Getting to Know the Sub-Districts of Napa: Part 1

Posted June 24, 2015

Giovanni Sabree


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Click here for part two!

From the enormous Gallo brand to tiny, cult brands like Screaming Eagle, the infamous Napa Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) has diversely marketed itself; but often enough its 16 sub-districts are almost nameless in the shadow of its main valley and general AVA. How could we not regard the sub districts of Napa as we would the appellations of Burgundy or Bordeaux? With diverse soils, microclimates and modern winemaking techniques, I think its time to fasten our belts and take a journey through Cabernet Country, while taking note of worthy exemplary wineries to keep an eye on.


Starting from the northernmost tip of California’s first AVA we enter the mountain enclosed district of Calistoga. Known for its rocky volcanic soils on the valley's floor to the stony loam soils on the hillsides, the wines from this warm to hot region are structured and have concentrated flavors that illustrates perfect harmony  in varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. On a random venture one can expect to view sprinkler systems and wind machines that are critical for vineyards in protecting our precious crop from frost in the spring and extreme heat in the summer. A great example of Calistoga is the 2012 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

Howell Mountain

To the east of Calistoga is Howell Mountain and to the west is the Diamond Mountain District. Like Calistoga, Howell Mountain is primarily volcanic soils called Tufa and the remainder is an iron rich red soil lacking essential nutrients. With warm nights and cool sunny afternoons acidity is a staple. The vines in this part of town are stressed in the same manner as vines lacking water because of the soils deficit of nutrients, bearing smaller clusters that allows for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Viognier to prevail. These firm and powerful wines are excellent for ageing and a nice example is the 2013 Duckhorn Chardonnay Napa Valley.

Diamond Mountain

Moving west to the Diamond Mountain District that sits above the fog line, the wines from this district are so structured and tannic, I would advise laying these down for plenty of years after their release. Once matured these can be some of the best reds of all time, with a hefty price tag and small allocations the 2013 Premiere Napa Valley Wallis Family Cabernet Sauvignon Seraphim is an extraordinary embodiment of the region.

Spring Mountain

Directly south of the Diamond Mountain District is the Spring Mountain District. If you have not noticed mountains are a dominant presence in most of the districts and produces some of the best long-lived wines. Spring Mountain is unique in nature because modern mass production wines are shunned while small handcrafted parcels along the hillsides are preferred. It’s about the ability of the land, vintners and winemakers to create the best quality over quantity. The most supple expressions can be found with the Pride Mountain denotation on the label. To experience the sheer essence of the AVA it would be wise to start with any wine from the Spring Mountain Vineyard. In this zone superior Rieslings and Chardonnays are have been recognized as far back as the 1960s.

In part 2 we will resume with the Spring Mountains easterly neighbor St. Helena. Click here to check it out!


Giovanni is a passionate and upbeat wine buyer on the endless journey of value wines. After her ventures in bartending, Giovanni started her wine career at Wine Library 5 years ago. When she is not tasting and studying wine she is cutting out patterns and sewing fabric. Follow her on twitter @Winelib_G


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