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Wineries in Calistoga: Part One

There are plenty of fun things to do in the Napa Valley. Some of the restaurants are superb, the spas are fantastic, and it’s hard to beat the hiking and biking trails. But Napa Valley is known for its wine. So in our first installment of our series on Calistoga, I have to talk about the amazing wineries we got to visit and, especially, how easy it was to get to each winery because of our centralized lodging. (The cover photo is of a selection of wines at Laura Michael Wines. All photos by Brianne Nemiroff)

The exit to the private drive of the Cottage Grove Inn

We stayed at the Cottage Grove Inn, which was conveniently located on the 29 (Lincoln Avenue), the “main street” of Calistoga, so every winery we visited was within a 10-minute drive. But if we didn’t want to drive, we also had the choice of using the Calistoga shuttle to get to all of our locations, which is FREE to all lodging visitors of Calistoga. So if you’re tipsy or just without transportation, you will always have a free ride to be able to keep exploring Calistoga.

On our first day we visited Laura Michael Wines, formerly Zahtila wines, owned by husband and wife, Laura and Michael Swanton. They have a great selection of zinfandels and cabernets, but my boyfriend surprisingly left with a dry ros‚àö¬©. His go-to wine is a pinot noir, so for him to walk out beaming holding a bottle of ros‚àö¬© really says that all of their wines are fabulous. As great as their wines are, they are even better hosts. As soon as you arrive, their black labrador retriever, Rocki, comes up to your car to greet you. In any major city, despite how much I love dogs, if a dog randomly comes up to you, it’s not necessarily a dog you want to pet. But Rocki was such a sweetheart. She showed us the way to the front door of their tasting room and tried to enter the room with her three-foot stick that reminded me of something Moses would have used to split the Red Sea. Once inside, Laura and Michael shared their story of how they met and how they conduct business on their vineyard. As it was our first stop, I asked Michael what locals did at night in Calistoga. His response was, “We go to sleep.” They get up early to tend to their vineyard and the clubs aren’t exactly popping in the middle of Calistoga so I can understand why they keep to normal hours.

Rocki holding her stick and guiding us to the tasting room

Our next stop was Up Valley Vintners along Lincoln Avenue. It was a lovely tasting room amidst the shopping and restaurants and it’s even dog and child-friendly! For those who want to try wines from a variety of vineyards but don’t want to drive all around the area, this is the place to go. They provide wines from five different vintners: Barlow Vineyards, Hindsight, Kenefick Ranch, Tofanelli, and Zacherle Wines. You can have the option of having a flight of wines for $15 or paying by the glass, or even half-glass. You can even bring food in and eat outside on their lovely lighted patio, where they also have Saturday night concerts. If you make an appointment, they might even open a few rare wines for you and your party! Still want to know more about the vintners? They occasionally have “Meet the Vintner” nights where you meet them in-house and learn more about their vineyards and their wine. This was an ideal way to try out wines from vintners we would have never been able to visit so it’s a cool add-on to any wineux’s day!

The display rack of wines for Hindsight at Up Valley Vintners

On our second day, we visited Chateau Montelena. Known mostly for inspiring 2008’s Bottle Shock, the Chateau has a rich history. In short, it was founded in 1882 and the ownership has since switched hands twice. The first owner planted vineyards but his production was ended by the prohibition. The second owner didn’t do much to save the winery production and used the property primarily as a place to retire so he added a Chinese garden and lake to the property. And finally in the 70s, the third owner replanted the vineyards and they have been making world-renown wine ever since. Sure it’s a lovely French castle with a Chinese garden in the middle of California, but I love that it’s quirky and still so beautiful. The tasting room is also very small so it’s a very charming setting to try their wines. I loved their 2011 Chardonnay and their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. But I’d also recommend that you take an estate tour to take a look at their art cellar and explore more of the grounds.

One of the bridges in the Chinese garden at Chateau Montelena

During our trip, we got to visit seven wineries, as that was the bulk of our trip. So, as I only mentioned three so far, we only scratched the surface of our amazing few days in Calistoga. In the next winery installment, you will read about Tamber Bey Vineyards, a winery and fully-operating horse ranch, Madrigal Family Winery, a small family-owned winery that also produces olives and lavender, and Castello di Amorosa, the Tuscan-inspired vineyard and one of the biggest tourist attractions of the area. For more photos, check out our Calistoga board on our Pinterest page!

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