Just north of its better-known California wine country cousin, Napa, is the small resort town of Calistoga. My husband and I recently had the chance to visit Calistoga for a weekend getaway to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. We had a relaxing time staying at the historic Indian Springs Resort, known for its geothermal heated pool, full service spa, and old-school mud baths.
Calistoga is situated in the heart of the Napa Valley, so grapes dominate the landscape and wine tasting tops the list of local must-do activities. Because we had a rare trip away without our two children, my husband and I made sure to visit several of the better known Calistoga area wineries. There are many within just a few mile drive, so choosing which ones to visit was no easy task. We narrowed it down to four wineries, and each was able to deliver some tasty wines as well as a unique perspective on the Calistoga wine scene.
Here are our ratings and reviews:
Chateau Montelena: Best Calistoga Winery for History
If the name Chateau Montelena rings a bell, that is because it holds an important place in California wine history. Its 1973 Chardonnay was the winner of the famous 1976 Tasting of Paris, where California wines beat some of France’s finest in a blind taste test. With this kind of legacy, the wine we tasted was indeed excellent, albeit quite expensive.
Our fellow visitors at Chateau Montelena tended to be a bit older (40s-60s), which contributed to a sophisticated atmosphere. No bachelorette parties in sight! It was definitely the most relaxing and rustic of our Calistoga wine stops.
One tip we picked up during our visit to Chateau Montelena is that the winery has a tasting room in the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. We thought this would be a convenient activity for Bay Area visitors who don’t have time to make the trip into wine country on some trips.
Sterling Vineyards: Best Calistoga Winery for the View
What could be more pleasant than wine drinking on a hilly vista with the Napa Valley below? Sterling Vineyards was definitely the most scenic of our Calistoga wine tops. We took Sterling’s gondola up to their winery on a hill and enjoyed a warm summer day sipping wine and getting a sneak peek at the manufacturing process in action. We weren’t that fond of the the wines on the standard tasting menu, but we had paid a bit more for the “Silver Experience” ($39 instead of the $29 general admission) which included some additional more expensive wines. The upgrade was well-worth it and we very much enjoyed tasting the “good stuff” in the upper level of the winery at the end of our tour.
Sterling is one of the few wineries in the area that would be a good fit for kids. The gondola ride from the valley to the hilltop winery would be an adventure for the little ones. The tour at Sterling is self-guided, so you can speed through it quickly if your children get antsy. The only challenge is that Sterling is incredibly popular and we waited quite awhile on a Saturday afternoon for the gondola ride. Go early or be prepared to wait.
Castello di Amorosa: Best Calistoga Winery for the Architecture
Drinking wine in a Tuscan castle? Yes please! We decided to visit Castello di Amorosa because we had heard the unique story of its construction from friends. The winery opened in 2007 and was built using old world techniques by Dario Sattui to honor his Italian heritage.
We visited on a Saturday in summer, and the place was unfortunately crawling with poorly-behaved tourists (many of whom weren’t even drinking wine!). That put a bit of a damper on our visit, but we managed to stay late into the evening as they were shutting the tasting room down when crowds thinned out. My advice would be to visit this gorgeous winery on the off-season or on a summer weekday. The wines were reasonably priced and there were quite a few good finds in the regular tasting menu.
Rombauer: Best Calistoga Winery for the Wine(!)
Technically, Rombauer is located just south of Calistoga in the neighboring town of St. Helena, but I couldn’t resist including it in our itinerary. Rombauer’s Chardonnay made from Carneros grapes is my absolute favorite wine in the world (that I can afford, at least). Priced at about $35 a bottle, it is certainly a splurge but worth every penny. My husband and I had never been to Rombauer despite our frequent monetary donations to its continued existence. We only had time for a short visit, but I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Napa County wineries.
The winery has a magnificent view overlooking the valley, as well as a number of hillside gardens where you can meander. Be sure to pack a picnic for your visit. If you buy a bottle at the winery to enjoy, you can sit outside in these beautiful gardens and have your meal on Rombauer’s picnic tables. The tasting room and parking lots were a bit crowded, but Rombauer handled the crowds well. The valets were working hard to manage the traffic and fellow visitors were courteous and seemed to know their wines.
Have you gone to Calistoga? What were your favorite wineries in the area?