ makes a donation to a local food bank so they can distribute the same number of nutritious calories to feed a hungry child and their family. There’s no cost of any kind to the foodtweeks™ user and it's easy for food banks to participate. You remove calories. They give them away!

To get involved, simply enter the promo code KELLYLEBROCK and foodtweeks™ will double all of your donations! Here's how:
  • Download the foodtweeks™ mobile app for your Android or iPhone. It's free!
  • Create an account in the foodtweeks™ app. Also free!
  • When creating your free account, in the promo code area, enter: KELLYLEBROCK
That's it. Every time you remove calories from your food using the foodtweeks™ app, foodtweeks™ will double all of your donations. And it doesn't cost you anything! Get started today helping yourself, food banks across the country, and the people they nourish in their communities.

"Finally there is an app out there that's doing good for everybody." she explained, getting excited, "People are losing weight and getting into better shape and what they are losing, people are gaining in real food. I had been working with a friend and she was doing some work with Jay Walker, founder of Priceline and she thought I'd be a good ambassador and she put us together. It's two fold, people eating healthy and feeding the hungry.

As to what the future holds, for herself and for her new project, Kelly's Kitchen, she stated, "It's all about the journey. If I can come out with some simple things that can help people then that's what I want to do. Kelly's Kitchen can go anywhere. It's about healthy eating. About bringing people back to the table wherever that table may be. Right now, she expanded, "I've rented a little room in Maui. I have one burner and don't need much else to make a healthy meal. It's an ongoing process. My biggest concern is to get moms and dads back to the table again cooking for their family again. Teach the children how to cook for their moms and dads. There are little people out there that can maybe help with the parents."

Agreed. In speaking with Kelly, I reflected on how fortunate I am to be surrounded lately, by those who are about tradition of back to basics as it were, and who come from a mindset that it all starts with the food, the product, but more importantly, our connection to the land and each other. It's about that connection we get from "the table" and that human interaction that we seem to have lost with today's technology. Face to face interaction. 

With a new book coming out, a new cooking and food platform and her advocacy in feeding the hungry, with foodtweeks, it certainly seems that Kelly has indeed found that new strong inner voice, and that focus of directions and passions that blend to create the journey we call life. Her day-to-day life with her children, grandchildren, tending to the ranch, the back to nature lifestyle, all seem to have healed old wounds and given her a clear perspective on life and what's truly important. Talking with her I sensed a peace and contentment. With life and her family, but more importantly...herself. 

I look forward to more chats with Kelly as she follows her new path. I recall some talk about coming out to the ranch. Now, I'm a city boy.....can you see me on a horse? Yea, me either.....
I hope you enjoyed this informal chat with Kelly Le Brock. You can find out  more about Kelly's Kitchen on facebook: Kelly's Kitchen 

Till next time, 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Winemaking in Napa Valley, California

Many of you are familiar with the wines you like from this iconic wine-growing region. The area boasts nearly 700 wineries ranging in size from small, family-owned wineries producing as few as 250 cases of wine annually, to multinational corporations selling millions of cases of wine each year. There are those that predict that the abundance of great wine being produced in the state of California today will reach a very local and regional flavor, as more and more smaller wineries make their niche.

What you may not know, however, is how Napa Valley became what it is today. Like the cheeses of the state, recent wine making in California has taking on an 'artisanal flair,' a seemingly new direction after the mega wineries made their mark in the 60s,70s and 80s, but, its artisan history actually goes back to the very first settlers that arrived in the area. The question I chose to explore here with this was, "Why Napa? What makes Napa Valley and surrounding area's so conducive to producing such quality grapes?" I'm more interested in the region that is Napa, as opposed to any one winery so with this article I've chosen to explore the area's culture and history, and what it is that makes it such a special place in the world when it comes to making wine.

The staggering thought for me is that when it comes to wine-making history, Napa is but a babe, yet it has taken the wisdom of the world and in a very short time, emerged into a highly respected status. What might this region hold for future wine connoisseurs as the Valley matures throughout the next 2 or 3 decades? Grab a glass of your favorite, settle in...and let's explore Napa, California.

An Overview
Within the Napa Valley, regions have emerged that possess distinct micro-climates and terrains, imprinting recognizable characteristics into the grapes grown within them. Vintners and growers within these regions delineate the boundaries of these growing areas, giving them names that reflect their regional designations, or appellations. Data supporting a proposed American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is submitted to the government, which decides whether the proposed appellation designation will be granted.

The Napa Valley is itself an appellation and within the Napa Valley appellation exists 14 sub-appellations, or AVAs, including: Atlas Peak, Chiles Valley District, Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Mt. Veeder, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Spring Mountain District, Stags Leap District, Yountville, Wild Horse Valley and Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. The Calistoga appellation is still pending approval.

The History
The Wappo Indians, who first inhabited the valley, described it as 'a land of plenty' with the word, "Napa." Back then it was an area alive with wildlife from salmon filled waterways to clouds of migrating waterfowl, the valley filled with wildcats, elk, black bear and grizzlies. It seemed the land itself wished to bring forth her sweet nectars as wild grapes also grew in abundance, but, it was not until an early settler, George Calvert Yount, recognized the valley's true potential for cultivating wine-grapes. Establishing the first local homestead in what is now Yountville in 1836, Yount was the first to plant vineyards in the valley. In 1864, Yount's grandson-in-law Thomas Rutherford and his new bride Elizabeth received 1,040 acres of land in the area now known as Rutherford as a wedding present from Elizabeth's grandfather,Yount. Rutherford made a serious investment in grape production and wine-making from 1850 to 1880, and established himself as a grower and producer of high-quality wines.

John Patchett established the valley's first commercial vineyard in 1858, with Charles Krug establishing Napa Valley's first commercial winery in St. Helena, in 1861. H. W. Crabb bought land near Oakville close to the Napa River in 1868 and he established a vineyard and winery named To Kalon, and by 1877, had planted 130 acres and was producing 50,000 US gallons of wine per year. Crabb experimented with over 400 grape varieties in a quest to find the types best suited for the area.

In the winery boom that followed, which included names like Schramsberg (founded in 1862), Beringer (1876) and Inglenook (1879), by the end of the nineteenth century there were more than one hundred and forty wineries in the area. Of those original wineries, several still exist in the valley today including Beaulieu, Beringer, Charles Krug, Chateau Montelena, Far Niente, Mayacamas, Markham Vineyards, and Schramsberg.

Before long, however, the rapid expansion of the new wine industry saw prices plummet amidst a sea of surplus grapes, and the arrival of the disease phylloxera dealt vintners a stunning blow, as much of the valley's vineyard acreage fell victim to the destructive root louse.

An even greater threat to Napa Valley's wine business arrived in 1920, with the enactment of Prohibition. Vineyards were abandoned and many winemakers found other trades during the next 14 years, with a handful of wineries continuing to operate by producing sacramental wines. With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Napa Valley's wine industry began its renaissance: a period of recovery, then tremendous expansion and, finally, in recent years, refinement.

During the war years the industry faced a number of problems, including price controls and a daunting shortage of labor, bottles and rail cars for eastern shipment of wine. In 1943, Louis M. Martini, John Daniel, Jr., Charles Forni and Louis Stralla discussed forming an association, a vintners forum, that would allow vintners a regular opportunity to exchange ideas and work as a group to overcome some of these obstacles and to elevate the status of Napa Valley wines. The late Louis P. Martini recalled that his father "believed the vintners could collectively solve industry-related problems that could not be solved by individuals."

Martini also said that "in order to maintain harmony, one of the early unwritten rules was there would be no action on an issue unless there was unanimous agreement." By 1944 a formal agreement of association was drafted. Shortly thereafter, the four original founders invited other vintners to join them: Georges de Latour, Robert Mondavi, Elmer Salmina, Charlie Beringer and Roy Raymond.

André Tchelistcheff is generally credited with ushering in the modern era of wine-making in California. Beaulieu hired Tchelisticheff in 1938. He introduced several new techniques and procedures to the region, such as aging wine in small French Oak barrels, cold fermentation, vineyard frost prevention, and malolactic fermentation.

Brother Timothy; a member of the Christian Brothers, was also very instrumental in the creation of the modern wine industry in Napa. After an earlier career as a teacher, he transferred to the order's Mont La Salle located on Mount Veeder in the Mayacamas Mountains east of Napa in 1935 to become the wine chemist for the order's expanding wine operations. The Christian Brothers had grown grapes and made sacramental wine in Benicia, California during Prohibition, but decided to branch out into commercial production of wine and brandy after the repeal of Prohibition. The science teacher was a fast learner and soon established Christian Brothers as one of the leading brands in the state's budding wine industry. Brother Timothy's smiling face in advertisements and promotional materials became one of the most familiar images for wine consumers across the country. Following the Second World War, the wine industry in Napa began to thrive again.

In 1965, Napa Valley icon Robert Mondavi broke away from his family's Charles Krug estate to found his own wine-making operation in Oakville. It was the first new large scale winery to be established in the valley since before prohibition and included the original To Kalon land. Following the establishment of the Mondavi estate, the number of wineries in the valley grew rapidly, as did the region's reputation.

In 1975, the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association was organized and today both growers and vintners join forces on projects of common interest, devoting much of their time to an active marketing program.

In 1981, the first Napa Valley Wine Auction was sponsored at Meadowood resort. Over the years, this NVV-sponsored celebration of Napa Valley wine and food has become one of the world's premier charity wine events, drawing participants from around the globe. Since 1981, the NVV has given $85 million to local health care, youth programs and affordable housing.

Today Napa Valley features more than 700 wineries that grow many grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, and other popular varietals. While some winemakers produce wines from specific AVAs within the valley, the majority choose to blend or cuvée their wines using a mixture of wine from grapes grown on the valley floor and the surrounding hillsides. Its growers and vintners combine cutting-edge science with traditional techniques, and its reputation for producing world-class wines is firmly established in an ever-growing global market.

In a move toward sustainable and green, a growing number of Napa Valley vintners are engaged in organic farming. Organic farmers must manage their crops through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials. Incidentally, Napa County is home to 18% of all the certified organic vineyard acreage in the state. As a community, Napa Valley vintners support the reduction, and whenever possible, the elimination of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Napa Green Certified Land is a voluntary program for Napa Valley vintners, grape growers and other agricultural land owners that enhances the watershed and restores habitat with sustainable agriculture practices. Approximately 33,150 acres are enrolled in the program and more than 16,900 acres are certified, with thousands more about to receive official certification. A majority (90%) of the Napa River watershed is in private ownership and public/private partnerships as well as programs like Napa Green are vital to the community.

The Geography
The combination of Mediterranean climate, geography and geology of the Napa Valley are conducive to growing quality wine grapes and while doing research for a piece on the wines of Spain, I was surprised to see that one of the area's I covered was referred to as the "Napa Valley of Spain," such has become the its reputation. In fact, there is more viticultural diversity within the Napa Valley appellation than there is within the Médoc or the Côte d'Or, in France.

Bounded on both sides by mountains, the Napa Valley stretches approximately 30 miles in a northwesterly direction, its width ranging from five miles at the widest point near the city of Napa to just a mile where the valley narrows near the town of Calistoga.

Bisecting the valley is the Napa River, which follows the valley's tapered contour, and dwindles from a fully navigable river in its southern stretches to little more than a creek at its northern beginnings. The valley's topography changes with its length, from the windswept estuarine flats and gentle hills in the south to the valley's narrow tip at the town of Calistoga, cradled between the sheer walls of the Palisades at the foot of Mount St. Helena to the east and the forested Mayacamas Mountains to the west.

The Napa Valley's amiable climate makes it a veritable garden. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables thrive here: oranges, prunes, apples, olives and more. But what makes the Napa Valley truly unique is its remarkable suitability for the production of wine grapes. A maritime climate that produces cool nights and warm days combines with soils that are deep but not excessively fertile to yield grapes that are singular in their intensity, complexity and balance.

Several different micro-climates and a wide array of soil profiles mean that different vineyards produce grapes that are unique in style and character - but uniformly high in quality.

The vineyard environments of the Napa Valley have evolved through geologic time. Like the rest of California, Napa Valley has had a very active and eventful geologic history. Many tectonic plates (large pieces of the earth's crust) have collided with North America to form California. As a result, there are many geological faults in the area, which have molded the topography of the Napa Valley and the mountains that surround it.

A great deal of volcanic activity occurred in the area about two million years ago. These volcanic eruptions deposited a series of ash and lava called the Sonoma Volcanics over much of Napa and Sonoma Counties, especially along the axis of the Mayacamas Range. The small hills which emerge from the valley floor north of Yountville were created by this volcanic activity. The valley is part of the California coastal margin, which is made of old seafloor, diverse chunks of rock from the greater Pacific basin, and fire-born materials disgorged from inside our planet. The long, steady compression formed the uplifted seabed into folds that became mountain ranges. In that process different types of valleys were created. In a few cases the troughs between the mountains were widened and lowered. The Napa Valley is one such drop-and-spread valley, which accounts for its low elevation relative to the higher stream-etched valleys which are more typical of the Coast Range.

Changes in sea level caused San Pablo Bay to alternately advance and retreat over the southern part of the valley several times. This resulted in the deposition of bay sediment (clays and sand) as soil parent material in the southern valley. The bedrock varies from coarse sandstones to marine conglomerates to volcanic basalts and tuff. These different parent materials give rise to soils with very different abilities to retain water, texture and fertility.

How does knowing this information affect the wine you drink? Well, from our 'consumers' point of view, it produces those unique characteristics in certain wines that are the very reasons we choose one wine over another. Knowing which wineries are growing the right grapes, means that you will be getting the very best of that particular variety.
 Here's a simple geographical example;

Vitis vinifera (wine grape) will grow in the temperate latitudes of the northern and southern hemispheres and it will make good wine in most of those places. It will make better wine in the climate of California. It will make excellent wine in certain locations within coastal California. It will make outstanding wine wthin Napa Valley. It will make exceptional wine in many locations within the Napa Valley.

Within this dimension of superb locations, the issue becomes no longer, how good the wines are, but the characteristics of those wines. Like Bordeaux in France, wines, no matter how regional, are expected to be good if coming from wineries within that appellation. The same can now be said for Napa Valley. Some locations will favor certain grape varieties over others. In places having a single grape in common, the wines from each place will show distinctive aromas, flavors, color, texture, acidity and - most difficult to define - an overall sensibility that might be likened to personality.

The landscape as we know it today was completed inside the last 10 million years, with what we consider finishing touches coming in the geological equivalent of last week. Around 5 million years ago, Pt. Reyes was somewhere off the coast of Monterrey, grinding northward on a tectonic journey that began on the Mexican coast and may end in the Arctic Circle. Just a few thousand years ago the Golden Gate was the mouth of a mighty river draining most of the melting snow-pack of the Sierra west to the sea.

California's coastal landscape is still changing. The volcanic chaos and marine incursions have given way to gentler but no less inexorable forces. In more recent time, seismic activity and simple water movements have been the primary agents of change. Every earthquake is a reminder that the earth's crust is dynamic, that features we consider permanent parts of the landscape may, in fact, be transient. Meanwhile, water continues to erode, transport, mix and deposit rock materials, introducing them to the ongoing process of weathering into new soils. Like the wine it yields, fine soil ages gracefully. Older soils are better able to restrain youthful exuberance of healthy grapevines, because through leaching and amalgamation they have become inherently less vigorous. In fact, many of the materials that make up Napa Valley soils are far older than the topography they cover.

The Appelations (AVA's) *calistoga is still pending.

Atlas Peak
Climate: Cool, mountain-influenced, with temperatures about 10 to 15°F cooler than the Valley floor in summer. Above the fog line, there is a low diurnal change, with summer temperatures rarely above 90°F (30°).
Elevation: 760 to 2600 ft (231m to 792m).
Rainfall: 38 inches (96 cm) annually.
Soils: Volcanic in origin, with basaltic red color, shallow with limited water retention, so irrigation is often essential.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Cabernet Sauvignon: Bright berry and cherry fruit, and more acidity than wines from Stags Leap District. Chardonnay: Crisp, flora, aromatic, with distinctive pear-mineral flavors and bright acidity.

Chiles Valley District
Climate: Fairly warmer summer days (mid-80°F plus), but due to higher elevation and summer fog at night, quite chilly at night (below 50°F). With colder winters and spring, as well as strong winds, harvest comes later than on valley floor at Oakville.
Elevation: 800 to 1300 ft. (242 to 394m).
Rainfall: 35 inches (88cm) annually.
Soils: On the valley floor, primarily alluvial soils with silty-clay composition of marine origin, with good fertility. Hillsides show more clay-loam and stony-clay composition, mostly marine in origin, with some volcanic outcroppings, and less fertility.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc: Cabernets usually reveal a lush yet firm texture with good acidity, firm tannin and distinctive cherry-blackberry flavors. Merlot typically has vibrant black cherry flavors mixed with a touch of cocoa.

Diamond Mountain District
Climate: Moderately warm temperatures with lower maximum temperatures and higher minimum temperatures than north Napa Valley floor, due to topography and altitude. Significantly cooler than valley floor near Calistoga, 50 to 95°F in growing season (10 to 32°C).
Elevation: 400 to 2200 ft. (130 to 530m)
Rainfall: 40 to 55 inches (135cm) annually.
Soils: Residual uplifted soils of volcanic origin, often reddish and very fine-grained, even gritty in texture, composed of both weathered sedimentary and volcanic origin.
Principal varieties & characteristics:
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc: firmly structured, rich and fairly tannic when young, with strong blackcurrant, mineral, and cedary flavors. Less supple and fleshy than valley or benchland wines, with good aging potential. Chardonnay: Full-bodied, yet revealing mineral, green apple-peach aromas with fairly firm acidity; less richly textured than valley floor wines.

Howell Mountain
Climate: Similar to the facing Spring Mountain AVA, however slightly warmer and dryer overall due to strong afternoon sun influence. Fairly cool nights in both ranges and higher elevations help maintain good acidity.
Elevation: 600 to 2200 ft (184 to 675m).
Rainfall: 40 to 50 inches (125cm) annually.
Soils: Predominantly volcanic, shallow and infertile. Drainage is high, fertility low.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel: Powerful, firm, blackberry-currant flavors and often richly tannic, with excellent acidity for aging. Chardonnay, Viognier: Sinewy, firm and not as fruity as those of the valley floor, revealing more citrus and stone fruit flavors.

Los Carneros
Climate: Cool, with prevailing marine winds from the San Pablo Bay and through the Petaluma Gap to the west. High temperatures during summer rarely exceed 80°F (27°C) with less diurnal range variation.
Elevation: 15 to 400 ft. (4.6 to124 m)
Rainfall: Lowest in Napa Valley: 18 to 24 inches (7.2 to 9.6 cm) annually.
Soils: Clay dominated, very shallow in general, with more loam and hillside alluvials in the northern section. Yields typically are restrained by the hard clay-pan subsoil, which prevents deep-rooting.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Chardonnay: minerally pear-apple and spice flavors. Merlot: sinewy and lightly herbal, with fine tannins and sleek structure. Pinot Noir: ripe cherry-cinnamon spice flavors with earthy notes.

Mount Veeder
Climate: Cool to moderate, with most vineyards above the fog-line, meaning warmer nights and cooler days and less diurnal range than the valley floor. Typical mid-summer high temperatures about 85°F (30°C).
Elevation: 600 to 2100 ft. (183 to 650m).
Rainfall: 35 inches (87.5cm) annually.
Soils: Sedimentary based, former seabed, shallow and generally well drained, as well as more acidic, with low fertility. Most have a sandy or sandy-loam texture.
Principal varieties & characteristics:
Age-ability is a hallmark of Mt. Veeder wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel: Low yields give red wines a firm, tannic structure with strong earth-berry aromas and rich, but powerful flavors. Chardonnay: minerally, appley, even citrus flavors with good acidity.

Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley
Climate: Moderate to cool: marine air and fog can remain until mid-morning. Late afternoon breezes frequently occur, maintaining slightly cooler temperatures than upper valley. Mid-summer temperatures may reach 92 degrees F (31.5 C) and drop to around 50F (10C) at night.
Elevation: sea level to 800 feet (244m)
Rainfall: 36 inches (90cm) annually.
Soils: The valley's largest alluvial fan formed by Dry Creek creates the defining feature of the district. The northwest area is composed of volcanically derived soils, with stony or gravelly consistency. South and east areas are transitional from gravel to silty clay loam.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon benefit from a longer growing season with slightly cooler temperatures, though crop size is typically less than in other AVAs. Elegant style is the common note with fruit flavors of cassis, tobacco and spice typical to Bordeaux-style reds. Chardonnay showcases flavors of crisp apple, mineral notes and tropical fruit with fine acidity.

Climate: Moderately warm, with temperatures commonly in the mid-90°F range in high summer, but also still strongly affected by night and early morning fog which helps keep acidity levels good. East side of the AVA receives more of warmer afternoon sun.
Elevation: 75 to 500 ft (23 to 150m).
Rainfall: 35 inches (87.5 cm) annually.
Soils: Primarily sedimentary gravelly alluvial loams on the western side, with more volcanic but heavier soils on the eastern side. Low to moderate fertility and fairly deep, with average water retention.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot: Ripe currant and mint flavors, rich texture and full, firm structure tempered by rich fruit. Sauvignon Blanc: Full, steely, yet very fleshy, and not especially crisp.

Climate: Moderately warm, still marginally influenced by early morning fog. Western bench area is cooler, with less late afternoon sun, tempered by afternoon marine winds. (This AVA averages a bit warmer than Oakville and Stags Leap District). Usual summer peak temperatures are mid-90°F with good diurnal range.
Elevation: 100 to 500 ft. (33 to 150m).
Rainfall: 38 inches (95 cm) annually.
Soils: Western benchland is sedimentary, gravelly-sandy and alluvial, with good water retention and moderate fertility. The eastern side has more volcanic soils, moderately deep and more fertile.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel: This is "Cabernet country." Quite intense cherry and mineral, almost earthy aromas. Flavors are full, ripe, and notably currant with firm, but supple tannins for extended aging.

St. Helena
Climate: Warm, due to greater protection from western hills, with less fog or wind incursions. The narrowing of the valley floor provides more heat reflection off the hillsides. Mid-summer temperature peak is often in the mid- to high 90°F range (31 to 35°C).
Elevation: 150 to 600 ft. (46 to 185m).
Rainfall: 38 to 40 inches (95 to 100cm) annually.
Soils: South and west borders are more sedimentary, gravel-clay soils, with lower fertility and moderate water retention. Further north and to the east soils are prevalently volcanic in origin and are deeper and more fertile.
Principal varieties and characteristics: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot: deep, ripe, often jammy flavors, with firm tannins for structure, and appealing aromas of currant and black fruit. Rhone varieties (Syrah, Viognier): Fleshy, supple and slightly earthy. Zinfandel: Blackberry-like, well-structured.

Spring Mountain District
Climate: Similar to Mt. Veeder AVA, with cool weather prevailing and smaller diurnal changes. Fairly cool nights and higher elevations help maintain good acidity.
Elevation: 600 to 2200 ft (184 to 675m).
Rainfall: 40 to 50 inches (125cm) annually.
Soils: Primarily sedimentary; weathered sandstone/shale, loamy and friable in texture. Drainage is high, fertility low.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel: Powerful, firm, blackberry-currant flavors and often richly tannic, with excellent acidity for aging. Chardonnay, Viognier: Sinewy, firm and not as fruity as those of the valley floor, revealing more citrus and stone fruit flavors.

Stags Leap District
Climate: Moderately warm, with afternoon marine winds acting as an 'air-conditioner' to cool the warmer air radiating off the bare rocks of Stags leap itself and the surrounding hillsides. This AVA is often up to 10deg. warmer than in Yountville AVA. Mid-summer temperatures can reach 100°F, but more regularly are in mid-90 range (32-34°C).
Elevation: 66 to 400 ft. (20 to 123 m).
Rainfall: 30 inches (75cm) annually.
Soils: Volcanic gravel-loams on the floor of the valley, with rocky hillsides, and low to moderate fertility due to hard clay bedrock sub-soils 2 to 6 feet down.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese: Distinguished by lush, velvety textures and fine perfumed cherry and red berry flavors, supported by soft tannins. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc: Round and ripe, especially Sauvignon Blanc, yet retain excellent citrus and apple flavors.

Wild Horse Valley
Climate: A warmer area well to the east of Napa Valley proper, but still moderated by both altitude and prevailing winds coming off Suisun Bay to the Southeast.
Elevation: Wild Horse Valley 400 to 1500 ft. (123 to 460 m).
Rainfall: 35 inches (94 cm) annually.
Soils: Volcanic in origin, with basaltic red color, shallow with limited water retention, so irrigation is often essential.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese: Bright berry and cherry fruit, and more acidity than wines from Stags Leap District. Chardonnay: Crisp, flora, aromatic, with distinctive pear-mineral flavors and bright acidity.

Climate: Moderate, with definite cool marine influence and fog contributing to cool summer mornings and the marine breeze keeping afternoons more comfortable than further up valley. Mid-summer peak temperatures may reach 90°F (31°C), with noticeable diurnal fluctuation to the mid-50°F range (13°C).
Elevation: 20 to 200 ft (6 to 61m).
Rainfall: 32 inches (80 cm) annually.
Soils: Principally gravelly silt loams, sedimentary in origin, and gravelly alluvial soils with rock, moderately fertile.
Principal varieties & characteristics: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot: Yountville favors Cabernet and Merlot with ripe, violety aromas and rich, but supple flavors and firm tannins.

Varietals grown in Napa Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is the acknowledged "king" of red grapes in Napa Valley. Some Napa Valley Cabernet vines from the 19th century are still producing, but most were replanted in the last 20 years. Cabernet Sauvignon is a complex grape; its character can emerge as black currants, green olives, herbs, bell peppers or combinations of these with mint and leather. These wines age beautifully. When young they are best matched with robust red meat dishes; older Cabernets are superb accompaniments to roasts and steaks, and also complement many cheeses.

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon (of which it is a parent), contributing finesse and a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes. Depending on growing region and the style of wine, additional aromas can include tobacco, raspberry, and cassis, sometimes even violets. The Cabernet Franc wine's color is bright pale red.

Merlot has long been available in Napa Valley. Traditionally used as a blending wine, Merlot gained popularity in the early 1970s. Wines made from Merlot show lovely cherry-like aromas with hints of their sibling Cabernet's herbaceousness. Because Merlot's tannins are softer than those found in Cabernet, the wines are drinkable at an earlier age than most Cabernets. At the same time, Merlots reward aging by gaining finesse and complexity much as Cabernets do. Serve Merlot with any dish that calls for Cabernet or try it with lighter meats such as pork or veal.

Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir has been called the fickle grape variety because it makes some of the world's best wines (Burgundian red) but is also one of the most difficult grapes both to grow and vinify. In France, these wines are exceptional only a few years in a decade. In California it has taken decades to make truly great Pinot Noir, and much progress has been made in the last 8 to 10 years. Pinot Noir is less tannic and has less pigment than Cabernet and Merlot, so the wines are somewhat lighter. They can be very drinkable at two to five years of age and the best will improve for several years after that.

Pinot Grigio
In California, the Pinot gris are more light bodied with a crisp, refreshing taste with some pepper and arugula notes.The grape grows best in cool climates, and matures relatively early with high sugar levels. This can lead to either a sweeter wine, or, if fermented to dryness, a wine high in alcohol. Clusters of Pinot gris may have a variety of colors in the vine. These clusters can range from bluish grey to light pinkish brown. The grapes grow in small clusters (hence the pine-cone shape), and upon ripening, often display a pinkish-gray hue, although the colors can vary from blue-gray to pinkish-brown. Pinot Gris is often blended with Pinot Noir to enrich and lighten the Pinot Noir's flavor.

Sangiovese is an Italian varietal that has gone from cult status to full-blown success in the '90s. Napa Valley produces Sangioveses that are often ready to enjoy upon release. With hints of cherries, black tea and spice, these wines enhance a wide variety of foods. Certainly with an array of creamy dishes and cheeses, mushrooms and game, this wine says mangia! In the mouth, Sangiovese is usually lighter than Cabernet, yet more full-bodied than its French cousins such as Gamay and can be as comfortable at a well-set table as at a picnic.

Zinfandel, one of California's most versatile and friendly grape varieties, was the mainstay of 19th century wine-making. Much of the world's Zinfandel acreage is planted in the Napa Valley. This varietal is vinified as a light, easy-drinking red and a heavier, richly flavored version that rewards bottle aging, as well as a white or "blush" wine. With such a range of wine types, there is a Zinfandel for just about every wine enthusiast and for every imaginable food.

Chardonnay is among the most widely planted grape variety in Napa Valley. In France, the great white Burgundies are made from the Chardonnay grape and Napa Valley labels have repeatedly won wine-tasting competitions against them, even in France! Napa Valley makes several types of Chardonnay, ranging from fresh, crisp wines to rich, complex wines with layers of flavors. With such a wide range of styles, Napa Valley Chardonnays accompany a variety of dishes, from simply prepared seafood to lighter red meats.

The Malbec grape is a thin-skinned grape and needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to mature. It ripens mid-season and can bring very deep color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like flavor component to add complexity to claret blends. The grapes tend to have an inky dark colour and robust tannins.

Nebbiolo produces lightly colored red wines can be highly tannic in youth with scents of tar and roses. As they age, the wines take on a characteristic brick-orange hue at the rim of the glass and mature to reveal other aromas and flavors such as violets, tar, wild herbs, cherries, raspberries, truffles, tobacco, and prunes. Nebbiolo wines can require years of aging to balance the tannins with other characteristics.

Petit Verdot
Petit Verdot is a variety of red wine grape, principally used in classic Bordeaux blends. It ripens much later than the other varieties in Bordeaux, often too late, so it fell out of favor in its home region. When it does ripen, it is added in small amounts to add tannin, color and flavor to the blend. It has attracted attention among winemakers in the New World, where it ripens more reliably and has been made into single varietal wine. It is also useful in 'stiffening' the mid palate of Cabernet Sauvignon blends. When young its aromas have been likened to banana and pencil shavings. Strong tones of violet and leather develop as it matures.

Petite Syrah
The "petite" in the name of this grape refers to the size of its berries and not the vine, which is particularly vigorous. The leaves are large, with a bright green upper surface and paler green lower surface. The grape forms tightly packed clusters that can be susceptible to rotting in rainy environments. The small berries creates a high skin to juice ratio, which can produce very tannic wines if the juice goes through an extended maceration period. In the presence of new oak barrels, the wine can develop an aroma of melted chocolate.

It is called Syrah in its country of origin, France, as well as in the rest of Europe, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay , and most of the United States. The name Shiraz became popular for this grape variety in Australia, where it has long been established as the most grown dark-skinned variety. In Australia it was also commonly called Hermitage up to the late 1980s, but since that name is also a French Protected designation of origin, this naming practice caused a problem in some export markets and was dropped. The name Shiraz for this grape variety is also commonly used in South Africa and Canada.

Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc grapes make wines that appear under two names: Sauvignon Blanc and Fumé Blanc (a regional French nickname is "blanc Fumé"). These wines are increasingly popular as they have a distinctive character, often described as fruity with a touch of herbaceousness, and very good acidity. As with Chardonnay, you will find a range of styles - those that are crisp and "grassy" and others that have a ripe pineapple richness augmented by an oak bouquet. Because of their acidity, Sauvignon Blanc and Fumé Blanc are very enjoyable with shellfish and seafood.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at The Napa Valley, its wines and its history.

Bon Appetit, 


Sources:, Wikipedia,,,