Thursday, May 31, 2012

Oakville AVA, the heart of the broader Napa Valley AVA

Oakville, one of Napa Valley's renowned AVAs, is located in the heart of Napa between Rutherford AVA to the north and Yountville AVA to its south.  Named after the dense grove of dark-green canyon oaks that are synonymous with the area, Oakville was launched as a wine-growing region with the 1868 purchase of a 240-acre plot by one Henry Walker Crabb who immediately planted said plot to vine.  The resulting vineyard was called To Kalon, Greek for "the call of beauty."  The AVA -- status granted in 1993 -- runs north to south between Rutherford and Yountville and up 600 feet in the Vaca Mountains to the east and Mayacamas Mountains to the west.

The Oakville climate is Mediterranean-like thanks to the interaction of the cool air blowing in off the San Francisco Bay and the warmer air from the San Joaquin Valley.  Oakville is located such that it receives daily doses of early morning fog from San Pablo Bay to its south.  This morning fog blows off by the middle of the day allowing the grapes to gain the ripening benefit of the Napa afternoon sun.  At the peak of the afternoon temperature, cooler air is once again funneled into the region from the San Pablo Bay.  The afternoon sun promotes full grape ripening while the cooler air in the mornings and late afternoon preserves the acidity which is critical for wine balance.

Rainfall in Oakville amounts to 35 inches per year, falling mostly in the winter and early spring.

The soil in Oakville is comprised, for the most part, of decomposed rock that has been carried downhill from the mountains and has been intermixed with the sand, clay, and gravel deposits of the Napa River flood plain.  This soil has excellent water drainage capability and rooting depths in excess of 100 feet.

To the west, a collection of rock types known as the Franciscan formation underlie two large alluvial fans comprised of clay and bale loams.  A slope of 2 degrees from the foothills to the Napa River plain allows excess rainfall to flow downslope into the river.  On the eastern side of the valley there are some instances of Franciscan formations and smaller alluvial fans but the dominant influence is that of the volcanic composition of the Vaca Mountains as exhibited in exposed volcanic tuff and evidence of lava and pyroclastic flows.

There are 5000 acres of vineyard in Oakville planted to varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Seventy-five percent of the grapes grown in Oakville is Cabernet Sauvignon which, along with Merlot, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Franc, thrive on the geological formation known as the Western Bench (above the floor of the valley at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains).  Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc do well on the clay and sandy loans of the valley floor.

The wines of the Oakville AVA are deep and richly flavored with the Cabernet Sauvignon being especially opulent.  The wines have a better balance of sugar and acidity than neighboring AVAs because the grapes ripen at a more controlled pace.  Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Benchland portion of the AVA is thought to be less herbaceous and minty than its non-Bench counterparts as well as being fuller-bodied and longer-lived.

Notable producers in this AVA include Opus One, Robert Mondavi, Heitz Cellars, Groth, Silver Oak, Turnbull, Screaming Eagle, Dalle Valle, Far Niente, Harlan, and PlumpJack.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

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