360 Magazine Culture Editor Tom Wilmer reports from the town of Calistoga in Napa Valley.
Mention Napa Valley and the first thing that comes to mind for many is wine, world-class wine. The Valley has been producing fine wines for more than a century, but it really wasn’t until a cadre of Napa wines kicked-ass at the now legendary Judgment of Paris in 1976 that things started to go viral.
A bind tasting—that the French just knew would reconfirm their illustrious worldwide status, was crushed when Napa Valley wines rocked their boat. Napa Valley winners included Stag’s Leap, Heitz Cellars, Clos du Val, Ridge Vineyards, Freemark Abby Winery and Mayacamas. Chateau Montelena’s legendary Chardonnay led to the cool film, Bottle Shock that humorously chronicles the classic event. And the French are still pissed.
Today, Napa is a viral destination for wine seekers from around the world. In some respects Napa Valley has become a victim of its own success. During the height of the summer travel season you’ll likely encounter bumper-to-bumper traffic on the main artery, highway 29 wending through the Valley—and wine tasting fees sometimes exceed $80 per person—without a credit applied to a subsequent purchase.
So, the caveat is try and plan a trip during the off-season to avoid the lines and traffic. But there’s also a semi off the radar Napa, and that’s the town of Calistoga in the Valley’s northern reaches. Calistoga is home to the legendary Chateau Montelena Winery, and iconic health spas with historic thermal mud baths that date from the town’s post-Gold Rush roots as one of California’s oldest spa destinations.
A drive through downtown Calistoga along Lincoln Avenue is like taking a trip back in time. There’s a palpable Mayberry R.F.D., small-town feel that’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Outstanding is the historic circa-1868 Napa Valley Railroad Depot (California’s second oldest train depot), and ample historic architecture throughout downtown–with many structures dating from the late 1800s. A palpable bonus is the locals’ welcoming, and truly friendly attitude toward visitors.
Anchoring the heart of Lincoln Avenue is the Mount View Hotel that has graced downtown Calistoga with its Art Deco motifs since 1919. Hotel owner Michael Woods is such a passionate community booster that he donates 50 percent of the hotel’s profits to local and regional nonprofit organizations.
Woods and his family have gone to great lengths to seek-out authentic Art-Deco furnishings and lighting to maintain and enhance the hotel’s vintage period-ambiance.
A bonus of a stay at the Mount View is the full-service spa—with a modern twist on the iconic mud bath. Out back there’s an inviting swimming pool (heated year-round) and detached, quaint cottages.
Flanking the hotel’s lobby on one side is a sports bar, and on the opposite flank, the Veraison restaurant specializing in locally sourced cuisine, and of course, an ample wine list of locally produced specialties, including a selection of wines produced by restaurant owner, Dan Kaiser’s parents.
Wine tasting can be a fun and unpretentious experience in Calistoga–like at Tank Garage located in a repurposed gas station.
Wine tasting is fun at the Tank Garage Winery in Calistoga