The Wine Blog

Paul Wagner’s Napa Valley Cabernets

February 14, 2014

Paul Wagner, who teaches the wines of the Napa Valley at both the Culinary Institute of America and the Napa Valley College’s renowned Viticulture and Eonology program, has worked with the Napa Valley Vintners Association to collect a group of stunning wines that illustrate the riches of America’s leading wine region: Napa Valley. Napa is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, and this wine list takes a tour of many of the top sub-regions of Napa, from the classic valley floor regions of Rutherford and Oakville to the hillsides of Mt. Vedeer and Howell Mountain. We’ve even included the newest Napa Valley sub-appelation, Coombsville.  Each has a story. Each is a wonderful wine.

Napa Valley is home to 45,00 acre of premium wine grapes…And that’s ONLY 4% of California’s total wine production!

Napa Valley, with its Mediterranean climate, is perfectly suited to growing fine wine grapes. Napa Valley’s Georgraphy, soil composition, climates, and appelations combine to make it one of the most famous of all wine growing regions.




Moderated by its proximity to the Bay. Frosts are mitigated, fog covers settle more frequently and burn off later in the day than our neighbors to the North. The vines bud early and the grapes tend to be harvested later, making for a long, slow ripening period. High average temperatures can be as much as ten degrees cooler during the hot months than other appellations, and heatspikes tend to be less severe. This limits dehydration, preserves acidity levels, and aids even ripening patterns.


100-500 foot (30-150 m) zone, though a portion tops 1000 feet (300 m)


Average rainfall is 24.6 inches (62 cm) per year


Coombsville itself is a bowl-shaped depression, cradled by aCVG crescent-shaped section of the foothills of the Vacas Range, topped by Mt. George and Atlas Peak and flanked by the town of Napa and the Napa River. Most of the area was blanketed by volcanic ash from Mt. George. Alluvial flows covered the ash with cobble-stone strewn layers of rich loams. Pockets of volcanic soils and rocks pepper the landscape as well. The gravelly loams and rocky volcanic soils drain easily and the ash sub-soils and hold water, which the vines can access as the dry growing season progresses.

Principal varieties & characteristics:

Focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordelais varietals. Excellent examples of Syrah, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir are also produced.


2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Untitled2


Oak Knoll District


Moderate to cool with marine air and fog influence often remaining until late morning. Afternoon breezes frequently occur, maintaining slightly cooler temperatures than up-valley. Mid-summer temperatures may reach 92°F (31.5°C) and drop to around 50°F (10°C) at night.


Sea level to 800 ft (244m)


Primarily alluvial deposits of sedimentary sources on the valley floor, composed of silty clay loam or gravelly loam. The northwest area is composed of volcanically derived soils with very stony or gravelly loam consistency.

Principal varieties & characteristics:

Chardonnay: crisp, minerally, very appley and medium bodied.

Sauvignon Blanc: citrusy with fine acidity and hints of herbs.

Riesling: lively with a hint of lime and perfumed aromas, usually dry.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot: need a long growing season to mature with warm autumn temperatures. Cassis, olive and tobacco are the predominant aromas/flavors.


2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Untitled4


 Mount Vedeer


Cool to moderate, with most vineyards above the fog-line, meaning warmer nights and cooler days and less diurnal range than the valley floor. Typical mid-summer high temperatures are about 85°F (30°C).


600 to 2100 ft. (183 to 650 m)


Sedimentary based, former seabed, shallow and generally well drained, as well as more acidic, with low fertility. Most have a sandy or sandy-loam texture.

Principal varieties & characteristics:

Ageability is a hallmark of Mt. Veeder wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay: minerally, appley, even citrus flavors with good acidity.


2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Untitled6



Moderately warm, with temperatures commonly in the mid-90°F range in high summer, but also still strongly affected by night and early morning fog which helps keep acidity levels good. East side of the AVA receives more of warmer afternoon sun.


75 to 500 ft (23 to 150 m)


35 inches (87.5 cm) annually


Primarily sedimentary gravelly alluvial loams on the western side, with more volcanic but heavier soils on the eastern side. Low to moderate fertility and fairly deep, with average water retention.

Principal varieties & characteristics:

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot: Ripe currant and mint flavors, rich texture and full, firm structure tempered by rich fruit.

Sauvignon Blanc: Full, steely, yet very fleshy, and not especially crisp


2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve





Moderately warm, still marginally influenced by early morning fog. Western bench area is cooler, with less late afternoon sun, tempered by afternoon marine winds. (This AVA averages a bit warmer than Oakville and Stags Leap District). Usual summer peak temperatures are mid-90°F with good diurnal range.


100 to 500 ft. (33 to 150 m).


38 inches (95 cm) annually


Western benchland is sedimentary, gravelly-sandy and alluvial, with good water retention and moderate fertility. The eastern side has more volcanic soils, moderately deep and more fertile.

Principal varieties & characteristics:

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel: This is “Cabernet country.” Quite intense cherry and mineral, almost earthy aromas. Flavors are full, ripe, and notably currant with firm, but supple tannins for extended aging.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Georges de Latour Reserve Untitled10


Spring Mountain District


This is the coolest and wettest appellation within the Valley, more moderate temperature range during the growing season—cooler days and warmer nights—as a result of the typical daily cycle. Fairly cool nights and higher elevations help maintain good acidity. Mornings warm more quickly here than on the valley floor (most vineyards lie above the fog line), while afternoons are cooled earlier by maritime afternoon breezes direct from the Pacific rather than up the valley from San Pablo Bay.


600 to 2200 ft (184 to 675m).


40 to 50 inches (125cm) annually. Wettest years can range 70 to 95 inches.


Primarily sedimentary; weathered sandstone/shale, loamy and friable in texture, mostly residual upland soils with areas of alluvial soils at the lower elevations. The soils are derived almost equally from Franciscan sedimentary rocks (sandstone and conglomerates) and Sonoma volcanic formations. Drainage is high, fertility low.

Principal varieties and characteristics:

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel: Powerful, firm, blackberry-currant flavors and often richly tannic, with excellent acidity for aging.

Chardonnay, Viognier: Firm and not as fruity as those of the valley floor, revealing more citrus and stone fruit.


2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain


 Howell Mountain District



This area is above the elevations in Valley and is most affected by the cool fog and winds from the Ocean. During growing season, fog that typically blankets the valley below often clears at the 1400 foot level. This provides more hours of sunshine the altitude keeps daytime temperatures cooler and nighttime temperatures warmer than the valley floor, allowing for more consistent and even temperatures and also  twice the amount of rain as the valley floor.


Rising from 1,400 feet (430 m) and 2,200 feet (670 m) above sea level.


40 inches (1,016 mm) per year at Howell Mountain


Received substantial fallout from nearby historic volcanic eruptions with excellent drainage. Because of this, soils are comprised of layers of compressed ash known as tufa; red, iron rich clay; and red and brown volcanic loam. Much of the area is also covered with rock– some close to the surface and easy to move, some deep and pervasive. good drainage and poor water retention, unlike the valley floor, which has relatively few rocks, rich soils and good water retention.

Principal varieties and characteristics:

Bordeaux varieties and Zinfandel have historically done well and currently thrive.


2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Untitled13


paul_wagner_webPaul Wagner is a regular columnist for Vineyards & Winery Management Magazine, a member of the board of directors of the Society of Wine Educators and contributes to in the field of wine and food. Paul Wagner has judged many national and international wine competitions, is a founding member of the Academy of Wine Communications, a member of the nominations committee of the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintner’s Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Spadarini della Castellania di Soave in 2005. In 2009 he was honored with a ‘Life Dedicated to Wine’ award at the Feria Nacional del Vino (FENAVIN) in Spain.