St. Helena is a city in Napa County, California. In Wappo, the language of the original Native American residents, the area was known as "Bull Snake Village." Today, Saint Helena is the epitome of Napa wine country charm: a vibrant and engaging community that celebrates the finest in wine country hospitality, culinary adventure, wine immersion, the arts, health, and wellness.
St. Helena is part of the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area and has a population of just under six thousand. Major employers include the St. Helena Hospital, Trinchero Family Estates, Meadowood Napa Valley, Icon Estates, and The Culinary Institute of America. The city is distinct in its regulation against chain restaurants; only one exists in the city, established before the legislation was enacted. The St. Helena AVA (American Viticultural Area) is in the region: the city's American Viticultural Area includes 416 vineyards encompassing 6,800 acres of planted vineyards.
Nestled amid the vine-draped upvalley hills, St. Helena is the charming and welcoming heart of the Napa Valley. Winemaking began here in the 1800s: it was 1861 when Charles Krug founded his namesake winery in St. Helena and began making his own wine. Originally a Prussian political dissident, Krug learned the trade of the vintner as an apprentice to Haraszthy in the Sonoma Valley. The land on which Krug founded his winery was part of his wife's dowry.
This long wine-making history is reflected through the gables, turrets and gracious carriage house of the region's wineries, which range from powerhouses such as Sutter Home and Louis Martini to critically acclaimed small producers including Vineyard 29 and Terra Valentine Winery. Housed in the grand stone building that was once the Christian Brothers winery, the Culinary Institute of America offers culinary education with classes, a tasting bar, and an acclaimed onsite eatery.
Down highway 29, restaurants in St. Helena, including The Restaurant at Meadowood, proudly display their well-earned Michelin stars for excellence. St. Helena hotels, resorts and bed and breakfasts, ranging from Harvest Inn to renovated mid-century motel El Bonita, offer casually elegant hospitality.
Winters are cool and wet, while summers have hot days and cool nights with little precipitation.
Despite this idyllic environment, Napa Valley, including St. Helena, has experienced its share of drug abuse problems. The region has its own special investigations bureau for combating the threat of drugs. According to the NSIB web site:
“The primary mission of the Napa Special Investigations Bureau is to provide professional narcotics investigation and enforcement efforts dedicated to identifying, apprehending and prosecuting illegal narcotic and drug traffickers in Napa County. NSIB is committed to directing maximum efforts to make Napa County safe and free from the debilitating effects of drug abuse on our community.”
As reported by the Napa Valley Register, crystal methamphetamine remains the biggest drug threat in Napa County, according to the countywide unit that focuses on drug-related offenses.
“The addictive properties and behavioral changes caused by methamphetamine is cause for concern,” according to the Napa Special Investigations Bureau’s annual report.
“Methamphetamine continues to be trafficked into our county from Mexico by way of Southern California, the Central Valley and through surrounding counties including Solano, Contra Costa, and Sonoma. Methamphetamine has crossed every gender, age, and cultural line in our community.”
Citizens’ reports of strong odors, armed trespassers, and water theft, spurred many of NSIB’s investigations.
Prior to the passage of Proposition 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana, NSIB destroyed tens of thousands of marijuana plants, most of them found growing outdoors in large-scale operations on privately-owned lands. In most cases, the landowners did not know the marijuana was being cultivated on their property, according to NSIB.
NSIB reported a significant decrease in cocaine seizures, though this is not necessarily good news as it’s likely due to methamphetamine prices falling, the agency said. Meth is more addictive and destructive than cocaine.
The illicit sales and abuse of prescription painkillers and sedatives have increased and may lead may lead to a resurgence of heroin use and abuse, according to the report. “This theory is predicated on the fact that many of the highly desired prescription painkillers are more expensive and harder to acquire than heroin, a substance that provides a similar high.”
The passage of Proposition 47 (the ballot initiative passed by California voters that reduces certain drug possession felonies to misdemeanors and requires misdemeanor sentencing for petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging/writing bad checks) imposed new rules on how drug and theft allegations are charged in California, with drug possessions prosecuted as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
The good news is that while the threat of drug abuse seems to be ever increasing, Napa Valley and St. Helen, in particular, offers a wide range of options for the individual treatment of substance abuse, providing hope for a brighter future in this beautiful part of the world.