Checking out Calistoga

View from the rooftop terrace at Sterling Vineyards /Michelle Locke


Set at the top of the Napa Valley, Calistoga is a little bit more laid back than Napa or St. Helena. Which is odd, because below the surface the place is positively seething with energy. Underground thermal activity creates hot springs that feed a spa culture that ranges from no-frills rustic, I’m looking at you Doc Wilkinson, to extremely refined.

Mme. Vinecdote does not pay people so she can sit in mud, she did enough of that in merry olde England as a child. But I do know several people who swear by the restorative qualities of the treatment, so chacun a son gout on that one.

One attraction that doesn’t require digging up any dirt is to sit and wait for the Old Faithful geyser to spout off, something that happens about every 40 minutes. The geyser is a bit on the slender side but shoots up to 60 feet high. I visited recently and  found it extremely restful to sit in the shade of an umbrella and stare mindlessly at the pool of hot water until it roared to life right on schedule. Query: Does this indicate I’m appreciating life in a Zen-like manner? Or is my laziness reaching chronic levels.


The Calistoga “downtown” is about a block long, something else I like, but has a clutch of restaurants. Buster’s Southern BBQ has been getting a lot of buzz lately.Just around the corner is Sterling Vineyards, distinguished by the fact that you ride a tram up the hillside to get to the winery. Lots to like here, but my favorite is the view from the rooftop. You see a vista that stretches the length of the Napa Valley.

Despite its tranquil vibe, Calistoga was until recently the site of a pitched battle over naming rights. A number of wineries and grape growers wanted to established a California American Viticultural Area, or appellation, which meant wines using the name would have to be made primarily from grapes grown in the district _ not fruit trucked in from elsewhere. At one point, pro-AVA forces protested the opening of a tasting room belonging to a winery that opposed setting up the appellation. The issue finally was resolved in 2009, and the AVA was officially established this year.

You know, I don’t want to sound bitter, but permit me to point out that of the countless protests I have covered, not one was at a wine tasting room. I think a vending machine was about as good as it got.


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