Although small, Chiles Valley is one of the premier wine regions in the state of California. More than 6,000 acres comprise Chiles Valley; however, only a little more than 1,000 acres are planted vineyards. While Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in other regions, Zinfandel is king in Chiles Valley.
When touring Chiles Valley, you will find a small group of small wineries. The well drained soil and warm climate in this region have made it capable of producing outstanding Zinfandel wines in addition to excellent Cabernet Sauvignon.
During the evenings and at night, the cooling winds blow through this region, creating a situation where the growing season in Chiles Valley is able to begin and end later than most adjacent regions.
You will find that the terrain in Chiles Valley is much different from that in the surrounding area. The valley itself is quite narrow and runs from the southwest to the northwest. The ridges that surround the valley are quite steep so it is not possible to grow the grapes in Chiles valley anywhere but on the floor of the valley.
The climate in Chiles Valley is decidedly cooler than St. Helena and Rutherford, both of which are on the floor of Napa Valley. As a result, it is not uncommon for the temperature to drop twenty degrees overnight during the winter. Along the ridges, where the elevation is higher, snowfall is also common. When spring first arrives in Chiles Valley, the temperatures remain quite cool; especially when compared to other regions in Napa Valley. The breaking of buds tends to occur some three weeks later in Chiles Valley than other regions; however, vintners in this region still must be concerned with spring frost due to the lateness of the cool temperatures.
As summer arrives, Chiles Valley experiences warm and sunny days with afternoons that are cooler as the fog begins to roll in from the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay. While other regions are not affected by the fog as a result of their elevation, this is not the case with Chiles Valley. Due to the fact that the fog must travel some thirty miles before it even reaches Chiles Valley, the region only occasionally experiences truly foggy days.
While spring and winter are usually much cooler in Chiles Valley than surrounding areas, surprisingly, temperatures remain moderate well into fall. This is fortunate for the vintners because it provides them with a few extra weeks for the fruit to develop before they must harvest it. This is one of the reasons that Zinfandel does so well in Chiles Valley.
Colonel Joseph Ballinger Chiles received a Mexican land grant in 1844. This would be the last Mexican land grant in the region. What made Chiles’ arrival to the region unique was the manner in which he arrived. He traveled to the region as one of the first wagon trains to cross the Sierra Nevada. Before this time, all of the immigrants to the region had arrived via Mexico or the sea.
Twenty-five years later the first vineyards were planted in Chiles Valley. During the 1870s, Lomita’s Winery was also established. Later it would become part of the modern day Volker Eisele Family Estate.
During these early days, the isolation of Chiles Valley was both an advantage as well as a disadvantage. Even though much of the rest of the region was booming during the late 19th century, Chiles Valley was so isolated it made it difficult to thrive.
Yet, while other wine regions in California were largely decimated by phylloxera, Chiles Valley was fortunately spared much of the destruction due to its isolation. As a result, a number of the Zinfandel vines in Chiles Valley are actually quite old. Even after Prohibition was repealed; the isolation of Chiles Valley meant that it was unable to compete with the mass produced jug wines that became popular in post-Prohibition years. It was not until the 1970s that any major production was begun on any scale in Chiles Valley. The Meyer family purchased a large plot of acreage in 1972 and began planning a wide variety of different grapes. Three years later, the Eisele Family planted their first Cabernet Sauvignons. Today, barely more than 1,000 acres are planted in vines in Chiles Valley; however, the wineries that are established here are known to be quite noteworthy.