Oakville is one of California's most renowned wine regions, sandwiched between Rutherford and Yountville in the very heart of the Napa Valley. Since Napa began its meteoric rise to international wine fame in the 1960s, Oakville has remained at the core of the valley's success, gaining worldwide recognition for its opulent Cabernet Sauvignon and voluptuous Merlot wines.
The origins of Oakville's viniculture date back to 1868, when Henry Walker Crabb set up his first vineyard there. Fittingly, given the local surroundings, Crabb named the vineyard To Kalon (kalon means "highest beauty" in Greek) – a name retained by Robert Mondavi when he purchased the site almost a century later. Immediately south of To Kalon is Heitz Cellar's famous Martha's Vineyard. Together, these two vineyards make some of America's very finest Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
©Napa Valley Vintners
Along with Mondavi and Heitz, some of Napa's most prestigious and well-known wine names are found within the AVA's bounds. Harlan Estate and Far Niente can be found in the lower reaches of the Mayacama mountains on the western side of the valley, while Screaming Eagle and PlumpJack can be found closer to the Vaca mountains on the other side. Many other producers from around Napa and Sonoma source grapes from the To Kalon vineyard to make prestigious, ageworthy wines.
Abundant sunshine and warm temperatures allow Oakville's vines to reach optimal maturity over the course of the growing season, producing deep, richly flavored wines. The AVA is just far enough south to benefit from the cooling, moisture-laden fog that drifts up the Napa Valley from the San Francisco and San Pablo bays – a quintessential element of the Napa terroir. This cooler mesoclimate prevents the grapes from baking quickly in the sun, instead providing a slow, controlled ripening period that makes for grapes with a much-respected balance of sugars and acidity. This influence is particularly noticeable in Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, known for its varietal hints of eucalyptus and mint.
The topography in Oakville varies, rising from the valley floor up into the Vaca mountain range. Some of the most famous red-wine producers grow vines on the free-draining, gravelly soils of the geological formation known as the Western Bench. The valley floor has more clay and sandy loams, as might be expected given its proximity to the Napa river and Conn Creek.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed king of Oakville, and represents more than 75 percent of the wines made there. Merlot steps in at a distant second place, used far more often to complement Cabernet in Bordeaux-blend and Meritage wines than as a varietal wine in its own right. Tiny quantities of white Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines are made from Oakville vineyards, but few command the price and prestige of their Cabernet cousins.