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The Yountville AVA

by David on June 26, 2009

The first vines ever planted in the Napa Valley were planted here, in Yountville, by George C. Yount, in 1836. Today, it is recognized as one of the best winegrowing regions in the world. Yountville has been called “the combination of all that is possible in the Napa Valley…” due to the unique combination of soils and climate here. That recognition became official when Yountville was granted its own AVA (American Viticultural Area) status in 1999.

Goosecross Estate VineyardWhy do we have AVAs? Throughout the country the wines of certain regions have stood out, leading to an investigation of the mesoclimates1and soils that make the area and its wines unique. Growers and vintners within these regions define the boundaries and give them names (often historical or a reference to topographical features), or appellations, to set them apart. These appellations must be approved by the federal government.

Napa Valley was the first AVA approved in California in 1981, reminding us how far the valley has come in a very short time. It’s a rather specific AVA (AVAs vary radically in size), in that Napa Valley is only about 30 miles long, and a few miles wide. Many are unaware that Napa Valley produces less than 5% of California’s wine.

Generally speaking, the more specific the appellation, the more distinctive the wine is likely to be.

Almost as soon as the Napa Valley AVA was approved, the valley was further subdivided into more AVAs based upon differences in soil, climate and wine character. This was a natural evolution, as we came to know the valley better and realized the wisdom of matching the right variety with the right place.

It’s ironic that, although Yountville is so rich in winegrowing history by local standards, it was one of the last areas in the valley to apply for AVA status. Information gathering began in 1996, and was submitted to the federal government, which decides whether the proposed appellation designation will be granted.

The local growers and wineries documented that Yountville is most similar geologically to the neighboring Stag’s Leap District, with volcanic soil in eastern part of the district. However, the Yountville area is also geologically distinct from Stags Leap, as it was an area of intense coastal deposition centuries ago. Both sedimentary and alluvial soils exist to the west and are interspersed with sandy and gravelly loam, plus a little clay. No other area in all the Napa Valley boasts this particular geomorphic combination, which is exactly the kind of thing the government needed to know. Pronounced differences in soils are seen between Yountville and the areas immediately surrounding it in Oakville, Stags Leap, Mt. Veeder, and Oak Knoll.

Climatically, it was reported that cool marine air currents from San Pablo Bay to the south, are trapped when they reach what are known as the Yountville Mounts, keeping the natural air conditioning working even on the warmest summer days. What this means, is that the mild temperatures allow the grapes plenty of time to develop their unique flavor characteristics and to demonstrate the local “terroir.”

The approval in 1999 was a long time in coming, and is important to Goosecross Cellars and other wineries in the Yountville area because it formally acknowledges what we’ve known all along – that Yountville is indeed home to distinctive soil, climate and terrain. As with all AVAs, the minimum requirement is 85% Yountville grapes to put the Yountville AVA on the label.

Why should you care? Because the more specific the wine label, the better chance you have of knowing what to expect inside the bottle. As you come to know the Yountville AVA for producing wines you enjoy, you have another tool for successful wine selection.

Within the Yountville AVA, Goosecross Cellars’ estate enjoys its own micro-environment. Close proximity to both the Yountville Mounts and the Vaca Mountains makes the soil in our vineyard diverse, going from quite rocky to loamy as we move from east to west. Within our 9.5 acre vineyard, there are 10 sections, differentiated according to variety, soil type, clonal selection2 and rootstock hybrid3. We grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot here so that we may produce our first Yountville AVA, Estate, Meritage4 wine. It is yet to be released, so we look forward to tasting the bottled expression of our unique site, and sharing it with you.

Regional statistics (with thanks to the Napa Valley Vintner’s association):

Climate: Mid-summer peak temperatures may reach 90°F (31°C), with night-time lows in 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.

Footnotes:

1. Meso-climate: The climate of a vineyard site, hillside or valley. The term “microclimate” is used in its place extremely often. Microclimate correctly refers to the climate immediately surrounding the individual vine canopy (or green growth) and clusters. Vineyard and canopy management will strongly influence the microclimate, but not the mesoclimate.
2. Clone: A clone is a sub-variety within a grape variety, such as Chardonnay, that has been replicated because of specific attributes such as flavor, productivity and adaptability to growing conditions.
3. Rootstock hybrid: Vines of European origin, called vitis vinifera, cannot be grown on theirown roots, due to lack of resistance to certain soil pests. They are grafted onto various rootstock hybrids that are resistant to the pests. Additionally, the hybrids are chosen for other beneficial traits, such as low or high vigor, drought resistance, etc.
4. Meritage: A Meritage is a blend of Bordeaux varieties. No one variety may compose more than 90% of the blend so the Meritage designation replaces the varietal name. When we name a wine for a variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, federal law requires that we use at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The Meritage designation gives the winemaker the freedom to blend the varieties together in the way he prefers, in the Bordeaux tradition.

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