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Small Towns, Big Biz

Columnist: Christina Julian
December, 2014 Issue
Columnist

Christina Julian
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I’ll stick a stake in the brown sugar sand and say Butterscots is one of the best bakeries around.

 

Whether or not I opt to channel my crystal ball when it comes to predicting Calistoga’s future is irrelevant—the outlook is clear. Change is hitting faster than a tidal wave. Only one question remains: Will it save or squelch the city’s charm?
 
The not-so-subtle signs are everywhere, including the Indian Springs expansion completed earlier this year. Add to that the megaresort plans that loom with Enchanted Resorts (renamed Calistoga Hills Resort) and the Silver Rose Inn redevelopment into a Four Seasons. It’s only a matter of time before Calistoga traffic patterns surpass the St. Helena bottleneck.
 

The rebirth of Sam Brannan

Indian Springs added 75 guest rooms, 2,400 square feet of special event space, as well as new gardens, grounds and a restaurant. The eatery, Sam’s Social Club (slated to open this month), tips its hat to resort and Calistoga founder, Sam Brannan, who holds the title of being California’s first millionaire. Granted, this was at a time when a million bucks bought more than a modest up-valley dwelling. The upside of this expansion is the answer to my cry for al fresco dining in Calistoga, replete with fire pits and all.
 
In other Brannan-related biz, the Brannan Cottage Inn reopened in grand fashion this fall with a toe-to-top renovation. The six-room inn melds a storied past with green practices and luxury amenities like heated floors. Next year, the inn will offer exclusive bookings for onsite private events and weddings. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1860s property is one of a few remnants from Brannan’s original resort that still sits in the same location on Wappo Avenue.
 

Swilling and sweets

In Napa County, wine swilling spots are as abundant as grapes, so it’s hard to come across sipping joints that haven’t been done to death and even harder to find ones that harken with hints of the past. Enter Tank Garage Winery, which does just that. Situated at the corner of Lincoln and Highway 29 in Calistoga, this venue distinguishes itself with a 1930s-style garage-cum-tasting room and a one-off collection of wines named after classic tunes like, “And She Was” and “Not Fade Away.” When the garage door rolls up, the reveal is vintage filling station pumps outside and classic electric guitars fashioned out of empty gas cans inside.
 
The winery is the brainchild of Jim Regusci (James Cole, Regusci Winery and T-Vine Cellars) and James Harder (James Cole Winery and T-Vine Cellars).  The wine club/special people enclave off to the side of the tasting room is another nod to the past, fashioned as a sultry speakeasy with velvety walls and prohibition-era, black-and-white photographs. The wine stands out in taste and obscurity. “And She Was” blends Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, the “Never Dream Alone” is 90 percent Tempranillo, and “As the Crow Flies, So Do I,” is 92 percent Nero d’Avola. All the reds are bold and bawdy, and most bottles sport vintage shots that range from wine barrels to classic cars. The joint’s casual, come-hither vibe is harder to come by than it should be in these parts.
 
In St. Helena, what I refer to as the Cairdean compound continues to sprout. In addition to the tasting room and restaurant (The Farmer & the Fox), which opened earlier this year, Butterscots Bakery started stirring up the sweets this fall. I’ll couch what I’m about to write with this disclosure: I’m a sugar hound of the highest order. If there’s a sweet to be found in this valley, I’ve sucked it down. That being said, I’ll stick a stake in the brown sugar sand and say this is one of the best bakeries around. Where else can you score a scotch egg and a scone in one seating? The latter is so luscious and far from light that I stockpile these goodies in my freezer. The bread selection is diverse and light with every bite. Side salads range from shrimp laced with crème fraîche to black-eyed peas and cabbage apple. The jelly and milk chocolate-filled donuts are like nothing I’ve ever tasted. Dieters beware. The outdoor seating and lounge areas only sweeten the deal. So do the old-school standards that bebop in the background, reminding us that change is inevitable and new can be nice, as long as there’s a shard of rootstock planted firmly in the past.

 

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