Calistoga finally gets its AVA

Scott Greenberg,

While many California wine lovers know that the town of Calistoga is located at the northern most edge of Napa Valley, most probably did not realize that until recently, wines produced in or near Calistoga could not reference the area on the label. That’s because Calistoga and the surrounding area was not recognized as a separate American Viticultural Area (AVA). The wines were traditionally labeled as “Napa Valley.”

An AVA is a specific geographic region that is demarcated by unique characteristics such as soil type, climate and physical landmarks such as rivers, lakes and valleys that clearly distinguish it from other surrounding areas. It can be large or small and can cross political and administrative borders, such as county and state lines.

However, a bottle labeled with a specific AVA must contain wine that was produced in the AVA from grapes – at least 85 percent – that were grown in the AVA. “Produced” means that the grapes must be crushed, fermented, and vinified into wine in the AVA.

Calistoga is known as an area that has large swings in daytime and nighttime temperatures and contains rich volcanic soils. This combination produces very structured wines with ripe fruit and high acidity. Now it is a place that Calistoga wineries can finally call their own.

Consulting winemaker August “Joe” Briggs knew that he could capitalize on his experience and contacts in Napa to produce exceptional wines, so in 1995 he and his wife Sally founded August Briggs Winery in Calistoga.

Today, winemaker Jesse Inman carries on the tradition of producing hand-crafted wines.

The 2010 August Briggs Zinfandel is a charming wine with balance finesse. The fragrant nose of blueberry liqueur, blackberry and cherry is a tantalizing precursor to the full, ripe flavors of spicy cherry, raspberry and red plum. The wine is kept in balance by loads of soft tannins and noticeable acidity. Characteristic notes of black pepper and dried sage slide in on the lengthy finish. $33

In 2002, Randy and Lisa Lynch where looking to crush some grapes that they were growing on their second-home property when they stumbled on a facility for sale. They ended up buying the winery and naming it Bennett Lane Winery. Today, the Lynch’s own vineyards located throughout Napa Valley, but the 2008 Lynch Family Estate Cabernet is made exclusively from the best grapes grown on the 12 acre parcel surrounding the their home in Calistoga. The wine possesses intoxicating aromas of dark red fruit, violets and cocoa. Richly textured flavors of blackberry, dark cherry and blueberry jam jump out on the front of the tongue while subtle notes of black plum and vanilla fill in on the supple, incredibly lengthy finish. $95

Chateau Montelena is one of the most famous wineries in Calistoga. Jim Barrett, along with his son Bo, began making wines at Chateau Montelena in 1972 and quickly gained fame when their 1973 Chardonnay was voted the best white wine over other famous French wines at a tasting in Paris in 1976. Today, Bo heads up the winemaking team and continues to produce world-class wines. The 2008 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely a big splurge, but the expansive flavors of cassis, dark plum and black cherry, and the powerful-yet-elegant finish is definitely worth the price. Lingering notes of dark chocolate and rich espresso complete the picture. $140

Other wineries in Calistoga that have plans to incorporate the Calistoga AVA on their label in the near future include:

  • Sterling Vineyards
  • Frank Family Vineyards
  • Von Strasser Winery

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