If you thought you knew everything there was to know about Calistoga’s winery scene, you might need a refresher course, because several wineries in the region have been upgrading their facilities.
Storied 19th-century wineries like Chateau Montelena and Larkmead Vineyards have or are just completing extensive upgrades — Montelena receiving recognition just recently as an Historic Place on the National Registry. Construction also is under way at T-Vine Cellars, Joseph Cellars and Brian Arden Winery.
An off-the-beaten-path winery originally founded in 1992 on the Old Lawley Toll Road, T-Vine Cellars is emerging right in the middle of Calistoga with a new winery and tasting room at the town’s gateway on Highway 29 near Lincoln Avenue. Purchased by partners Chuck Easley, Jim Regusci and James Harder in 2009, by early summer visitors will have a place to taste the wines by longtime winemaker Fernando Candelario.
Here the winemaking and hospitality facilities are purposefully designed to complement the neighboring old farmhouses by having winemaking in one building and tastings in another, keeping both small in scale.
Easley said production will remain at between 4,000 to 5,000 cases annually. They use grapes only from heritage vineyard sites with older vines and, as he points out, there’s not much more to be found.
T-Vine wines will continue to be distributed via wholesale channels to their loyal following, but Easley said this new facility will allow them to offer their wines more easily to consumers. The new project is within the city limits and is not confined by the Winery Definition Ordinance, so will be open to the public. The projected opening is this June.
Just a little south of downtown on Highway 29 a new winery, Joseph Cellars, is rising on a hillside overlooking its 32 acres of cabernet sauvignon vines.
Joe Bartholomew with his wife Nicole and their children, own Joseph Cellars. Their plans are to make cabernet, chardonnay and zinfandel and their dream is to seed a family legacy.
Theinaugural release of their 2008 cabernet sauvignon captured a 91-point score in Wine Enthusiast. The wine was offered for tasting at the 2013 Calistoga Wine Growers tasting by man-of-many-hats Ace Yaksic of Joseph Cellars. Ace said the new facility is 20,000 square feet of caves that includes space for custom crush clients and barrel storage. The brand’s own production will be small, capping out at about 5,000 cases annually. The business model is to be nearly all direct-to-consumer.
The design is simple, with the top floor devoted to tasting rooms with cross-valley views. When complete, look for a fireplace, commercial kitchen and outdoor barbecue.
Yaksic said beginning in late spring public tastings will take place in a “garden party” setting in the winery’s courtyard and public areas of the caves. Work is expected to continue on the hospitality space through the summer months.
At the southern boundary of the Calistoga AVA is the enchanting and historic Larkmead Vineyards. Dating back to the mid-1800s the winery was renowned in its earlier days as home to San Francisco socialite and patron of the city’s firefighters, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, for whom Coit Tower was named.
A reading of the book “A Salon at Larkmead” finds that the notables of the day dined, drank and pondered life from the gardens of Larkmead.
The winery and its vineyards have been in the Solari family for more than 60 years, having been purchased by United Vintners after Coit’s death and later sold to the Solari family.
At Larkmead, construction is nearing completion on an enlarged barrel hall and fermentation room. Winemaker Dan Petroski said the winery is beginning to limit the sale of grapes from its 110-acre estate vineyard, which in the long run will allow some increase in production, still using their own fruit source.
He said the real benefit of the expansion is to continue to increase the wine’s quality by allowing him to keep the various small lots separate during fermentation and aging. The plans include a solar array on the roof, which will provide between 75 and 100 percent of the winery’s power.
The winemakers will be able to move into their new digs in late May or June, and visitors will find space for seated, more in-depth exploration of the wines in the Howard Backen-designed facility. Many know Kate Solari Baker’s evocative artwork featuring pastel interpretations of vineyard landscapes that have been chosen to represent Auction Napa Valley over the years. In the new space, look for a gallery showcasing her work.
Brian Arden Winery
Another newcomer to the Napa Valley, led by owner Brian Harlan, is the Brian Arden Winery on a two-acre parcel on Silverado Trail near Solage resort.
The winery, which began making Lake County wines from family vineyards, will develop its Napa portfolio to comply with the local rules that 75 percent of the winery’s fruit come from vineyards in the Napa Valley AVA. The project broke ground late last summer and continues this year.
In many ways, Calistoga is the center of action in the Napa Valley. One can still find renowned vintners at the local coffee shop on any given morning, or cheering their neighbors on at the annual Tractor Parade in December. And that posse of leather-clad bikers revving their hogs could very well include a financial investment advisor, or the senior partner at a law firm out collecting world-class wines from Calistoga.
Terry Hall is a Calistoga resident who runs his own communications, branding and event planning company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.