The mission of the Calistoga Winegrowers (CWG) is to promote and protect the past, present and future of grape growing and winemaking in the Calistoga AVA. We hope to do this by celebrating the history of Calistoga and raising awareness of this special place through educational and marketing programs that are both inclusive and fun.
The History of Calistoga
Calistoga’s colorful personality is a reflection of its history. The geothermal waters that bubble to the earth’s surface here are rich in magnesium and calcium, which first attracted the Native Americans who gathered here for detoxification and purification.
It wasn’t just the water that attracted trailblazers: the volcanic soils attracted those who preferred wine to water, starting as early as 1862. In the early 1870s, Sam Brannan arrived. His vision was to turn the waters into a world-class spa destination to be known as the “Saratoga of California.” But after imbibing a bit too much brandy at a dinner party, he misspoke, proclaiming the place the “Calistoga of Sarafornia” – and the name stuck: in 1886, the town was incorporated as Calistoga.
Since then, other intrepid souls have followed in the footsteps of these early settlers to make world-class wines in this little jewel of a misnamed place tucked at the top of Napa Valley. And in 2009, Calistoga’s special geology, geography and climate earned it the status as its own sub-appellation within the Napa Valley.
Geology of Calistoga
The entirety of the Calistoga AVA is underlain by volcanic bedrock and sediments, making it geologically more uniform that other AVAs with valley floor environments, which are usually comprised of marine sedimentary rocks on the west side and volcanic on the east side.
But Calistoga is also topographically more diverse than other AVAs, ranging from steep mountains to valley floor. That valley floor, though, has very little flat ground, as most of it reflects the slopes of alluvial fans, gentle on the north and steeper on the south. And its slope and exposure to the sun are quite distinct from that from any other AVA in the Napa Valley.
Climate of Calistoga
The Calistoga region, from valley floor to mountains, is part of a single climatic regime characterized by hot days (which provide color and big berry fruit) and cool nights (which maintain good acid balance for structure and power) – ideal growing conditions for premium wine grapes.
It’s often assumed that Calistoga has the highest temperatures of any location within the Napa Valley. The hottest single spot in the valley is close to Bale Lane (one of the southern boundaries of the Calistoga AVA) but the hottest regions run from Stag’s Leap District to south of Dutch Henry Canyon along the base of the Vaca Mountains.
The Calistoga AVA is cooled by air currents drawn in from the Russian River; these currents are strong enough to support the sailplanes that were headquartered for years at the Gliderport in downtown Calistoga. While daytime peak temperatures can reach about 100 degrees at mid-day, the hot air rises and mixes with cooling breezes from the Russian River in the late afternoon until after sunset, cooling the valley floor to about 65 degrees. In addition, cooling breezes flow down the slopes of both the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains: on fog-free nights, the cool air moving downslope can bring the temperature down another 12–15 degrees.
Rainfall in Calistoga is typically higher than elsewhere, with the highest recorded on Mount St. Helena. Precipitation is highest in the mountains, up to 60-plus inches per year. The valley floor ranges from 20-55 inches.