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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carciere


Nestled in the center of Napa Valley, the Oakville AVA produces some of the world’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon. This district is small but influential, with a remarkable concentration of superior Cabernet growers and wineries.

The heart of the AVA is the town of Oakville. In the 19th century, the land here was carpeted with oak trees (hence the name), and the settlement was not much more than a steam train stop. In 1868, a man named H.W. Crabb purchased a 240-acre plot of land in the area around the village. Napa Valley – and Oakville – quickly became a name known around the winemaking world, and Crabb was in a unique position to thrive, producing 50,000 gallons of wine. Others joined in, developing the area and producing expansive amounts of superior varietals; the rest is history. Since then, the site has blossomed into a vintner’s paradise, with several world-class winemakers putting their roots down in the region.

It was granted American Viticultural Area (AVA) status in 1993, one of the first appellations to be recognized in Napa Valley, highlighting its dynamic terroir, climate, and quality growing conditions.

The appellation is an essential cog in the Napa region. It occupies a two-mile wide ribbon of premier valley land, ranging from an elevation of 500 feet in the Mayacamas Mountains on the western boundary to 1,000 feet in the Vaca Mountain foothills to the east.

Napa Valley is a complex ecosystem with varied microclimates and fluctuating weather that affects every growing stage and determines the ideal varietals for each district. Oakville AVA’s climate is heavily influenced by its central valley location, as the cool morning fog spreading up from San Pablo Bay burns off by late morning. The rest of the days during the growing season are often warm and sunny, providing top-notch conditions. In the late afternoon, the sea breezes from the south kick in again, cooling the temperatures and maintaining the color and acidity of the wine grapes throughout the evening. This gentle and consistent shift in temperatures and moisture is ideal for grape growing, particularly for the Cabernet Sauvignon variety.

Another factor in Oakville’s quality of wine is its soil. Boasting a combination of volcanic and metamorphic makeup, you’ll find residual soils in the hill, alluvial soils fanning out below the slopes, and fluvial soils along the Napa River and streams. These soil profiles offer incredible potential for different varietals and growing approaches, and today’s vintners are developing exciting blends.

The appellation is conducive to producing a wide variety of excellent wines, but the true lifeblood of Oakville is Cabernet Sauvignon. The combination of climate and soil provides a perfect marriage to cultivate this grape, and top-tier winemakers have not let missed their opportunities. From fabled wines like Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, Robert Mondavi, and To Kalon to contemporary standouts such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estates, and Dalla Valle, Oakville’s Cabernet Sauvignon are renowned. This grape is planted across the globe, but only a few regions have the blend of climate and earth to make it exceptional. Oakville AVA is one of those, helping it stand out among many worthy competitors throughout Napa Valley. Whether a straight Cabernet Sauvignon or an exciting blend of Cab and Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, or Cabernet Franc, the region won’t disappoint.

The Cabernet vines of the appellation reflect aromas of black currant, cherry, and blackberry. Often, this variety contains another element: an off-putting vegetal flavor of bell pepper. In Oakville, the wines deliver luscious black fruit flavor without that unpleasant vegetal influence. The result is a perfect balance of acidity, lushness, and intensity. If you’re looking for the best food pairings, simple is better. Straightforward meat dishes – char-grilled steak, rack of lamb, for example – and bold greens like arugula work well with these wines.

Be sure to stop in and enjoy the historic town of Oakville and the surrounding vineyards. It is a focal point of Napa Valley, with a rich history, spectacular wines, and a beautiful setting. This appellation is close enough to San Francisco and the Bay Area, yet it feels like a world away: sipping on a world-class Cabernet Sauvignon while you enjoy the warm sunshine in the rambling foothills is the perfect escape.

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