Calistoga (aka Wine-cation)
Calistoga is a tiny town that almost no one knows about, just a little bit north of the Napa Valley that everyone knows about. It has hot springs and geysers, was named by a drunken millionaire, and makes some of the best wine in California…and somehow I had no idea it existed until Stephanie and I got to spend a few days there on a “work” adventure. And by work I mean wine tastings, spa treatments, a hot air balloon ride, and of course lots of eating…life is so hard. We were there courtesy of Visit Calistoga, who put us up in the historic Mount View Hotel & Spa. Each suite there is named after a local vineyard or winemaker and decorated accordingly. It felt like we were at summer camp for winos—dreams do come true.
Our first tasting was at Chateau Montelena (if you’ve ever seen the movie, Bottle Shock, it’s that place). It’s one of the oldest wineries in Napa, and the grounds are breathtakingly beautiful…the chateau is truly a chateau, with ivy-covered walls, apartments dripping in ornate tapestries, balconies overlooking the willow-lined moat (yes, really). And the wine was phenomenal - to be expected from the first California winery to win a French wine competition.
By the time we checked into our hotel, we were sufficiently buzzed and poised for an impromptu photoshoot in Stephanie’s room aka the Charles Krug room (cause duh...it was decked out like a porn film set in Versailles). We then proceeded to stuff our faces with some locally made toffee from Regina's Heavenly Treats (and trust me, Regina really knows what she's doing). before walking/stumbling over to our next tasting at August Briggs, where we happened to meet the owner of one of our favorite San Francisco brunch destinations: Zazie’s.
We went to bed early that night in preparation for a 6 am hot air balloon ride with Calistoga Balloons, which unfortunately didn’t come to fruition due to bad weather and had to be rescheduled for the next day…so obviously, we brunched instead.
We returned to Calistoga just in time for our first tasting of the day that we were extremely curious about: the Picayune Cellars Music & Wine Tasting. Each of the three wines was paired with a song in a genre of our choosing. It was a wonderfully unique way to experience wine tasting —in the company of Phoenix, Johnny Cash, and The Roots. Rather than feeling pressured to state my opinion on the wine I just tasted and listened and thought about two of my favorite things at the same time: music and wine. After our tasting, the owner, Claire, offered us some cheese, bread, and of course more wine—we obliged her (aka said 'fuck yeah we want some cheese'). Claire’s tasting room also has a mercantile that sells wine scented candles (um, yes) and different items from her native France like cheese knives, bowls, and gorgeous woven dish towels. Shopping while tipsy is usually not a great idea, but Claire’s French taste is so curated that I had zero buyers remorse.
Next we walked down the block to Tank Garage Winery, a gas station turned tasting room and speakeasy fittingly owned by a New Orleans native and decked out like the 1930’s. With a pleasant (growing) wine buzz, we made our way to Dutch Henry Winery, where two wonderfully affectionate and fat cats (Floyd who likes to sit on shoulders, and Maybelline who likes having her armpits scratched) accompanied our tasting and probably would have followed us into the wine caves if they’d been allowed. Inside, we did a barrel tasting in a room that might as well have been where ‘The Red Wedding’ episode of Game of Thrones was shot—except luckily we made it out alive.
By the time we arrived for dinner at Sam’s Social Club, the restaurant at Indian Springs Resort & Spa, we were temporarily burned out on wine (yes, it does happen) so we promptly ordered cocktails. As we slowly - okay not that slowly - became increasingly drunk, we were delightfully bombarded with a parade of starters: grilled octopus, ceviche, country pâté, and ricotta crostini. For dessert, we ordered an olive oil thyme cake that came with fresh strawberries and Straus vanilla soft serve (bomb dot com) and we also discovered our love for Madeira—a Portuguese dessert wine reminiscent of cognac that is fucking awesome. After eating we sat outside by the enormous fire pit and talked to some rather drunk and rather strange locals before heading home and passing the fuck out.
Our second attempt at a hot air balloon ride was infinitely more successful. By 7am we were 2,000 ft. in the air and loving life. Our pilot pretended to crash land into a small pond, Stephanie was appropriately alarmed but I was too tired to be phased, so luckily there was no such crash water landing. After an hour or so of gliding over Napa Valley we made a peaceful landing in a field—but not before scaring the living daylights out of some cows and horses. We were then driven to the post-flight brunch at Solbar and gleefully started drinking Champagne at 9:30am (when in wine country…).
Once we returned to our hotel we headed straight to the sauna to get warmed up (it was 40° when we woke up…and we’re just some little California girls). The sauna was equipped with Himalayan salt blocks to rest your feet that are apparently detoxifying—and after 2 days straight of wine, cheese, and bread we were up for any and all detoxing we could get.
We were pretty exhausted when we arrived at Lava Vine for our last scheduled tasting, but it turned out to be so much fun and the wine was so good that by the time we left we’d happily tasted and purchased several bottles (including an amazing Port), and were ready to head home and sleep off our wine comas.
All in all our trip to Calistoga was hugely successful—not to mention fun as fuck.