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Food: Calistoga in Winter: All the Perks Without the Crowds

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Calistoga, located at the north end of California’s beautiful and famous Napa Valley amidst hot springs and world class wineries, is always a popular destination in the summer and fall. But have you ever thought of going in the winter?

There are good reasons to consider visiting this historic village (population 5200) in January, February, and March. Here are just a few of the many reasons:

  • Fewer people, no lines, and very little traffic. When you make an appointment for a winery tour and tasting, you might get a private tour. You can get into any restaurant you want, nearly any time you want. Shopkeepers have time to talk with you and tell you about all the great stuff going on in town.
  • Deals, deals, deals. Hotel rooms are less expensive. Local shops are having sales. A Winter in the Wineries passport good in January and part of February lets you taste at many local wineries for one low price. Mention Restaurant Month in participating restaurants during January and get 10% off your meal.
  • Hot springs, the original reason Calistoga exists, just waiting for you to slip in with a sigh. Who really wants to sit in hot water when the air is hovering around 98 degrees? But when it’s 48 and maybe raining softly, with steam misting up all around? Ah, yes!

Here’s one option for a perfect winter day in Calistoga:

Arrive the night before and stay in one of Calistoga’s loveliest cottage inns, The Cottage Grove Inn. You’ll be pampered right from the start in your own cottage with a Jacuzzi tub for two and a cozy wood-burning fireplace, not to mention a big luxurious bed with some of the most comfortable linens and pillows you’ll ever experience. If you’re early enough you can take advantage of the Inn’s complimentary wine and cheese tasting from 5:00pm – 7:00pm.

Sleep well, sleep in. In the morning the Inn offers a complimentary breakfast with pastries, fruit, cereal, quiche, waffles, juice, coffee… well, you get the idea. It’s a good breakfast, and it’s served from 8:30am – 10:00am.

Schramsberg Winery

Tour guide Kari demonstrating how hand-turning (riddling) the sparking wine bottles gathers the sediment so it can be removed.

Mid-morning, take off to Schramsberg Winery for a tour. Schramsberg is maker of the world-renowned sparkling wines that have been served in the White House since President Nixon’s time. It’s the 2nd oldest winery in the Valley, started in 1862 by an immigrant barber from Germany.

After many years producing Rieslings and then many more years lying fallow and abandoned, the Schramsberg estate was revived in 1965 and became the first to produce American sparking wines crafted in the true French methode champenoise style. You’ll sip Schramsberg’s elegant Blanc de Blanc as you explore Napa Valley’s oldest wine caves, built by the same Chinese laborers who dug the tunnels for the transcontinental railway. The cave is lined with more than two million bottles, aging toward perfection.

Tasting at Up Valley Vintners
Fully steeped in Napa Valley wine history, drive three miles back to Calistoga to taste a few more of the local vintages before lunch. Leave your car back at the Inn, and walk three blocks to Up Valley Vintners, at 1371 Lincoln. This tasting room represents several small local vintners and growers, who produce only a few hundred cases of wine a year. You won’t find these wines just anywhere, and they are excellent. The pours will be only a few sips, but it’s always a good idea to pace yourself. Real tasters taste, and then pour most of the rest into the urn that’s provided. I, personally, always have a hard time remembering this part.

Lunch at All Seasons Bistro
Cross the street, and you’re at All Seasons Bistro, a terrific place for lunch. Co-owner Gayle Keller is happy to share Calistoga history and happenings with you – as she’s been in the food and wine business here since 1976.  The entire menu is healthful and interesting, using seasonal, regional, and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Try the pulled pork sandwich with bourbon BBQ sauce and truly fabulous onion rings ($10), and one of Chef Summer Sebastiani’s delectable desserts (most $8).

Explore Town
After lunch, go for a walk. Saunter up Lincoln to Lee Youngman Galleries at #1316 for a look at local art. Walk a block further and cross the street to OnThEdge Winery, home of Vermeil Wines – the owner is Dick Vermeil of football coaching fame. While you’re tasting, hostess MarySue Frediani will fill you in on all the happenings about town. Wow, does she have energy!

Next door you’ll find another very special gallery, Ca’Toga. Artist/muralist Carlo Marchiori has created a beautiful space to house his work, reminiscent of his stunning and whimsical Villa Ca’Toga, just outside Calistoga.

A block away you’ll find the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History. A 30-foot long diorama of the original Hot Springs Resort gives you an idea of how things were when Sam Brannon, California’s first millionaire, founded Calistoga in the 1860′s. Various other exhibits show a sweet collection of children’s toys from the 1930′s and 1940′s as well as an authentically recreated interior of one of Sam Brannon’s cottages. And speaking of hot springs, that’s our next stop!

An Afternoon Soak at Calistoga Spa Hot Springs Resort
Walk up Washington and across Lincoln to the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs Resort for a luxurious soak in their newly renovated hot springs pools and then enjoy a half hour massage. If you’re game, you can go for a mud bath before your massage, and that’s a unique experience! Either way, you’ll come out an hour or two later feeling like well-cooked spaghetti – long, lean, and exquisitely relaxed. Oh, such bliss! And you’re just in time for Cottage Grove Inn’s lovely wine and cheese!


Dinner: JoLé or Brannan’s Grill

It’s dinnertime, can you possibly eat again? If you’re hungry, try Brannan’s Grill – excellent food and large portions. Their lamb shank ($28) is huge, with meat absolutely falling off the bone and wonderfully delicious. Or, if you feel like something a little lighter yet still over-the-top creative and delicious, try JoLé, an organic farm-to-table hotspot across the street. If sea urchin bisque ($9) is on the menu, don’t miss it – likewise the wild boar with cheesy grits ($18). Both restaurants are within easy walking distance from the Inn.

Well-fed, wined, massaged, and pampered, it’s been a perfect day. All that’s left is to snuggle into the fabulous bed for a good night’s sleep. In the morning, notice the grapevines might be bare, but the wild yellow mustard is in full bloom and the hills are covered in green velvet thanks to the soft misty rain. It’s another beautiful winter day in the Napa Valley!

What & Where

Cottage Grove Inn, 1711 Lincoln Ave.; Reservations 800-799-2284 or 707-942-8400; www.cottagegrove.com)
Schramsberg Winery, 1400 Schramsberg Rd.; www.schramsberg.comTour reservations are required, call 707-942-4558)
UpValley Vintners, 1371 Lincoln Ave.; 707-942-1004;  www.upvalleyvintners.com)
All Seasons Bistro, 1400 Lincoln Ave.; 707-942-9111;  www.allseasonsnapavalley.net)
Lee Youngman Galleries, 1316 Lincoln Ave.; 707-942-0585;  www.leeyoungmangalleries.com)
OnThEdge/Vermeil Wines, 1255 Lincoln Ave.; www.VermeilWines.com  Tasting room reservations are required, call 707-341-3054)
Ca’ Toga Art Gallery, 1206 Cedar St.; 707-942-3900; www.catoga.com)
Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History, 1311 Washington St.; 707-942-5911;  www.sharpsteen-museum.org)
Calistoga Spa Hot Springs Resort, 1006 Washington St; 707-942-6269;  www.calistogaspa.com)
Brannan’s Grill,
1374 Lincoln Ave; 707-942-2233;  www.brannansgrill.com)
JoLé (1457 Lincoln Ave; 707-942-5938;  www.jolerestaurant.com)

For more information please contact the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center
, 1133 Washington St.; 707-942-6333; www.calistogavisitors.com)

 

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