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Five Off-the-Beaten-Path Wineries in Calistoga

Trust us—it’s worth the drive!

Brian Arden Wines in Calistoga.


In well-trodden Napa Valley, it’s easy to find everything you need on the main drag (Highway 29) and avoid the additional drive time to explore points north. However, if you take the extra 45 minutes to travel to Calistoga, you’ll be treated to a glimpse of what Napa was 50 years ago. The vibe is relaxed—even at the poshest wineries—and the wines match the quality of those anywhere in Napa Valley at generally lower prices. Here are five wineries in Calistoga that you don’t want to miss.

Schramsberg isn’t far off the main drag, but very few people I know have ventured there for what locals consider the best cave tour in Napa Valley, and the best way to learn about sparkling wines. Some go so far as to say that Schramsberg is home to the best bubbles in California and even the world. Here you’ll take a tour deep into the mountainside, where you’ll learn all about making sparkling wines as you wind through the dark—dare we say romantic—caves, sipping bubbles as you go. Fear not, red wine lovers: You’ll also be able to sample some of the winery’s bold, fiery, and complex reds near the end of the journey. Bubbles are highly subjective, but I recommend the blanc de noirs ($43) for those who like them dry (not sweet), refreshing, and full bodied. Appointment required; $70 per person.

Perched on a hillside off the Silverado Trail, tucked just beyond trellised vineyards, Venge is easy to miss if you aren’t looking. The winery holds tastings at a modern country home where you can sit indoors and enjoy the views or catch the breeze as you sample wines on the patio. Things are relaxed here, and you could easily sip a whole day away checking off Venge’s lineup of smooth, silky, full-bodied, and full-flavored red wines and crisp, refreshing whites. Kirk Venge has become a bit of a local celebrity for his winemaking, his kindness, and his parties; if wine clubs are your thing, this is one to consider joining. Some of the reds here have prices that match their splendor. But at $39, Scout’s Honor proprietary red is one of the most fun red blends in Napa Valley. Appointment required; $45 per person.

Clos Pegase.

Photo: Charlie Day via Creative Commons

Von Strasser
At Von Strasser, make up your own tasting of the winery’s bold, feisty reds (try four wines for $25; six, $35) or go all in on their big red wines from the trendy Diamond Mountain District. The Diamond Mountain tasting (which comes with a cheese plate) will introduce you to the intensity of mountain fruit wines from this high mountain on the Mayacamas mountain range, known for producing massive flavors and intense textures. Most wines here are very reasonably priced, especially considering the competition, and you can’t go wrong with the Diamond Mountain Cabernet ($50) Petite Sirah ($45), or fun reds like Charbono ($36). Appointment required; $25–$50 per person.

Clos Pegase
Clos Pegase’s design puts it on the map just as much as its wine does. Conceived by Michael Graves in the 1980s, the building is a postmodern showpiece that nods to Mediterranean roots. The grounds are full of flowers and gardens and caves to explore. The winery offers a series of laid-back options that even include the popular, and so rarely found, vineyard picnic. (Very few wineries have the sought-after picnicking permit.) In addition to the usual tasting and tour options, you can sit down for a wine and food pairing in the caves, go for a barrel tasting, or have a private picnic for two. You’ll find that all of the wines here are reasonably priced and high quality. The brooding syrah ($45) and savory merlot ($45) from the Hommage series are hard to beat. Appointment required for some options; $30–$75 per person.

Brian Arden Wines
Situated on the north end of the Silverado Trail in Calistoga, Brian Arden Wines isn’t far off the beaten path. But it is a more recent addition to the trail that’s definitely worth a stop. The modern farm-style building is souped up with lighting and an atmosphere befitting a concert space. Here you can just show up without a reservation (if you have a group of six or fewer) and spend 45 minutes tasting trough about seven wines, depending on what they have. Make sure to try the refreshing sauvignon blanc ($34), intensely flavorful zinfandel ($45), and flashy, nuanced B.A. Red Blend ($45). If you want to plunk down $85, you can chat with the chef while you enjoy wine pairings with treats from the garden, plus a tour of the grounds. Appointment required for groups of 7 or more; $30–$85 per person.


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