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One Day to Play in Calistoga

Calistoga Ranch

Dreaming of this? Calistoga Ranch, photo courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler

At the top of Napa Valley, Calistoga sits right in between Napa and Sonoma counties. It’s different. It’s wine country, but life in Calistoga doesn’t feel like it revolves around grapes and vineyards. It’s about water, wine and mud, and not necessarily in that order.

If you go to Calistoga on a bit of a whim, there are plenty of wineries and vineyards to fill a day without a plan. But if you have time to be organized and make reservations, you’ll discover a new way to taste wine in Calistoga. One without crowds, where you meet and get to know the folks responsible for the wine being poured in your glass.

You’ll be excited to meet Suzanne Phifer Pavitt in person, after speaking with her over the phone. Born and raised in rural Georgia, she’s a Southern gal who believes in hospitality and is the driving force behind Phifer Pavitt Date Night Wine.

Located right on Silverado Trail, keep your eyes peeled for the cutout metal cowgirl next to the driveway. It’s easy to lose track of address numbers and blow right by. As you turn into the driveway, you’ll see the beautiful old barn that’s been given new life as the winery. Phifer Pavitt took it apart and moved it from another property across town to build the winery. She’s big on recycling and re-using and does it with beautiful results. Downstairs is where the action happens, upstairs is where you get to enjoy the results. You’ll taste and talk about everything from wine to food to family. Tasting is $40 per person, waived with the purchase of three bottles per person. Reservations required.

Kelly Flemming

Kelly Fleming Wines

Kelly Fleming moved to the Napa Valley from Arizona in 1999 to turn her dream of a small family winery in reality. Just down the road from Phifer Pavitt, your first impression most likely won’t be small. Think more along the lines of stunning. A farmer at heart, at first Fleming thought she’d grow and sell grapes, not make her own wine. Talking with visitors before their arrival is a priority, so she can tailor the tasting experience. You might spend time in the vineyard, learn how the tanks in the fermentation room do their job, or do some exploring in the winery’s limestone caves that extend more than 200 feet into the hillside. Be sure to ask her about her hand painted wine barrels. Tasting is $40 per person. Reservations required.

Jericho Canyon Vineyard

Jericho Canyon Vineyard

The redwood barn-style winery at Jericho Canyon Vineyard is eye catching, but it’s hard to compete with the land that surrounds it. The Bleecher Family has preserved 70 percent of the property as wildlife habitat. Forty acres of grapes follow the hillside, leaving 90 acres for wildlife. Wear good shoes so you can walk in the vineyard and learn about grape leaf structure or admire the Queen Anne’s lace that grows as a cover crop between the vines. Better yet, take a Polaris ATV tour to see remote corners of the rugged estate like the reservoir, affectionately called the Blackberry Pond by some of the family. Turtles, quail, wild turkeys, colorful dragonflies and koi fish are just a few of the critters you might see around the pond. As hard as it is to go inside, you’ll want to check out the 6-thousand square foot cave drilled into the hillside behind the winery. Tasting is $30 per person, Polaris ATV Tour and tasting is $75 per person. Reservations required.

Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs Resort

Courtesy of Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs Resort

Calistoga’s historic hot springs have been attracting visitors since the mid-1800’s. There are plenty of options to soak it up in Calistoga, but the iconic Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort is the name most know. Maybe it’s the original sign that’s welcomed folks since 1952, or the fact that the same family has been unlocking the doors all those years or maybe it’s because of the mud. Dr. Wilkinson researched mud mixtures before settling on the secret formula that his son and daughter still use today. Mixed with local volcanic ash and mineral water from the hot spring on the property, the mud bath experience shouldn’t be compared with your typical day at the spa. It’s a unique experience all its own. And in case you’re wondering, the post-mud mineral water soak gets rid of any of the brown stuff that may have found its way into hidden crevices. Another recommended option is across the street at the more luxurious Indian Springs resort, where you can also indulge in a mud bath, swim in the gorgeous heated mineral pool, and spend the night.

Unless you are the especially modest type, there’s no need for a swimsuit. Block off a couple hours of your day and relax getting dirty. If another day of soaking it up sounds like a good plan, you can spend the night at the Resort. Its location, right on Lincoln Avenue can’t be beat.

Down the road a bit, The Sunburst Calistoga is now open. Operating for less than two months, the exterior is still a work in progress, but the rooms are modern and fun.

Dana can be found on Twitter @drebmann

Dana received a complimentary treatment at Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.