Home to famed restaurants such as the French Laundry, Bistro Jeanty, and Bottega, Yountville is best known as Napa Valley’s culinary capital. But this tiny and tony hamlet, with its enviable mid-valley location, is also an under-the-radar wine region. Named for George C. Yount, Yountville and its designated AVA are considered the birthplace of Napa Valley wine. Yount, a native of North Carolina, was the first permanent settler in the Valley in the 1830s, and also the first to plant a vineyard. But despite its long grape growing history, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the region established itself as one of America’s best wine growing areas. Nearly nine decades after Yount’s first vinous venture, the region is recognized and prized not only for its haute cuisine but also for its unique climate and terroir that produce varietals of distinction.
Yount’s original landholdings eventually grew to encompass what is now considered some of the most valuable viticultural real estate in the nation. His original 1836 Rancho Caymus land grant is now divided into Yountville, Rutherford, and Oakville. The Yountville AVA (admittedly one of Napa’s lesser-known AVAs) encompasses 16 square miles and is home to approximately 3,000 planted vineyard acres (about 30% of the total AVA area), 100 winegrowers, and 20 winemakers. Varied topography resulting from mountain material residue deposited long ago by landslides has created hills and knolls that significantly impact the micro- climates and influence airflow. Soils are primarily gravelly silt loam, sedimentary in origin, and gravelly alluvial soils with rock. The region is moderately warmer than the Carneros and Oak Knoll AVAs to its south but cooler than the Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena AVAs to its north, resulting in wines that boast finesse and nuance.
“Climatically, it is a great blend of the ‘upvalley’ heat and ‘bay influenced’ coolness,” said Bill Nancarrow, winemaker at Goosecross Cellars, located in the heart of Yountville. Goosecross’s home vineyard, the State Lane Vineyard, sits on an alluvial fan that amasses a diverse mix of soil types, including gravel, loam, clay, and ancient coastal deposits. These ideal soils combine with a moderate, mid-valley location to create the perfect recipe for producing wines with great balance and elegance, complemented by vibrant tannins. “Within the AVA not only do we have diverse soil types influenced by the Conn Creek, Napa River, Rector Creek, and mountain runoffs, we also, unlike the other AVA’s, have valley floor hills that influence the microclimate – noticeably Yountville Hill, the Western slopes of Wappo Hill, and the unnamed knolls separating East Yountville from Oakville.”
“Yountville is a town that at once cherishes its history but is always looking forward.”
Though nearly 70% of its wine production is given to Cabernet Sauvignon, other varietals produced include Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Zinfandel. It is this incredible diversity that intrigues local vintners and winemakers.
“What I love about Yountville and what I think makes it distinctly different to the rest of the valley from a grape growing, and wine style perspective is that diversity,” said Nancarrow. “It’s a place where you can grow and make world-class versions of both white and red wines, more so than other Napa Valley AVAs which tend to lean one way or the other.”
Lindsay Hoopes, proprietor of Yountville- located Oasis by Hoopes, agreed. And as vintner of her family’s other Oakville-located Hoopes Vineyard, her opinion holds a certain ‘compare and contrast’ weight. “Yountville offers more diversity,” said Hoopes, who with Oasis by Hoopes offers guests to the region an inclusive and accessible agricultural experience via the property’s regenerative farm, animal sanctuary, and garden experience. “Yountville is much larger, and its characteristics allow for a greater variety of grapes that work well here. Yountville is enabling me to approach winemaking in a slightly different way. Not to mention we are walking or biking distance to Yountville’s hospitality hub, allowing visitors to the region to truly experience the full expanse of the region’s agricultural heritage. The Yountville AVA is inclusive, accessible, and friendly.”
Christi Coors Ficeli, proprietor of Goosecross Cellars, loves her winery’s location. “We are our own little hidden gem, tucked on State Lane just five minutes from downtown Yountville, away from noise and traffic in a truly bucolic valley floor setting,” said Ficeli. “We sit in a pocket that is a bit less traveled; however, people who seek us out are amazed by the wine, food, and culture here. Wineries in the AVA are small, family-owned, and we work together to create a wonderful experience for visitors to the area. I love the sense of community that we enjoy here.”
“I think absolutely beyond the physical splendors of the AVA, what makes the wines of Yountville truly remarkable is that they reflect the idyllic town for which the area is named,” said Philip O’Conor, vice president of operations of The Good Life Wine Collective, which includes Yountville based Jessup Cellars and Handwritten Wines. “Yountville is a town that at once cherishes its history but is always looking forward; it’s a community that is warm and welcoming to visitors from all over. It is said that art imitates life, but I feel it is the wines of Yountville that imitate the culture and beauty of this precious place.”
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Article By: Fran Miller // Photos By: Bob McClenahan