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Calistoga AVA
Calistoga AVA
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Calistoga AVA
Calistoga AVA
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Calistoga AVA
Calistoga AVA

Images Courtesy of Suzanne Becker Bronk

The Calistoga AVA is a Napa Valley Appellation located in the northern part of Napa County, California. The Calistoga Appellation features volcanic soil and is known for its high diurnal variation, or the intraday change in temperatures from high to low during growing season.

Appellation Details

The Calistoga AVA is the most northerly of the “valley floor” appellations and also the hottest. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides, except where it borders St. Helena to the south. Here the valley floor is higher than in the south, so the lowest elevation is around 300 feet (91m). The soils are primarily volcanic in origin and volcanic activity still abounds in the region – Calistoga first became famous for its mineral-rich hot springs. Indeed, it’s very name hearkens to this, Calistoga standing for “California Saratoga.”

Calistoga’s orientation – ringed by mountains and far away from the cooling influence of the San Pablo Bay, creates a hot environment that makes for some ripe, rich reds that are dark in color and deep in flavor. That said, there are cooler micro- climates where elegance is achieved, such as in the northeast canyons where alpine drafts flow down from the mountain, delaying ripening and helping to retain acidity. The Chalk Hill Gap to the west is also an important feature, as it allows some Pacific influence to penetrate.

Calistoga is located at the top of the Napa Valley and is one of the most geologically uniform of all the Napa Valley AVAs, featuring primarily volcanic soil. All of the Calistoga AVA lies above 300 feet above sea level and vineyards are planted as high as 1200 feet above sea level. Typically higher elevation corresponds with cooler night time temperatures allowing for more acid retention and more balanced wines.


  • 300 to 1200 feet (92 to 370 m)


  • Volcanic in origin
  • Rocky, stony loam soils on hillsides
  • Gravelly or cobbly loam on alluvial fans
  • Heavier clay-silt soils in the valley center areas


  • Warm to hot, depending upon the time of year.
  • Daytime summer temperatures may peak above 100°F (38°C) and fall to the low 40s°F(6°C) at night due to cool afternoon and evening breezes drawn in from the Chalk Hill Gap from the Pacific.


  • Up to 60 inches (97 to 150 cm) annually

Principal Varieties:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Zinfandel
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Merlot
  • Petite Syrah
  • Cabernet Franc

Calistoga AVA History

Samuel Brannan

Samuel Brannan

The upper Napa Valley where the Calistoga AVA and the town of Calistoga are currently located was originally the home of indigenous native Americans called the "Wappo" tribe by Spanish and Mexicans. What would become Calistoga was the location of several early native villages. The Wappo considered the area to be a healing place due to the natural hot springs and called it "Nilektsonoma", which translates to "Chicken Hawk Place." The area was known as "Hot Springs" to the early Americans and "Aqua Caliente" by Spaniards and Californios.

In 1841 the area in which the Calistoga AVA is located was part of the Rancho Carne Humana land grant, which was given to Dr. Edward Turner Bale by General Mariano Vallejo as payment for his services as "Surgeon-in-Chief of the Mexican Army." When Dr. Bale died in 1849, his family started to sell off portions of his vast land grant.

In 1867, Samuel Brannon purchased 2000 acres of what is now Calistoga with the idea of founding a hot spring spa, similar to one at the time called Saratoga Springs in New York. The name of the town of Calistoga and the appellation dates back to 1867 when early settler Sam Brannan established the town of Calistoga. It is said that the name of Calistoga was inspired by a slip of the tongue. While talking about a future "Saratoga of California", he accidentally said "Calistoga of Sarifornia" and the name was born. Samuel Brannon was also the first person to plant grape vineyards in the area in 1862.

While Calistoga was recognized as a distinct wine growing area in the 1881 book "History of Napa and Lake Counties", it was officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 2010. When the appellation petition was first filed by Bo Barrett in 2003, there were two local wineries who did not support the proposal because United States Wine Law requires that wineries use at least 85% of grapes produced in appellation if they use the appellation name on branding. While the petition for the Calistoga AVA was eventually approved in 2009, the wineries located within the AVA were allowed three years to become compliant with the law or change their name.


"Calistoga AVA is topographically more diverse but geologically more uniform than these other AVAs that include valley floor environments"
- Jonathan Swinchatt, PhD

Notable Wines sourced from Calistoga AVA

Work Vineyard
Work Vineyard 2017 'Lamya's Cabernet Sauvignon' Cabernet Sauvignon

The total production from our Calistoga Estate this vintage is smaller than usual, but the quality is superb. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that is carefully tended throughout the season and night harvested, by hand on a crisp autumn morning, this wine can be enjoyed upon release but given proper cellaring, the wine will continue to age gracefully for another 10 to 15 years.

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GRO Wines
GRO Wines 2019 'Frediani Vineyard' Cabernet Franc

The Frediani family has been farming in Calistoga at the base of the Palisades mountain range for over 100 years. Their vines, grown using the 'old school Italian' technique of grape growing, with minimal watering or canopy manipulation, struggle in the red dirt soil. The older Cabernet Franc vines especially benefit from this treatment--the floral complexity that can only be achieved with vine age blooms over the rich, concentrated mouthfeel.

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The Wager
The Wager 2016 'The Wager' Cabernet Sauvignon

2016 Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon from Tamara's Vineyard situated in foothills of Mt St Helena and fortified by the rich volcanic soils.

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La Sirena
La Sirena 2016 'Barrett & Barrett' Cabernet Sauvignon

Barrett & Barrett was founded in 2008 by the husband-and-wife winemaking team of Bo & Heidi Barrett as their first collaborative wine, following parallel careers of more than 30 years in the wine industry. A single wine from a single property, Barrett & Barrett Calistoga Estate Cabernet Sauvignon represents Bo's wine-growing experience gained over decades farming Chateau Montelena's vineyards in the Calistoga AVA (which he led to gain officially-recognized AVA status in 2010), and Heidi's expertise in crafting the finest "cult cabs" of Napa Valley (including Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Grace Family, and numerous others).

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Calistoga Resources and References

  1. Calistoga Appellation. Official Website.
  2. "§ 9.209 Calistoga" (Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Part 9 — American Viticultural Areas; Subpart C — Approved American Viticultural Areas). Code of Federal Regulations. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  3. Manfreda, John J. (March 30, 2005). "Proposed Establishment of the Calistoga Viticultural Area (2003R-496P)". Federal Register (Doc. 05-6350). Retrieved May 2, 2020. Examination of DAYMET data indicates that most of the proposed viticultural area-mountain slopes and valley floor alike-lies within Region III, defined as the range of 3000 to 3500 degree days.
  4. "Napa Valley Appellations and Wine Growing Regions". Napa Valley Vintners. Archived from the original on June 24, 2011. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  5. SteveLay. "Newest AVA-Do you buy wines based upon an AVA?-Calistoga AVA". Archived from the original on March 26, 2012. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  6. Sullivan, Charles L (1994). Napa Wine: A History from Mission Days to Present. Wine Appreciation Guild. ISBN 978-0-932664-70-9.
  7. Gordon, Jim (December 3, 2009). "Contested Calistoga AVA Approved". Wines & Vines. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  8. Palmer, Lyman L.; Wells, Harry Laurenz (1881). History of Napa and Lake Counties, California. Slocum, Bowen & Company. ISBN 978-1363000555.
  9. Weber, Lin (1998). Old Napa Valley: The History to 1900. Wine Ventures Publishing. ISBN 9780966701401.

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