Situated at the narrow end of Northern California’s Napa Valley and centred around the town which shares its name, St. Helena AVA covers a geographic area a little over four-thousand-five-hundred hectares, of which two-thousand-eight-hundred are planted to vine. It is often heralded as the birthplace of Napa’s commercial wine industry and has been associated with high quality viticulture since the first wine grapes were planted here in around 1860.
Owing to its location in the bottleneck of the valley between the Vaca and Mayacama ranges, St. Helena experiences a warm, Mediterranean climate with heat reflected by the mountains on both sides. In summer, daytime temperatures can approach one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit (thirty-eight degrees Celsius) making it one of the valley’s warmest appellations, and the area also benefits from significant diurnal temperature variation. Hence, Bordeaux varieties have been found to thrive here, producing wines which are typically deep in colour with an abundance of ripe fruits flavours, good tannic structure and the ability to age well.
In addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietals for which it receives most acclaim, St. Helena’s winemakers have also found significant success in producing rich, dark Zinfandel and fleshy, mildly earthy Syrah wines. Of the white wines made here, crisp, fresh Sauvignon Blanc with plenty of passion fruit flavour is perhaps the most widely produced, along with a little of the Californian omnipresent Chardonnay.
Unlike neighbouring Calistoga whose soils are fairly uniform, St. Helena’s vines are planted in a variety of different soil types ranging from free draining gravel to deep, fertile loam. Indeed multiple soil types may be found within an individual plot! This diversity is also replicated in the variety of topography, elevation and aspect within the region.
Today, St. Helena has more than four-hundred vineyards, eighty plus wineries and an established reputation for excellence. Many of the appellation’s wineries are well known internationally such as Beringer, Joseph Phelps, Charles Krug and Turley Wine Cellars, whilst others are small, bespoke operations. With the continued trend towards wine tourism, tasting rooms and winery tours are also very much part and parcel of the package here.