Welcome to beautiful St. Helena, located in the northern part of the Napa Valley, just north of Rutherford, south of Calistoga, and sandwiched between Spring Mountain to the west and Howell Mountain to the east.
Home to over 80 wineries, the St. Helena AVA was blessed in the mid-1800s with the establishment of a one, Charles Krug (you might have heard of him…) and his early winery. Covering a total area of roughly 12,000 acres, St. Helena has 6,800 of those acres under vine and a little over 400 vineyard sites with…you guessed it, Cabernet Sauvignon as the workhorse at almost 50% of the plantings in the AVA.
St. Helena has more vines to total area than any other AVA in Napa Valley.
The area is no stranger to the 90+ point scores, with 95 pts and up being relatively commonplace. Spottswoode would be one of the more well known wineries in the region (and a personal favorite property of the staff here at Cameron Hughes), but other renowned wineries and vineyards can be found in this AVA such as: Duckhorn, Beringer, Rombauer, and Trinchero.
The area sees an annual rainfall of around 35″ with roughly 5″ durring the growing season and the signature Napa growing season diurnal temperature swing of 83°F down to the mid-to-low 60s at night, locking great acidity into the grapes – a trademark for this AVA. The regions hourglass shape has contributed to the growing success of the region, protected from the cooler pacific climate to the west by the Mayacamas range, which allows the cooler Pacific air to enter the valley in the evenings, giving direct grape temperature swings in the 40-50 degree range durring ripening – phenomenal conditions for balance in the finished products. Great wine really is made on the vine.
Plantings in the region (not all-inclusive) listed by most to least acreage goes as:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cabernet Franc
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Petite Sirah
- Petit Verdot
- Chenin Blanc
Historically speaking, St. Helena is where the whole “Napa thing” began. In the 1840s a land grant and wedding gift led to the beginnings of grape growing in the region by Edward Bale and his new wife. Today, that plot of land which grew thriving grapes is the esteemable Las Piedras vineyard, currently held by Beckstoffer.
After others like Charles Krug and the famous Dr. Crane settled in in the 1860s and started sharing information with each other, furthering successes in growing and production, over 100 people were making wine in the area by 1880.
The early days were dominated by the Mission grape, but due to phylloxera issues, those vines were removed in favor of the vitis vinifera we are accustomed to seeing in Napa Valley today.
Oh, and the downtown strip is awesome too (pictured above).
With all the attention focused on Cab and Bordeaux style blends, it is easy to forget there are other legendary wines from the area as well, namely Chardonnay (Rombauer anyone?) and Turley (for all the Zinfandel fans out there).
In fact, outside of Sonoma’s Dry Creek AVA, some of the best Zinfandels are produced from this region in the Napa Valley. The same can be said for Chardonnays, outside of Carneros (which blankets across Napa and Sonoma) and the Sonoma Coast.
So do yourself a favor, spend a little extra, try out St. Helena specific wines, revel in their greatness, and cheers to the original settlers who founded this award-winning and historic region!