Wine Country Itinerary: Calistoga

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By Robert P. Farmer

Part geological wonder, part destination to for the good life, Calistoga is one of the most popular regions of California's Wine Country. It first built up steam as a destination in the 1880s, when travelers made their way to the northern end of the Napa Valley to soak in the warm, sulfuric waters of the many area hot springs. In its later life, visitors grew fonder of the excellent cabernets and chardonnays being produced in the region. Today's Calistoga combines the best of all worlds, and throws in for good measure a great collection of excellent resorts and restaurants.

For a classic therapeutic experience, visit Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs Resort, or Indian Springs Resort & Spa. Notable luxury resorts include the beautiful and secluded Calistoga Ranch, and the chicly appointed Solage Resort & Spa. When hunger strikes, check out the ever-inventive Wappo Bar & Bistro, or the dependable comfort of Brannan's Grill.

Most Calistoga wineries offer tours, many are lengthy, informational tours well worth carving out an afternoon for. Prices for the tastings vary, but are typically between $5 and $15.
Stop 1 Chateau Montelena
The argument can be made that modern-day Wine Country began here. While it otherwise likely would have happened eventually, Chateau Montelena is where the world took notice of California winemaking. This is one of the two Napa Valley wineries that famously took home the grand prize in the historic Tasting at Paris competition in 1976. They unseated the French from the throne and never looked back. The winery is elegant and secluded, and the tasting room is a great place not just to sample the excellent chardonnays, cabernets, and Riesling, but also to discover the roots of the industry.
Tasting Room: Open daily 9:30a-4pm. Private library wine tastings available by appointment.
1429 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga, 707-942-8200

Stop 2 Clos Pegase
At the intersection of art and wine is this popular Calistoga stop that manages to balance both with equal aplomb. The winery itself is an attraction--a postmodern-style wine temple designed by renowned architect Michael Graves. Its stark lines and startling detail are the setting for a world-class art collection, situated both in and around the winery. The grounds are ideal for sipping wine and perusing the incredible sculpture and installations that beguile the eye. The estate-grown chardonnay and cabernet are the highlights; excellent examples of the varietals from this region. While they're not quite on the level of mythology that permeates the winery's aesthetic, they do come close.
Tasting Room: Tasting room and visitors center open daily 10:30am-5pm; guided tours offered 11:30am and 2pm daily.
1060 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, 707-942-4981

Stop 3 Frank Family Vineyards
Frank Family produces one of the best cabernet sauvignons in Napa, and though they produce small lots, they are rabidly sought after. The winery--as the name might imply--is a welcoming, homey place, with a familial spirit that belies its history and importance in the fabric of Napa's past. The original stone structure on the grounds is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; it's as old as the magnificent oaks that dot the surroundings. Still one of the few wineries in the area to offer complimentary tastings, it's easy to feel as if your part of the Family when you're here.
Tasting Room: Open daily 10am-4pm., 1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga, 800-574-9463

Stop 4 Schramsberg Vineyards
Up a narrow hillside roadway off the beaten path, the Schramsberg experience is well worth the small detour and is one of Napa's "must-see" wineries. The history here is long and rich, and chock full of colorful characters, not the least of whom is namesake Jacob Schram, who founded the winery in 1862 and who brought in Chinese laborers to dig into the hillside the extensive warren of caves that serve as the aging cellar for Schramsberg's gorgeous sparkling wines. Tours of the landmark winery are extensive and eye-opening, and take visitors through a bit of California's history will imparting fascinating wisdom about the intricacies of making wine using the Méthod Champenoise.
Tasting Room: Scheduled tours are offered throughout the day. Contact the winery for times and fees.  1400 Schramsberg Road, Calistoga, 707-942-6668

For other Napa Valley Itineraries Click Here:
Napa Valley Itinerary
Stags Leap District Itinerary
Carneros Itinerary
Merlot Lovers Tour
Yountville Itinerary

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Hey Robert, I didn't see you mention another great Napa Valley winery, Castello di Amorosa, which also gives reputable wine tasting tours.

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