For many wine lovers, any discussion of California Wines begins and ends with Napa Valley. Napa Valley was California's first recognized AVA in 1983. The appellation, Napa valley, which skirts the Napa River on its meandering 40 mile journey from the southern flanks of Mt St Helena down to San Pablo Bay, is the productive heart and very civilized center of what is a sparsely populated and largely rugged, rural county.
Within the Napa Valley appellation exists 15 sub-appellations: Atlas Peak, Calistoga, Chiles Valley District, Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Mt. Veeder, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Spring Mountain District, Stags Leap District, Yountville and Wild Horse Valley.
Napa Valley has a great combination of medeterranean climate and geology which is conducive to growing outstanding quality wine grapes. Viticulture in the Napa Valley suffered a few setbacks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which an outbreak of the vine disease phylloxera, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. However, the Napa Valley wine industry bounced back with the help of the results of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, where two Californian wines won the international wine competition. Before that it was thought that European wines were superior.
All told the Napa Valley is 754 square miles, considerably smaller than its wine-producing neighbor to the west, the Sonoma Valley. There are over 45,000 acres of wine grapes planted in Napa county, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon chief among them. Napa winery tours and wine tasting tours from San Francisco are available year-round and are a great way to see the California wine country, or as some refer to it, the San Francisco wine country.