Not all wines are rated equal. Even the most casual of wine drinkers will attest to that
fact. But here’s another equally true fact: Even if their wine collections are stellar,
not all wineries can be considered compelling destinations. Fortunately, Calistoga
is home to a number of wineries that offer so much more for visitors than their
signature vintages. Here are a few of our favorites.
Take Me to Your Castle
Rule #1: Don’t forget to bring your camera. Castello di Amorosa, with its
13th-century Tuscan-inspired architecture, will so put you in “capture” mode that
you may forget the other reason why you came – such as their memorable
Italian-styled wines, which can be tasted and purchased in their tasting room.
No reservations are necessary (for groups of less than 20 visitors), and the cost
of general admission includes a map of the winery, a five-wine tasting
opportunity, and access to the Front Ramparts, Chapel, Great Hall, Courtyard,
Stables, Main Tasting Bar and Knight's Hall sections of the castle.
Castello di Amorosa is the mastermind of Dario Sattui, who, along with Castello,
also owns V. Sattui Winery. The website offers a very good interactive virtual tour
of many of the rooms in this stunning property. No expense was spared in rendering
authentic historic details, and for this reason alone booking a guided tour is
recommended. The winery also bundles these tours with several tasting and
wine-food pairing options.
Pinch Me Twice
First-time visitors to Chateau Montelena come away with breathless feedback:
They use descriptions such as “sanctuary” and “Shangri-La.” But most will
readily admit that no words can adequately describe this gorgeous property,
which features a vine-covered chateau surrounded by acres of lush foliage
and a serene lake.
Visitors partial to English Gothic architecture will revel in the Chateau’s architectural
elements, which include rusticated stone walls, narrow arched windows and
bartizans with faux arrow slits. Some world travelers say that Chateau Montelena’s
design is reminiscent of Chateau Lafite’s Cellar, based in France.
No tasting room reservations are necessary to sample the Chateau’s Current Release.
Tours of the Chateau’s estate, which includes wine tasting, can be booked online
and proceed on schedule, rain or shine.
With California’s extended drought bringing sustainability priorities up-front and
visual treat but also an education. The winery is partnering with San
Francisco-based Flora Grubb Gardens, a nursery that continues to be in the
sustainability vanguard, on its stunning collection of drought-tolerant plants and
trees. On the drawing board are plans to install 19 wine palms (Jubaea chilensis).
Once planted, these palms will be the largest publicly accessible California
planting north of Santa Barbara.
Book tastings of Clos Pegase’s red and white wines online. Tours of its estate are
also available on a reservation basis.
Forget Venice: Calistoga has its own gondolas (if you don’t mind heights, that is).
Sterling Vineyards boasts an aerial tram that transports Sterling guests 300 feet
above the town of Calistoga and the surrounding Napa Valley. Once there, they
are treated to the sight of a winery that takes its architectural inspiration from the
buildings on the Greek island of Mykonos, where Sterling’s founder, Peter
Newton, once lived.
Twenty of Sterling’s classic varietals can be purchased in its wine shop. The price
of general admission includes the aerial tram, a self-guided tour of the lower
portion of the winery, terrace access and a tasting of current release wines.
Touring Down Under
Touring winery caves redefines the meaning of “chilling out.” Consider visiting
these two options in the Calistoga area:
At Schramsberg, sparkling wines take center stage, and they are stored in the
vineyards’ 34,000 square feet of wine caves, said to be the oldest caves of its
type in the region. Tours of the caves are available by advance reservation
and include wine tasting.
In addition to its new garden, Clos Pegase’s unique architecture draws many folks
to its property. But guests fortunate enough to enjoy one of its signature live events
also rave about its Cave Theater, which is located within the 20,000 square feet of
caves in the vineyard. The Theater is used not only for performances, but also for
dinners and other special events.
Wine lovers with a penchant for great wine in small sizes flock to Dutch Henry Winery.
The Wall Street Journal has named it one of the “top wineries” to visit. Annually
producing only 5,000 cases, primarily Bordeaux varietals and Cabernet Sauvignon,
Dutch Henry charges for wine tastings, with no appointment necessary for groups of
four or under. Leashed dogs are allowed in their picnic table area, and the bocce
ball courts can be reserved in advance.
At Vincent Arroyo, it’s a family affair. It’s this “hands-on” operation that accounts
for the success of their signature wine, Petite Sirah. The winery offers
complimentary tastings for groups of four guests or fewer.
With more than 400 wineries in the Napa Valley, choosing which to visit can be a
daunting task. Fortunately, Calistoga boasts some of the best wines the valley
has to offer – plus some of the most intriguing wineries to explore. Choosing a
winery? In Calistoga, easy!
—By Patricia Kutza
Patricia Kutza is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area-based business, travel,
technology and lifestyle writer. Her travel series, 90 Minutes of Separation
(syndicated for the Vallejo Community Issues Examiner and
National Hunting & Fishing Examiner blog), is read by followers in more than
30 countries around the globe.