Few other areas in California wine country achieve the iron-clad reputation for quality that Napa Valley retains thanks to its varying geology, topography, and micro-climates. These, in turn, influence the diverse viticultural approaches, grape varieties, and wine styles found in this California wine region.
With such an oenological embarrassment of riches, one might wonder where the most quintessential, classic expressions of Napa Valley wine are produced. Among the region’s sixteen distinct American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), Oakville boasts an all-star list of vineyards and wineries held in the highest regard by industry professionals, critics, and passionate collectors.
Before hopping into details on Oakville, we wanted to let you know that you can put together some of the region’s best wines into a single order and earn rewards with WTSO’s Case Club. With Case Club, you can buy wines now and have them placed into WTSO’s climate-controlled storage.
As your collection grows, you can choose which wines will ship to your home and when. This way, you can explore each wine region of California through its greatest bottlings and try them out at your leisure. Now, let’s continue our Napa Valley wine tour with a look into Oakville.
A Brief History of Oakville
In 1836, George C. Yount received the Rancho Caymus land grant from Governor Nicolas Gutierrez, which included the tract now known as Oakville. Yount became the earliest to grow Mission grapes in this area of California wine country, but it was in the 1860s, when Oakville served as a railroad water stop, that more residents arrived.
Pioneering Napa winemaker Hamilton Walker Crabb played an invaluable role in establishing vineyards in Oakville that still exist. The Oakville AVA now encompasses over 5,000 acres under vine, serving as a premier source for Napa Valley wines.
Oakville’s Prime Terroir and Grape Varieties
During the growing season, Oakville’s favorable position along the valley floor, nestled between Yountville to the south and Rutherford to the north, lets vines receive an optimal combination of sunny, warm conditions during the day and cooling winds and fog drifting up from the San Pablo Bay at night.
This California wine region’s eastern side typically features reddish, iron-rich volcanic soils with some gravel, while west of Highway 29, sedimentary alluvial fans containing more gravel are characteristic. Vine roots must search fairly deep for water thanks to the free-draining nature of the land. Oakville’s leading grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc – all thrive thanks to these elements of terroir.
Two Historic Oakville Vineyards
To Kalon Vineyard
Meaning “highest beauty,” To Kalon is a legendary vineyard planted by H.W. Crabb, who recognized the site’s vast potential in 1868. Sheltered between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains in Oakville and situated on free-draining gravel soils, this vineyard represents one of the most iconic and pedigreed sources of the Napa Valley wine classic: Cabernet Sauvignon. Such a desirable piece of land was bound to have multiple owners over decades.
In 1966, Robert Mondavi Winery eventually came to own the largest share of To Kalon, while Beaulieu Vineyard sold their 89-acre portion to Andy Beckstoffer in 1993. Along with them, Opus One, U.C. Davis, and the MacDonald and Detert families currently possess parcels there. Wines produced from Beckstoffer fruit are often denoted as “Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard” on the label.
In the early 1960s, Tom May acquired the property secluded on the western Oakville bench he’d named Martha’s Vineyard after his wife. Eucalyptus trees surround the 34-acre site planted to an exclusive “Martha’s” clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, which Joe Heitz recognized early on for the ability of its small berries to produce superior wines with telltale mint aromas and a cellar-worthy structure.
As true Napa visionaries, Tom and Martha May converted to organic viticulture in their vineyard long before others saw the lasting benefits of that approach. Their decades-long relationship with Heitz Cellar is instrumental in placing the Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon among the greatest and most collectible Napa Valley bottlings.
Prominent Oakville Producers and Wines
Groth Vineyards & Winery
The Groth Oakville Estate is located on the eastern side of Oakville, in a “sweet spot” where the soils contain small quartz crystals and fossils, a rather peculiar feature in the area. Specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon, including the 1985 Reserve bottling, which became the first American wine to receive a perfect 100-point score from Robert Parker, Groth continues to produce wines of distinction and longevity like the 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
Robert Mondavi Winery
The name Mondavi has become synonymous with Napa Valley wine due to the family’s tireless devotion to crafting world-class wines since 1966. With access to premium grapes from To Kalon and various other vineyards throughout this California wine region, the potential of their winery to consistently deliver exceptional quality across all price levels is nearly boundless. Among the highest expressions of the range, the 97 Pt. Robert Mondavi Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 showcases a signature style full of charm, nuance, and polish.
Opus One Winery
This collaboration between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild constitutes Napa Valley excellence. From 170 acres of Oakville vines, including 100 acres within To Kalon Vineyard, they exercise the utmost care in producing their top expression: a consistently outstanding blend of Bordeaux grapes led by Cabernet Sauvignon. Vintages, including the 2014 Opus One, remain sought-after among Napa Valley’s tasting rooms.
Jonathan Maltus, owner and winemaker behind several prominent Saint-Emilion and Napa estates, sources fruit from the creme de la creme of Oakville vineyards for his World’s End project. He turned to Andy Beckstoffer’s famed low-yielding Missouri Hopper Vineyard for the 2017 “Crossfire” Cabernet Sauvignon, a full-bodied, lush red wine that will stand up to even the most decadent steak dinner.
Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle
Setting new benchmarks for Oakville, it’s well worth mentioning two of the most renowned and highly allocated cult producers in all of Napa Valley winemaking. Harlan was established almost forty years ago above the western benchlands of Oakville to become an unofficial “First Growth” of the state and best express California wine country’s natural beauty through each wine.
With bottle costs as high as the clouds, Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon becomes a wine only a fortunate few will ever get to try. Luckily, plenty of fantastic Oakville offerings are available on WTSO.com at much more down-to-earth prices – enjoy your own Napa Valley wine tour without having to leave home.