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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Tag: Calistoga

Ride a Gondola to a Wine Tasting at Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley

Paula Gaston

Two weeks ago we did a trip to Napa Valley which I already told about you on my last post. We went to view wineries, ate well and enjoyed the mineral pools at our hotel spa. The first winery we visited was Sterling Vineyardsille which right by the city of Calistoga. While driving over the sun came out and the spring day could have not been more prettier.

 

STERLING VINEYARDS

Sterling Vineyards was started in 1964 by an Englishman Peter Newton. He visited California and fell in love with the beauty and wines of Napa Valley and decided to invest in his own vineyard. Later he purchased more land from close by and built a winery building at the top of the mountain hill at the premises. The building got its inspiration from a Greek island Mykonos where Newton used to also live. Winery was first opened to public in 1972.

At some point Newton bought an old church bell from England and brought it with him to the vineyard. The bells originally belonged to St. Dunstan Church which got destroyed in the World War II and was located in London. Today the bells are in use, and they ring in every 15 minutes. At this point I have to admit though, that while our visit to Sterling I didn’t hear or notice the bells, so they must not be very loud.

Sterling Vineyards produces Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Shiraz. One of the biggest achievements for Sterling must of been the win at Ottawa Wine Tasting in 1981. Their wines were also used at 2016 Annual Emmy Awards and 2017 Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. The vineyard have changed owners multiple times in the past, and one of the most interesting owners is the Coca-Cola Company. Today it is owned by a big alcohol company.

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WINE TOUR WITH EVERYTHING

From this winery I remember more the experience than their wines. Up to the winery you take a gondola that fits four people at the time. The views up at the mountain and from the gondola are of course great. Right after getting out of the gondola they have the first tasting spot and then you can start the self guided tour. You will walk through the winery tasting different wines in different rooms, and looking at the wine making videos from huge tv screens.

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The tour ended to a sun deck which had a beautiful view to the vineyard. Of course it would have been even more beautiful at summer or fall time since now the vines didn’t have any leaves. They also had a restaurant at the deck which you access by making a reservation.

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I have to say that the tour was really well organised and they had thought of everything when planning this. But it somehow was lacking some personal contact. Of course, if you pay more you can get a host for your group and better quality wines, but I thought that $35 for a wine tasting was already enough. They sure know how to commercialise everything in Napa Valley. After the tour you get to keep the wine glass as a souvenir. Just like other wineries, this too had all kinds of souvenir shops and other things. But for the first time I saw that some place is selling boxes of wines at the parking lot with discounted prices.

After Sterling we continued to other wineries. This was truly an interesting start for our day at Napa Valley.

A Perfect Weekend Getaway to Napa Valley

Paula Gaston

It has been a long time since I have been Napa Valley, the most famous wine growing region of the United States. There are so many wine areas in California, and Napa Valley out of all of them, is by far the most expensive to visit. That might be why we don’t often go there even though it is only a couple hours drive from our home. This time we decided to do a little getaway weekend with my girlfriends, and combine a wine trip with a little spa retreat. And it was so worth it! It was great to have some time off from home and being a mom, and just be with friends enjoying the springtime sun.

 
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We left the San Francisco Bay Area in my friend’s van, and we had booked a driver for our group for a whole day in Napa Valley. She was already waiting for us when we arrived to our hotel in the town of Calistoga. She’d made us some reservations to four different wineries and so we headed to our wine tour. My favourite places in Napa Valley are absolutely both Calistoga and St Helen where they have many nice wineries and spas. Since it is a volcanically active area, many spa hotels use the mineral water from the hot springs at their pools. They usually also offer many kind of treatments like mud baths.

NAPA VALLEY’S FOUR DIFFERENT KINDS OF WINERIES

We started our tour from Sterling Vineyards. I actually wasn’t so excited after seeing their website, since it seemed to be showing only millenials partying in their night club clothes rather than the wine. But our driver assured me that this would be a nice place to visit…and it was. The wines didn’t really strike me well, but people are taken up the hill to the winery in a gondola and the views are great of course. Like so many other wineries in Napa Valley, you are paying for the experience rather than the tasting itself. The tasting included a self guided tour at the winery, gondola ride and a wine glass to take home.

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At our next winery, Frank Family Vineyards, we had planned a picnic lunch. Before leaving on the tour, we stopped at a little market in downtown Calistoga and got some salads and sandwiches. Our driver Linda was well prepared for this too; she had brought a picnic basket with plates and everything. From the winery we bought a couple bottles of bubbly for the lunch and enjoyed their picnic area outside. So we didn’t actually try their tasting menu, but the wines we chose for the lunch were excellent.

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After our picnic lunch we headed to the third winery which actually has a long history in Napa Valley. There are two reasons why this vineyard is important to Napa. Some of you might have heard of the so-called Judgement of Paris in 1976. It was a wine tasting contest organised in France and done blind folded. To everyone’s surprise, a wine from Napa Valley won. Normally the French were kind of laughing at Americans and their wines, but now they had to admit that there was something better than French wines. The winning wine was from a winery called Chateau Montalena which still exists in Calistoga, and where we have visited earlier. In that same competition, fourth place went to another wine from Napa Valley called Spring Mountain Vineyards. And that is where we headed next.

Another reason why this winery is known, is a television show from the 80’s called Falcon Crest. It was filmed here and even the main house from the show is at the vineyard. Spring Mountain is a very private and calm place, and they only take a handful of visitors who have made a reservation beforehand. And the wines? Amazing! But also very pricey. Many of them can only be bought straight from the winery.

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Mumm Napa, the last place we visited, ended up being a waste of time. Not because it was bad, but because we were late from our schedule and they had given our table away. Wineries in Napa close early—around 4 or 5 pm—and we wanted to get to the hotel anyway before our dinner reservation, so even though we could have waited to get another table, we decided to head out. I didn’t mind so much, because I have visited it many times. Mumm Napa is very popular among the visitors and I recommend making a reservation if you plan to go there.

I will tell you about all these wineries more later.

EATING, SHOPPING AND BATHING

There are many small, nice restaurants in downtown Calistoga. We actually voted about where to go, and a French restaurant “Veraison” won. It was a great choice. Nothing extra special, but the food was good and they paired everything with wine of course. I went with the chef’s menu which had Osso Bucco as a main course. The next day before heading home we also had a brunch at Sam’s Social Club which had a great outside patio. After bathing and swimming, the avocado toast with mimosa was to die for.

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If you are staying the night in Calistoga, you should absolutely choose one of the spa hotels, so you can try out the warm mineral pools. This time our hotel had two saunas: a dry sauna and a steaming one. From the sauna, we ran to the pool area, where the water comes from the warm springs in Calistoga. The hot tub was way too hot for me in the sun, but I did enjoy the actual mineral water pool. The water looks a little different from the regular pool water, but they do say that it can be a different color at different times of the year. Some hotels also offer mud baths with volcanic mud or other treatments. Last time we did try the mud bath and it was a fun experience.

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When we left back home, we stopped in the city of Napa to visit the Oxbow Public Market. It’s a market place where local producers sell their products, food and wines. It was a great place to buy something to take home with you.

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This kind of weekend more please! What is your best getaway weekend activity?