Napa Valley is the most famous and iconic winemaking region in California, as well as one of the most celebrated wine regions in the world. The region is known primarily for its Cabernet Sauvignon wines, which accounts for nearly 60 percent of the region’s total wine production. Four other grape varietals - Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir – are also popular in Napa Valley.
Located approximately 50 miles north of San Francisco, the Napa Valley extends for a 30-mile stretch, from Napa to Calistoga. What makes the region unique is the climate, which can vary significantly from one end of the valley to the other during summer. These temperature fluctuations mean that wineries at the south and north end of the valley can produce very different wines.
While Napa Valley is now a world-famous wine region with 475 wineries and over 1,000 different wine brands, the region’s ascent to the world stage only started in the mid-1970s. The 1976 Judgment of Paris, a blind tasting competition pitting Napa Valley wines (including a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and a Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena) against the best French wines in the world, was the one event that changed the course of wine history. It showed that wines from Napa were the equal of any in the world.
Despite the huge size of today’s Napa Valley wine industry ($50 billion annual revenue), 95 percent of the wineries in the region are still family-owned. Some of the most famous wineries in Napa include Beaulieu Vineyards, Beringer Wines, Inglenook Winery, Domaine Carneros, Luna Vineyards, Opus One Winery, Robert Mondavi Winery, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.