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Saint Helena AVA Spotlight: Charles Krug and Spottswoode

This is the second installment in a series of blogs that will examine the different American Viticulture Areas of Napa Valley and what makes them special. We highlight one famous winery and one hidden gem in each region.

St. Helena, known for its charm as much as its wine, is home to the very first winery in Napa Valley. It was established in 1995 as an independent American Viticulture Area (AVA), a designated grape growing region that has specific and identifiable characteristics defined by geography, history, and climate.

Beth Milliken, second generation owner and President of Spottswoode Family Wine Estate (featured below) commented on what makes St. Helena special: “This area is truly unique – it is the northernmost bench land in Napa Valley and benefits from the alluvial soils from Sulfur Creek and Napa River. Although it's a relatively warm growing region, we benefit from cool air coming in from the bay and through the gap on Spring Mountain. Fog burns off earlier here than it does in Rutherford, Oakville or Yountville.” Those specific conditions lead to very high quality fruit, which is the cornerstone of first-rate and collectable wines. 

Along with a long list of famous wineries like Trinchero, there are many hidden gems and independent winemakers like Amy Aiken, of Meander Wines, who makes a celebrated Cab, added that what she “loves most about St. Helena Cabernet is the fruit expression.  Classic cherry and ripe red fruits along with balanced acidity help make exceptionally rich and flavorful wines each vintage.

St. Helena locals like Pam Simpson, President and CEO of the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce, nicknamed St. Helena “Napa Valley’s Main Street” due to its neighborly charisma and lively main drag. Just about everything is within easy walking distance, the boutique shopping is the best in the Valley, and the restaurants and accommodations range from affordable (for the region) to lavish. The town comes alive during the summer months with Cheers St. Helena, where all of the boutiques (like Foot Candy) and galleries host a local winery so you can taste tons of different wines while you shop, eat, and enjoy live music as the town fills the streets (Cheers season' finale is October 7).

Charles Krug is famous because it was the first winery in Napa Valley (established in 1861) and also the home of Peter Mondavi Sr., Robert Mondavi's brother and surviving patriarch of the famous Family.  The Mondavis have played a pivotal role in the making of Napa Valley and the American wine movement and it all started at Charles Krug. Here they make wide variety of wines and maintain their outstanding reputation after all these years but have a very down-to-earth feel and extremely reasonable prices (their Napa Cab is only $27).

Spottswoode, founded in 1882, also has a very interesting history and like many St. Helena wineries, is hidden away in a nook only 1 mile from Main Street. Robert Parker, the infamous and most heralded wine critic of our time, named Spottswoode among “the finest grand au vineyards of the region”. Beth Milliken added “The Spottswoode Estate is a great site for Cabernet Sauvignon (and its attendant varietals, in our case Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), and for Sauvignon Blanc. The high quality and consistency of our Cabernet over 27 years now is testament to the strength of this site.”

Read our First AVA spotlight on Calistoga here.