Calistoga, located at “the top” of the Napa Valley, has been a tourist magnet for decades.
But it also is a unique winegrowing area, and in 2009, it finally was granted American Viticultural Area status.
Calistoga has a small-town feel, even though it’s home to a number of high-end spas that are fed by the underground springs. It was those springs that attracted visitors for much of the town’s early history.
At Calistoga’s Sharpsteen Museum, the permanent exhibits are designed to present the history of the upper Napa Valley from its pre-history to post-World War I, with an emphasis on people and changes brought by the period of U.S. emigration and development.
In addition to its many historical exhibits, the museum uses unique and extraordinarily extensive dioramas to depict Calistoga during its period as the elegant 1860s Hot Springs resort developed by pioneer, promoter, publisher, entrepreneur and millionaire Sam Brannan.
Special exhibits, which change quarterly, reflect the varied interests of the people of the valley, and have ranged from antique silverware to model ships to historical musical instruments.
But what defines Calistoga as a winegrowing region?
Its climate is warm to hot, depending upon the time of year. Summer temperatures peak to 90 degrees and fall to the low 50s, the result of marine air from the northwest producing cool afternoon and evening breezes.
Elevations range from 300 to 1,200 feet, and rainfall ranges from 38 to 60 inches annually. The soils are almost completely of volcanic origin, and include rocky, stony loam on the hillsides; gravelly or cobbly loams on the alluvial fans, and heavier clay-silt soils in the valley center areas.
Over time, growers and vintners have identified Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah as the varieties that perform best in the unique climate. Hearty red wines are Calistoga’s specialty.