The 1939 Treasure Island World’s Fair marked the birth of Napa Valley wine tours as we know them. Under Beringer’s direction, my great uncle enticed movie stars like Clark Gable to visit the then-unknown Napa Valley wine scene for the first time shortly after Prohibition ended. Hollywood soon became enamored with the tiny, premium wineries growing in this terroir, cementing its status as the fastest-growing wine region in the world.
The Tale of Mount Veeder
Napa Valley already has an AVA category for its unique appellations, along with a few basic Cru Classé distinctions. However, no terroir better proves the need for a more precise Cru Classé than the Mount Veeder appellation. Its volcanic soil and the 30-degree slope of its vineyards earned it an AVA categorization and a reputation as one of the finest growers in the Valley, but its fans want to see this stunning terroir become a Cru Classé icon.
Building a Cru Classé around Mount Veeder would recognize the craftspeople who call this terroir home. This region is one of the most difficult terrains for growing vines, which is why only the most dedicated producers dare to take up plots in the area. As these wine producers, such as Lokoya, refine their techniques, their wines will become even more terroir-specific, begging for an entirely new distinction unlike any that exists in Napa Valley today.
The Rise of Cabernet Franc
The first sign that Napa Valley is ready for classifications is the prevalence of Cabernet Franc grown at dozens of wineries. The rise of Bordeaux-style blends in the region is responsible for the growth of Cabernet Franc, and serves as a symbol of the area’s dedication to French-inspired traditions. While most wineries in Napa use Cabernet Franc as a component of quality red wine blends, some have cultivated 100 percent Cabernet Franc bottles.
Napa Valley’s Dalla Valle Vineyards focuses on two spectacular wines, both featuring Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown on this estate’s steep hills are always accompanied by a hint of Cabernet Franc in the final bottle, giving these vintages a one-of-a-kind flavor. By far the standout wine from this estate is the Maya, a blend featuring 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Cabernet Franc. Four years after this producer created its first Maya vintage, Robert Parker gave the 1992 Maya a perfect score.
Smaller estates in Napa Valley have produced low yields of the highest quality wines in the past two decades, especially those featuring Cabernet Franc blends. Producing less than 3,000 cases per year, Dalla Valle is more concerned with the taste and aging qualities of its wines than it is with mass marketing. Many collectors sign up for the vineyard’s mailing list to receive some of the limited number of bottles produced by the estate. In the next 100 years, the Dalla Valle terroir might be seen as a First-Growth-style producer of Napa Valley like those of the Left Bank in Bordeaux.
A Water-Starved Climate
California is at the center of one of the longest droughts in history, and weather experts don’t expect this rain-hungry climate to change anytime soon. What is terrible for California’s produce farmers is wonderful for the state’s winemakers, as 2012 wine vintages from Napa Valley sold better than nearly any other vintage in the region’s history. That year brought one of the most intensely dry seasons any producer had seen, resulting in fully-mature wines that were unmistakably Californian in flavor.
The 2007 vintage from Harlan shows a balance of flavors due to the season’s dry weather conditions that is near perfection. The only year that rivals the 2007 is the 2012, when nearly every bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon received near-perfect scores across subregions. When wines show this level of premium quality across the state, wine enthusiasts need a more refined classification system to tell premier growers apart from their middle-tier peers. Cru Classé is designed for this kind of intense competition.
Wine experts expect Napa Valley’s arid terroir to only become more dry over the next 100 years, and as vineyards age and flavors develop, wine enthusiasts will need specific categories for the First Growth and Second Growth-style Napa Valley estates.
It’s still difficult for many wine enthusiasts to view the relatively new Napa Valley wineries with the same reverence as centuries-old offerings from Bordeaux. Yet, after decades of producing fine wines, the Napa region has earned its title as one of the most iconic terroirs in the world. It has also a unique classification system designed around its subregions. In the next 100 or 200 years, we can expect to see those subregions develop more fully, perhaps even putting in place Cru Classé designations like those in Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Find your next great bottle of Napa Valley wine when you search Vinfolio’s wine store. You will find hundreds of wines from this region, including the popular 2012 and 2007 vintages, to add to your collection.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. We carry excellent investment wines from dozens of vineyards in California, including Napa Valley. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.