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Down to Earth

Author: Julie Fadda
October, 2011 Issue

Napa's newest AVA is rich in history but lacking in pretense.

Calistoga has a personality all its own. The northernmost city in Napa County, it’s a place where the people are friendly and have a laid-back yet hard-working attitude. The feeling is relaxed and unpretentious. Its streets are much like they’ve always been, with wide, covered sidewalks and, these days, there are plenty of art galleries, spas, restaurants, lodges and shops to visit. It offers regular community events including free concerts in the park, an active nightlife, a jazz festival, a Fourth of July parade and a lighted tractor parade in December. Its residents are independent thinkers whose surroundings aren’t nearly as flashy as most other places in the county—and that’s the way they like it. It’s also what draws visitors from all over the world, not just to visit its famous spas and hot springs, but to enjoy its bounty in a low-key way.

Napa Valley’s newest AVA

Chateau Montelena’s Bo Barrett says he wrote the petition to designate the Calistoga AVA because he was “bored and needed something to do. I broke my leg skiing when I hit a tree.” He says it should have gone off without a hitch, because the area has so much history and unique qualities. But one winery that was using Calistoga on its labels without putting the required 85 percent of Calistoga fruit in the wine held things up. When AVA status was finally granted in late 2009 (it was originally submitted in 2002), that winery was given three years to transition to either use enough Calistoga fruit or change its name. We’ll see what happens.

The appellation’s boundaries stretch from just below Knights Valley to the northwest, head south along the ridgeline as far as Calistoga Road (which heads toward Santa Rosa), then butt up against Diamond Mountain and stretch south as far as Bale Lane before turning east into the canyons (as high as 880 feet) along the jagged-peaked Palisades beyond the Silverado Trail, then turning north again to the base of Mount St. Helena. It’s a long, narrow area that stretches east to west and has pocket canyons, a base elevation of 365 feet, cool, wet winters and summers that are hot during the day but cool at night (thanks to the breeze that comes in daily from the Russian River Valley to the northwest—they’re referred to by many growers in the area as its “saving grace”).

The area is known for big reds like Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Bordeaux varietals, but you can also find some Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat and unusual red varietals like Charbono. “Part of what makes Calistoga unique is its many differences,” says Barrett. There are less than 3,000 acres planted, the majority of which are harvested from its southernmost reaches. The Three Palms vineyard near Dutch Henry canyon is one of its most famous. The region’s soils are volcanic in nature and vary according to their location. Most of the growers are independent and farm their own land.

Looking back

Calistoga’s first inhabitants were the Wappo Indians, who called the region Tu-la-halusi, which translates to “land of health-giving springs.” Much of the area was partitioned into large ranchos by the Mexican government in the 1830s and 1840s, and the first Anglo settlers arrived in the 1840s.

In the 1860s, Sam Brannan purchased 2,000 acres and developed it into a resort for the rich and famous (at the site now known as Indian Springs), along the lines of New York’s Saratoga Springs. When a railroad line was completed to there in 1868, the area became a destination and transportation hub/gateway to Lake and Sonoma counties. The town incorporated in the 1880s; this year it celebrates its 125th anniversary.

In 1920, local farmer Giuseppe Musante was drilling for a cold-water well and struck a hot springs geyser. In 1924, he set up a bottling line and began selling Calistoga Sparkling Mineral Water. Walnuts were a big crop early on, and you can still see some groves today.

The Sharpsteen Museum in downtown Calistoga is dedicated to the history of the area. It even incorporates one of the original cottages from Brannan’s resort. Or you can hike to the pass at the top of the Palisades (where Robert Lewis Stevenson lived, at the Silverado mine for a time, and later wrote Silverado Squatters about his experience). There are a lot of old, abandoned silver and quicksilver mines up there.

Chateau Montelena

Barrett has been winemaker at Chateau Montelena since 1982 and now has the title of master winemaker; winemaker Cameron Parry works closely with him. Barrett started in the wine industry in 1972 when he graduated high school, the year his family purchased the renowned property. His wife, Heidi Barrett, is a well-known winemaker, having produced a multitude of cult wines (anyone ever hear of Screaming Eagle?), and now has her own label, La Sirena. The two of them are also releasing their first Barrett and Barrett Cabernet Sauvignon this fall, made with fruit from their Calistoga vineyards. When he isn’t farming grapes and making wine, Barrett says he likes to fly planes and helicopters.

“Calistoga farms as an extension of the mountains more than the valley floor AVAs. It’s been proven over time the wines are different,” says Barrett.

The northernmost property in Napa Valley, Chateau Montelena starts at the base of Mount St. Helena (its name is a shortened version of that). “The area was a volcanic uplift and then it sank—that’s why it has geysers. Mount St. Helena isn’t a volcano,” says Barrett. The Napa River is the westernmost border of the property, and forms a lot of the soil structure. The entire estate has three types of soil: alluvial, volcanic and sedimentary. It has 100 planted acres; 78 are Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 are Zinfandel/Primativo; and five are Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah. The family also farms 100 additional acres in Napa Valley. “This land has been continuously farmed since 1882,” says Barrett, referring to when Albert Tubbs purchased the 254-acre property, planted grapes and built the European-style chateau. Wine production stopped during prohibition but started again after its repeal and continued from 1932 to 1939. Tubbs sold the winery in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, the creators of Jade Lake. The next owner was a partnership formed and led by Bo’s father, Jim Barrett, who replanted the entire vineyard and built a modern winery inside the chateau. His newly reborn winery’s first wines were produced in 1972.

Many people know Chateau Montelena for having won the 1976 Paris Tasting, where a panel of French judges chose its 1973 Chardonnay over French wines in a blind tasting. It was a defining moment for both Napa Valley and California wine as a whole. This year marks the event’s 35th anniversary. (The winery sources its Chardonnay grapes from the Oak Knoll district in south Napa, where the cooler climate is more suited to the varietal.)

But, he says, “We harvest about 750 tons—Chardonnay, Reisling and Cabernet Sauvignon; it’s the same stuff we started with. The red wines have a distinct earthy/berry flavor to them, as do so many others from this region.”

Chateau Montelena’s land is very rocky, so the roots grow deep and the vines produce intensely flavored fruit. “The best wine is made where nothing else will grow,” says Barrett. For the Barrett and Barrett label, they’re using the vineyard that climbs Mount St. Helena. They’re also planting an acre near Jericho Creek. The soil there is reddish and is covered in rocks. “It’s great for grapes but nothing else. Not even cattle.” And although the land has always been organically and dry farmed, it isn’t certified organic. “There’s only a certain amount of chicken shit paperwork I’ll do,” he insists.

The vineyards are low-yielding and all grapes are harvested by hand at night. The wines are cool fermented in stainless steel, then transferred to French oak barrels for aging (a combination of new and neutral). After bottling, they’re aged further to ensure they’re ready to drink upon release, yet can also be aged for years to come.

Chateau Montelena’s winery has recently been entirely dismantled and rebuilt (Wright Construction was the contractor) to put in support for the historical chateau it’s housed in. It took a little less than eight months to build a state-of-the-art facility—just in time for this year’s harvest.

When you visit the winery, you can taste current releases without an appointment, or you can schedule reserve tastings or even a “Bottle Shock” tour online (based on the movie of the same name, which depicted the 1976 Paris Tasting). There are vineyard tours that include estate tastings twice per week, or you can do a self-guided tour with a beautifully printed map. Until Oct. 26, there’s a bonus pour of older vintages of Chardonnay (magnums that are available for purchase). The day I visited, we tried the 1989. I was amazed to find its flavor profile was the same as the 2009—yes it was darker in color, but both had a crisp, elegant structure with hints of lemon (and a nutty flavor in the older vintage).

The 2010 Potter Valley Reisling (Mendocino) was off-dry with nice acidity and layers of citrus and spice. The 2008 Zinfandel (one of two estate wines produced) had dark cherry, caramel and vanilla elements and was very smooth and restrained—a good food wine.

The 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (red fruit and a bit of dust) is approachable now but also has the subtle tannin structure needed to age, while the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (the 30th vintage) has an earthy nose and is lush on the palate while still subtle and elegant.

Storybook Mountain Vineyards

Jerry Seps, owner and winemaker at Storybook Mountain Vineyards, says there was more written in the 19th century about Calistoga than any other part of Napa Valley. The place just has character.

His vineyard, located at the northwest tip of the AVA, is the coolest in the northern part of the valley. “The heat summation is the same as Carneros,” says Seps. The property also has three caves, encompassing 5,000 square feet, which were dug in the 1880s by Jacob and Adam Grimm (better known as the Brothers Grimm, who bought the land that at one time belonged to Sam Brannan).

Seps was a professor of European history until 1976, when he and his wife, Sigrid, decided to move to the country, thinking it to be a better place to raise their children and be independent. “We could create our own world here,” he says. “We found a beautiful piece of land and knew if we took care of it, it would take care of us. And it has.” Their first commercial vintage was 1980, released in 1983. “We operated out of the caves because we put all the money into the vineyard,” says Seps, who is head of winemaking; his daughter, Colleen, is associate winemaker.

“We didn’t come here to plant Zinfandel. We cleared the land and wanted to make something really special, but had to find the rootstock and clone that fit the land. The last person we talked to, André Tchelistcheff, said there was no better place for Zinfandel.” Today, 40 acres are planted on the 100-acre property, about 20 percent of which are Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, and the rest is Zinfandel.

Seps also has been involved with is ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) from the beginning—he founded it. On their way back from a wine event in 1990, he said to Sigrid, “Zin don’t get no respect” (channeling Rodney Dangerfield). “She suggested I get people together to promote it. People were ripe for it,” he says. [See “Zinspiration,” Special Wine Issue 2011]

When you visit, your wine tasting will take place in the caves. One of the first things you’ll see is a carved wooden oval that Sigrid designed. “The Grimm brothers came from Momenheim in Germany, so Sigrid added the coat of arms. There’s also a Zinfandel leaf, three caves, and a fox and grapes [they also appear on the winery’s logo] from Aesop’s fables. The brothers collected fairy tales, and their winery was called Grimm Vineyards and Wine Vaults—not a name we wanted to revive.” So that’s part of the reason they named it Storybook Mountain, but also, says Seps, “The beauty of the place has a storybook feeling. Also, I feel wine is like a good story; it should enhance some aspect of your life.”

The 2008 Mayacamas Range Zinfandel has dark fruit on the nose, then opens up with some spice, really layers the tongue and also has an earthy element. It, along with the Reserve Zinfandel, were the first produced at the winery.

The 2008 Eastern Exposures has more of a caramel nose and some earthy elements. Very refined, it has red fruit flavors and is soft on the palate with a long finish. It also has a touch of Viognier.

The 2007 Antaeus is a blend of Zinfandel and Bordeaux varietals. “This is the fifth vintage,” says Seps. “It’s a winemaker’s wine.” To me, it has a Cabernet Sauvignon backbone with Zinfandel hug.

The winery also makes Zin Gris; its name a takeoff on Vin Gris. “It’s pulled off fully mature fermentations, then barrel fermented in cool caves,” says Seps, describing it as “intensely flavored—a rosé for red wine drinkers.” A separate label, Seps Estate, was started in 2002. It includes Cabernet Sauvignon (also a Bordeaux blend), Cabernet Rosé (made the same way as the Zin Gris) and Viognier. The 2009 Viognier has a bright, citrus nose and then stone fruit and pear elements on the palate, with a silky, dense mouthfeel.

“We don’t believe in high alcohol or heavy wines,” says Seps. “We mostly sell to restaurants—48 restaurants in Napa Valley. It’s the kind of wine we like, what the site produces.”

Tofanelli Family Vineyards

“To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than free-standing vines. I’m a bit of a romantic that way,” says Vince Tofanelli, whose family has been farming grapes in Calistoga since 1929. And having grown up in the same working vineyard he tends today, he has a connection to the land that’s deep and strong—he loves his vines and sees them as family members. He works alongside the vineyard crew—that way, he says, there are “no surprises.”

His maternal grandparents, Sebastian DiGiulio and Irene DalPorto (whose image appears on the label—on a motorcycle in the vineyard) put a down payment together for a 21-acre parcel that Tofanelli farms today. His parents later bought nine acres across the way. Pauline DiGiulio Tofanelli is Vince’s mom. “She’s the boss,” he says.

Tofanelli’s grandparents planted Zinfandel, Monduese Noir, Sauvignon Vert, Burger (a white varietal that was popular at the time), Black Malvasia, Petite Sirah and Carignane. “In those early days, there were two tanks—white and red,” says Tofanelli. “They planted grapes knowing that some would produce better in certain years.”

As time moved on and quality trumped quantity, the “oddball” varietals fell out of favor. “I was faced with replanting and revamping the vineyard in the 1980s. It was tough. I kept all the Zinfandel. I had to pull out some others and planted Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Charbono—it was a longshot but it paid off; people thought I was crazy—and Grenache. As much as possible, I kept the old ones, like Mondeuse, which is wonderful with Grenache and Carignane. So I never pulled them all out. It’s nice to see them come back.” He even still has some Burger, which he uses to make wine for his own use.

Most of the vineyard is head-trained, a very old method, meaning the vines are free-standing. “It’s the way the valley was planted until the 1960s,” says Tofanelli. “Trellising came in to increase tonnage. At the time, it was touted as the ‘wave of the future’—everything would be mechanically harvested.” But today, “Head-trained vines are like those clothes in the back of the closet that come back into vogue. Other wineries are doing it now. I’ve become a consultant about it.”

By 1995, he’d placed his grapes with Turley, Spottswoode, Duckhorn—people at the top of the field. Slowly, he realized he had a passion for making wine as well.

By 2000, he felt his skills matched what he wanted to do and released his first Zinfandel and Charbono. “I felt I could do a noble job with Charbono; I also knew I had a niche, [since very few people grow that varietal], and I wanted to promote it. The first vintages set the tone for my winemaking style,” says Tofanelli.

The soil in the vineyard is bale loam series, a deep soil that has small pebbles in between clay and loam, which lets him dry farm the property.

“One thing I’m proud of is an organic farming philosophy. I adhere to all the rules. It’s the right thing to do. For the most part, it’s always been farmed that way. Organic was a word my grandparents wouldn’t know—but they were living it.”

He sells 80 percent of his grapes and makes less than 1,000 cases each year, mostly Zinfandel, then about 250 cases of Charbono and 125 of Petite Sirah (up to 250). You can find his wines either on his website or in person at Up Valley Vintners, which opened in August 2011 on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Calistoga. Other wineries there include Kenefick Ranch, Barlow Vineyards, Zacherle and Envy.

The 2008 Zinfandel has a berry and vanilla nose and is very lively on the palate: Spicy, earthy, red fruit. It has a very dry style and a nice structure. “It’s a defining varietal here,” says Tofanelli. “Most of the Zinfandel in Napa Valley is grown [in Calistoga]. The old Italians didn’t have a guidebook, but they figured out what did well. My style is dry and more subtle in its complexity—a nod to European winemakers.”

The 2008 Charbono is very dark in color (almost black). “It’s similar to Petite Sirah in regards to intensity of color,” says Tofanelli. “It’s usually a surprise when people first drink it because it’s more delicate. It has chalky tannins, blueberry and cedar box elements. It’s a food wine.” I detected a blueberry and blackberry nose, with a dry style, earthy with medium tannin structure and some pepper and spice on the finish.

The 2009 Petite Sirah has a dusty, meaty nose and dark, earthy elements, very mild tannins and a beautiful backbone. It’s dark, lovely and screams for red meat. The kind of wine that makes me want to take a bite instead of a sip.

“I’ve always been into wine and food pairing,” says Tofanelli. “I use French oak, up to 22 months barrel time. But I’m not trying to impart flavor with the oak. I’m more about body and tannin integration. That’s where the magic comes in,” he says.

He’ll also offer a Grenache by next spring, and a port-style wine in the not-too-distant future. “I’m waiting for it to age because I’m a stickler for Portugese style,” he says. “One of my mottos is ‘world-class wine without world-class pretension.’”

Jericho Canyon Vineyard

Marla and Dale Bleecher are proprietors of Jericho Canyon Vineyard. Their ranch is situated on Old Lawley Toll Road, the original road that led to the old Silverado mine. Rumor has it that the famed bandit, Black Bart, once stashed some loot along the road that was never recovered—some even go as far as to look for it today.

The Bleechers purchased their 135-acre property in 1989. They’d been looking for a couple years before they saw a classified ad in the San Francisco Chronicle for a cattle ranch outside of Calistoga. Like the Seps, they wanted to find a better place to raise their children. Marla’s family had some background in home winemaking (she still has her grandfather’s old redwood equipment, which he used during prohibition).

They planted 20 acres in 1990, then another 20 in 1991. And although the property had been a cattle ranch since the 1930s, they found evidence of pre-prohibition vineyards. They grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah. There are different rootstocks and clones of the same varietal due to varied soil type and exposure (for example, there are 23 blocks total, and for Cabernet Sauvignon, there are four clones with four different rootstocks in 16 separate blocks). “The grapes taste completely different depending on where they’re planted on the property,” says Marla. “Terrior is really true.”

In the beginning, they grew the grapes for sale. David Ramey purchased them from 2001 to 2005. When their 6,000-square-foot cave and adjacent winery were completed in 2006, they began producing three different estate wines (their onsite winemaker is Jade Barrett, who hails from New Zealand).

At harvest, the grapes are picked in small batches. “We wait for each little section to mature,” says Marla. “When to pick has a lot to do with how the wines come out. It takes about six weeks, from the end of September to the beginning of November. We’re one of the latest in the valley because we’re in a canyon—there’s not as much sun. It’s warmer mid-day and colder at night than on the valley floor. There can be temperature swings of 50 degrees.”

When you visit, you’ll find a beautiful redwood winery that leads to the caves. Inside the caves, you can see how incredibly deep the vines’ roots go into the rocky soil (they left part of one wall open to the rocks behind it to illustrate that). The tasting room is adorned with artwork, with pieces by Sibylle Szaggars Redford currently on display. “Art compliments the art of winemaking. It’s the same philosophy,” says Marla.

The winery offers Sauvignon Blanc and a variety of Cabernet Sauvignons. The Sauvignon Blanc is a compromise between New Zealand and French styles. Stainless steel gives it crisp, fruity and light characteristics, while neutral oak gives round, smooth and complex characters. They stir the lees on both, then blend them together. “Jade wanted to do 100 percent stainless, but we wanted to mellow it out a bit,” says Dale. The result is a wine with a floral and stone fruit nose and a long, layered finish.

The Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Blend is the winery’s flagship. “It’s the best representation of the vineyard,” says Dale. “It’s the wine we’ve always been known for.” The 2006 has a classic mountain Cabernet style and is built to age 15 to 20 years. It’s barrel aged two years, then another two years in the bottle before release. The first Jericho Canyon Vineyard label was 2001 (and until 2004, it was called “red wine,” because of the blend). It has an earthy nose and a layered depth of flavor. When something special and different comes in, they also bottle a Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve with the best three barrels.

The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Creek Block (nearest to Jericho Creek) has a berry nose and is dark in color. A blend of 94 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 6 percent Merlot, it’s a silky wine that’s approachable younger.

“Winemaking has changed since we’ve been here,” says Dale. “We compensate for that in the vineyard. We used to go through twice a year before harvest, now it’s more like 10 times. We prune, sucker, remove leaves and laterals, drop fruit and drop green fruit.”

“We used to pick the entire vineyard at once and were done in a few days,” says Marla. “Ramey started us picking block by block.”

Case production is about 2,000, depending on the year, and the Bleechers aren’t looking to expand. Who’d have thought a classified ad could lead to so much?

Zahtila Vineyards

Laura Zahtila Swanton moved to California from Phoenix in 1992 and has been in Calistoga since 1999. A long-time wine enthusiast, she’s currently on the board of the newly formed Calistoga Winegrowers Association and farms a small vineyard on the outskirts of town heading east (formerly called Traulsen Vineyards) that was originally planted in 1980, but went through a landslide in 1986.

“We’re replacing [the vineyard from 1980] entirely by hand,” she says of the hillside fruit. “There’s Primativo and we grafted some Zinfandel we planted in 2000. There are 1.6 acres planted, but it’ll take 10 years before we get steady production from the new ones. When we’re at full bore, there will be two or three tons per acre.” For now, she sources most of her fruit (about 2,000 cases are produced). “We sell everything here,” she says. “Our distribution strategy is local. Cal Mart and Napa General Store are the retailers, otherwise you can sometimes find us in [Calistoga] restaurants.”

She and her then-husband chose the property because it was the closest to town as far as an operating winery goes. When her husband left within a few years of purchasing the property, she took it over herself and has since learned the industry inside out (she’s involved in all aspects of the winery, including farming, and works closely with Vineyard Manager Placido Garcia, who’s worked the land since 1979), focusing on small-production, food-friendly wines. She’s also since remarried Michael Swanton. “He’s my first and third husband,” she says. Some things are just meant to be.

The vineyard sits at the base of Oat Hill, “There were wild oats sewn there back in the day [literally!]. Now it’s a hiking trail but it was originally a road up to the mines.”

Zahtila Swanton has been a member of Napa Valley Vintners since 2002. “I think the work they do to protect and promote Napa wines is important,” she says. “And the AVAs do reflect the differences in those wines and help the consumers better understand them.

“The Calistoga Winegrowers Association will work to come together as a group and discuss and find flavor profiles that are distinct to the region. I’m very interested in that,” she continues.

Zahtila Swanton currently makes wines from Calistoga, Rutherford, Oakville and Napa Valley. “My goal is to err of the side of less oak. For example, our current vintage of Chardonnay [2009; rounded, floral, fruity] is oak-free. We want the terroir and grapes to show through.” As a rule, she makes wines with a consistent, food-friendly style.

When you visit (tastings are by appointment), you’ll head up a slope toward the small tasting room, which is lined with rock walls and roses—a beautiful landscape created by the previous owner. The tasting room, adjacent to the barrel room, has outdoor seating and a small bar inside.

The 2007 Dry Creek Zinfandel is from Oddone Vineyards [berry nose, balanced and layered], while the 2007 Oat Hill Estate Zinfandel, from Zahtila Swanton’s property, is bright red with cherry flavors and hints of caramel—it tastes happy. Both are aged in American oak.

For Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Calistoga is from Barlow Vineyard [red fruit, cherry, mineral with nice acid balance], while the 2005 Napa Valley is darker, with more mineral and earth characteristics—nice and chewy. The 2005 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III, has classic Rutherford dust quality, a herbaceous nose, an element of slate and velvety mouthfeel. The 2007 Bentley Oakville, named for her maternal grandmother, is the first release of its kind.

The 2006 Laura’s theme is a dessert wine made in Portugese style with grape brandy. It’s a blend of Sonoma County Petite Sirah and Oat Hill Zinfandel (smooth, lush, a very silky, sexy wine). “A sacrilege—we blended two counties!” she laughs.

Ziata Wines

“It feels authentic here,” says Karen Cakebread, founder of Ziata Wines. “You see the farmers running around town—they look like farmers. There’s an earthy sense. People are really connected to the agriculture. It’s where the valley narrows so you’re closer to the mountains, which provides a sense of closeness and community.

Cakebread has lived in Calistoga for four years. She’s also lived in Yountville and the hills east of St. Helena, where she developed a vineyard. She married into the Cakebread family (since divorced), and worked with Cakebread Cellars for 18 years. She’s well known for her involvement with the Napa Valley Vintners and works tirelessly to promote and protect Napa Valley and its wines.

A winery/hotel/resort project originally brought her to Calistoga (she found a piece of property around the same time), but when the economy stalled the project, she decided it was time to create her own wine brand. She officially launched Ziata in 2008. It’s named for Mary Annunziata (her mother); her great grandmother was also Annunziata.

Her vineyard property is right on the city/county line. “It’s rural enough,” she says. “The previous ranch was 85 acres. I wanted space, but not that much. Now I have three acres for my privacy and room for the dogs to run.

“I first remodeled the house and focused on the brand. This spring, I planted a little over an acre of Sauvignon Blanc and the vineyard is set up to dry farm—Sauvignon Blanc is like a weed. It can grow anywhere, so it’s a good fit for dry farming.”

Her vineyard is a combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musque (a Sauvignon Blanc clone). “I like the Sauvignon Musque because it has good aromatics and stone fruit quality,” she says.

“A lot of people here grow big reds, but there are pockets of Sauvignon Blanc,” she continues. “Everyone’s making nice wine, so I have high hopes. Calistoga’s hot days and cool nights keep the acid balance in the fruit. It’s lively in the mouth and refreshing.”

Right on the head of the Napa River, her vineyard has a combination of clay and loam soils with small amounts of gravel. It’ll take two to five years before the grapes are usable.

All the wines Cakebread currently makes (with winemaker Anne Vawter, who also lives in Calistoga and has her own brand called Red Mare) are single-vineyard. Starting this harvest, they’ll be made at Napa Wine Company, which has its own tasting room. This will be a plus, since right now you can only get her wines through her website or in area restaurants.

Her current Sauvignon Blanc release comes from east Napa. “When young, it’s citrusy, grapefruit, has pretty aromatics, stone fruit and tropical flavors. We haven’t had to blend other wines with it. It’s distinctive. Chardonnay lovers like it, too.”

She also has a Pinot Noir from the Napa side of the Carneros region. “I love Pinot Noir,” she says. “As a producer, it’s a love/hate relationship because it’s very difficult to make. The Carneros vineyard is unique for the area—rocky and well drained. Pinot Noir can be a very sensuous wine. Mine is more on the masculine side,” she says.

The third wine she makes is Cabernet Franc. “It’s my version of Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s known as a blending grape for traditional Bordeaux blends, but there are sites here that grow Cabernet Franc that can stand alone. It has good tannin structure but isn’t as forward as Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s more approachable but also has the structure to age. It can have violet, dark fruit and earthy characters. It’s mountain fruit. The 2009 will be released in April,” she says.

Establishing an identity

Cakebread has been working closely with Laura Zahtila Swanton and Beth Summers (of Summers Winery) in developing the Calistoga Winegrowers Association. “We’re putting together a board of directors. The mission is to promote and protect the past, present and future of grape growing and winemaking in the Calistoga AVA, and to celebrate the history of Calistoga, provide education and raise awareness through marketing programs that are inclusive and fun,” she says. “Calistoga’s all about fun.

“Because there hasn’t been a association before, there hasn’t been a group that promoted Calistoga. That will change now. We had a big party at Sterling to celebrate the AVA status. We’d like an annual event for the public as well as trade events throughout the year. It’ll keep the Calistoga flavor alive.”

The Calistoga Chamber of Commerce put up a sign in nearby St. Helena, which reads, “Calistoga: Up the Road, Down to Earth.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Calistoga Wineries

Araujo Estate Wines

Arroyo Winery

Atalon Winery

August Briggs Wines

Azalea Springs Vineyards

B Cellars

Barlow Vineyards

Bennett Lane Winery

Cali 351

Canard Vineyard

Carter Cellars

Carver Sutro

Castello di Amorosa

Chateau Montelena

Checkerboard Vineyards

Clos Pegase

Coquerel Family Wine Estates

Cuvaison Estate Wines

D’Anneo Vineyard

Dutch Henry Winery

Envy Wines

Frank Family Vineyards

Harris Estate Vineyards

Helena View Johnston Vineyards

Jack Brooks Vineyard

Jax Vineyards

Jericho Canyon Vineyard

Jones Family Vineyards

Kenefick Ranch Winery

Knighton Family Vineyards

Larkmead Vineyards

Lava Vine

Madrigal Vineyards

Mancini Family Vineyards

Paoletti Estates Winery

Phifer Pavitt Wine


Rios Wine Company, LLC

Robert Pecota Winery

Saviez Vineyards

Shypoke Vineyard, LLC

Silver Rose

Sterling Vineyards

Storybook Mountain Vineyards/Seps Estate

Summers Estate Wines

Switchback Ridge

Tedeschi Family Winery

The Grade Cellars

Tofanelli Family Vineyard

Tom Eddy Winery

Tristant Vineyards

Twomey Cellars

Venge Vineyards

Vermiel Wines/On the Edge Winery

Work Vineyard

Zahtila Vineyards

Ziata Wines

[Editor’s note: If you are a winery located in the Calistoga AVA, and you don’t see yourself here, please contact Editor Julie Fadda at so we can add you to the list.]



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