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Mar 27, 2012 12:44 PM

Calistoga itinerary feedback needed for April trip

I'm planning an April trip to Calistoga. I would love a critique of this proposed itinerary to see how manageable everything would be at the extreme, but we plan to relax the itinerary to give us lots of flexibility.

SUNDAY: drive to Calistoga from Oakland
~noon: picnic before hitting Outpost Winery. We'll have food covered, but location suggestions welcome!
01:00 PM Outpost Wines ($25, good views, Sunday or Tuesday, reservations needed)
02:30PM O'Shaughnessy Estate Winery (?, 10AM-4PM, reservations needed)
04:00PM (30 minute drive) tasting at Vincent Arroyo ($10, 10AM-4:30reservations needed)
06:00PM check in at hotel
07:30PM dinner at JoLe

10:30AM light breakfast at Calistoga roastery
11:00AM tour at Schramsberg ($45, reservations needed, 75 minute tour
)01:00 lunch at Solbar
02:30PM Solage spa
05:00PM Happy hour & bocce at Solbar Locals Night
07:30PM Dinner: possibilities in St. Helena:

10:00AM Chateau Montelena ($20, 9:30-4:00, no reservations needed; early bird tasting 9:30-11AM
)11:30AM lunch at Cindy's
01:30PM Smith-Madron (no fee, Mon or Tues, 10AM-4PM, reservations needed
)03:00PM Pride Mountain Vineyards ($10, 10:30-3:45, reservations needed)
04:00PM Russian River Brewery
06:00PM head home

We're not dead set on any food or wine places, so a few questions:
(1) Is the Sunday itinerary feasible without rushing and are there any good picnic spots close to or at Outpost?
(2) Any dinner recommendations in Calistoga so that we won't have to drive to St. Helena on Monday (we'll have already eaten at JoLe and Solage, so downscale would be fine if it's interesting and good quality)?
(3) The best wineries around Calistoga seem to require reservations, and that reduces our flexibility. Any recommendations that permit walk-ins (pretty views/architecture are a plus, we're easy in terms of varietals)?


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  1. Your itinerary is great.

    The one time crunch that could happen is the 10:00 am Chateau Montelena - 1:30 PM Smith Madrone. The tasting and wandering the grounds at Chateau Montelena is 1 hr +.
    Getting to Cindy's and parking will take at least 30 minutes.
    You should allocate an hour and a half for Cindy's.
    Plus getting to Smith Madrone will take some 30 minutes.

    Kenefick in Calistoga is supposed to be good and no appt. needed (haven't been myself).
    Rombauer and Duckhorn don't require appointments and while not in Calistoga, they're not too far away (and on Silverado drive which is less trafficky than the main hwy).

    1 Reply
    1. re: goldangl95


      Padding in your recommended time on Tuesday will work out nicely, and might allow us to get to Russian River Brewery near dinner time.

      Excellent. I've added the following as options: ( $???, no appointment needed; SunMon 11-6; Tues 12-5
      ) ($15, no appointment needed, 10-5
      ) ($20, reservations encourages, 10-4:45?)

    2. Can you enjoy wine at 9:30 AM? Just asking,..beautiful wines can taste awfully bad that early.
      Though I think Montelena's wines (and even more, the grounds) are worth a visit.

      I don't think there's any way you can make Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa by 4 pm,
      and think your better bet might be to hit Silverado Brewery or the microbrewery at Calistoga Inn.
      Or, does Russian River Brewery have a particular draw for you?

      I love Pride. Please allow plenty of time to taste and linger and appreciate the phenomenal view.
      The picnic area is to die for.. I'd be tempted to do that for lunch,and hit Cindy's for dinner.

      Reservations may feel confining but they get you a much better, more intimate, visit, and a better tasting.

      I'd change your breakfast Monday to Cafe Sarafornia right across the street from Calistoga Roastery.. Better food and coffee all around. I know Calistoga Roastery and Sarafornia well -- I lived in Calistoga 14 years.

      You can picnic at Outpost. Pick up picnic supplies at Sunshine Market in St. Helena before heading up Deer Park Road to the winery. CalMart in Calistoga also has good picnic supplies.

      5 Replies
      1. re: maria lorraine

        Agree 100% with everything that maria told you. Even if you were at Pride for 10 minutes, you would not make RRB by 4:00 pm. The view at the picnic area at Pride is literally the best in all of Napa Valley and their wines are excellent. I would strongly consider relaxing taking in that view with some wine and a snack before dinner.

        We really like Jole, very talented chef.

        1. re: maria lorraine


          I totally agree that toothpaste and wine don't mix, but if it's a matter of going or not, I'd prefer to go. We'll fit in some breakfast and go a bit later, but before 11.

          I'm a big fan of Russian River Brewery's beers, and since it's on the way home, it's a priority. I'll bookmark those other breweries for after dinner though.

          Thanks for all the picnic advice-- that really helps give us flexibility, and we weren't dead set on Cindy's for lunch. We'll picnic at Outpost and Pride and add Cindy's to the dinner possibilities the night before.

          09:30AM light breakfast at
          10:30AM Chateau Montelena ($20, 9:30-4:00, no reservations needed; early bird tasting 9:30-11AM
          )12:30PM picnic/tasting at Pride Mountain Vineyards ($10, 10:30-3:45, reservations needed)
          03:00PM Smith-Madron (no fee, Mon or Tues, 10AM-4PM, reservations needed)
          05:00PM Russian River Brewery
          07:00PM head home

          1. re: hyperbowler

            Looks great. Have fun. Let Outpost know you'd like to picnic there.

            1. re: hyperbowler

              Some years ago the folks at Gallo told me that their research showed that tasting acuity was sharpest around 10am and that they conducted their important taste trials for blending decisions etc mid morning to take advantage of that. But I do recognize that critical acuity and enjoyment aren't necessarily related. :)

              Clever of you to swing thru Pride Mountain to the Sonoma County Side and drop down into. Santa Rosa and RRB in time for the start of happy hour. I'll echo the others that you need to give yourself more time at Pride to enjoy the scenery and hospitality.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Melanie, were you thinking that 2 1/2 hours isn't enough at Pride, or were you referring to my original plan being too rushed?

                Okay, I've made reservations so Monday is in the bag:
                10:30AM light breakfast at hotel or at
                11:15AM tour at Schramsberg (starts at 11:30
                )01:15 lunch at Solbar (package deal includes 1:30PM lunch, 3PM spa, & 4PM massage)
                05:30PM Happy hour & bocce at Solbar Locals Night
                07:30PM Solbar lounge

                We're going to eat at Solage for lunch and dinner in the interest of not having to drive to St. Helena after a relaxing day. Unless of course someone has an alternative besides JoLe (where we eat on Sunday)--- Brannan's gets reports for inconsistency and Calistoga Inn's menu isn't exciting me.

                Our winery picks are still in flux, especially considering our ability to afford bringing home bottles. goldangl95's suggestions are looking great, but I'm game for other suggestions/replacements on our path.

          2. Thanks for all the advice--- we had a wonderful trip. Owing to timing issues and agreeing that wine first thing in the morning isn't ideal, we wound up at three wineries, two breweries, and ate really well. It's awesome to be able to vacation so close to home!

            Sunday: Oakland to Calistoga

            ~2PM picnic at Rombauer (no reservations needed). The tasting room was packed, but not enough so that we couldn't chat with the staff. We did a $15 classic tasting of 4 wines, and they threw in an extra for free. We wound up picking up a bottle of their 2009 Napa Valley Zinfandel which was perhaps a bit too fruity, but very enjoyable. I'm not a huge Chardonnay fan, but I thought their buttery Chardonnay was especially unpalatable. The grounds are pretty and we found a nice picnic spot. I'd imagine this would be difficult earlier in the day or in high season.

            4PM Vincent Arroyo (reservation needed): Very personal and friendly customer service. We enjoyed most of what we sampled in the tasting room (including a Chardonnay), and were invited to taste three in-progress wines in the back. I'm going to return to pickup some wines when they're ready in September, including the port. There's not much shade, but they have a bunch of fun furniture made out of wine barrels outside, including rocking chairs.

            8PM JoLe: A more casual atmosphere than we were expecting, but that's what we like. They start you out with housemade bread, which is cooked in an oven with almond wood. It gives the bread a wonderful smoky flavor. We decided to do the 4 course small plate "tasting menu," which means you each get to choose 3 savory + 1 sweet item, but are not required to choose the same ones. Our favorite dish was the scallops, which were perfectly seared and coated in a subtle strawberry glaze. The short-ribs and lamb "t-bone" were well executed. The bacon-wrapped sweetbreads tasted mainly of bacon, with the sweetbreads contributing more texture than flavor. Our least favorite was a dungeness crab salad, which is off season enough that we shouldn't have gotten it. The steak dish was rare but overly chewy.

            Monday: Calistoga

            10:15AM We went for breakfast at Cafe Sarafornia, and were immediately seated. I'm so glad we followed maria lorraine's advice-- we loved it! They claim their huevos rancheros to be the "best" and they certainly lived up to being delicious. The apple crepe and blintz combo were smothered in a big dollop of sour cream and fresh fruit (huckleberries, bananas, strawberries, & melon). I can't remember having such a good blintz, even in NY, and theirs is filled with ricotta, lemon zest, and IIRC cream cheese.

            11:15AM tour at Schramsberg (reservation needed). I was at first intimidated by their $45 tour fee, but we both agreed that it was absolutely worth it. The guide was engaging, and explained in detail both the history of the Napa wine industry and how Schramsberg fit in. The wine caves were spectacular and the patterns of stacked bottles were gorgeous. We learned a lot about the sparkling wine making process, and he ingrained how much work and craft goes into each bottle. His demonstration of the riddling process was pretty cool. The samples were all top notch and generous pours, and there was plenty for second (or third) tastings.

            01:30-6:45PM we did a weekday special at Solage spa that covered lunch at Solbar w/ tip included (1:30), a mud treatment (3PM), massage (5:15) and plenty of time to swim in the pool before the massage and random times to lounge about or play bocce. We had an unbelievably relaxing time and I'd highly recommend this to couple's looking for a chill getaway. The lunch covered an entree per person and a non-alcoholic beverage (somehow we managed to get cocktails instead). The seared yellowfin tuna burger was served on a griddled steam bun with kim chi marinated fried tofu, edamame, and a radish salad. The salad was the strongpoint of this dish. This was the kind of well-seasoned tofu that could convert a soy nay-sayer to the fold. The burger was pretty good, but the bun got soggy. The crispy petrale sole tacos were served with a sweet and sour cabbage cilantro and spicy aioli on warm tortillas. The fish was expertly fried, and these could easily be the best fish tacos I've ever had. Actually, I wound up not eating the tortillas since their flavor tended to overpower what was inside.

            09:00PM Looking for a laid back and driving-free evening, we went to the Calistoga Brewery and Inn. The red ale was worth the visit, and the porter was pretty good too. The garlic fried calamari were fine and came with tartar sauce and cocktail sauce. Their cheeseburger was solid, but the risotto wasn't very good--- there were lots of fresh spring vegetables, but the rice was made using a weak broth and overcooked. We found the lampshades on each table quaint until after the meal when we noticed the massive amount of food splatter on them. Yuk... I'm really glad we hadn't noticed this at the beginning of the meal.

            Tuesday: St. Helena & Santa Rosa

            11:15 Model Bakery: their bread and lunch options looked great, but we wound up just getting two cookies since we had reservations at Cindy's.

            11:30 lunch at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena. Until it filled up near 12:00, we had the cute patio to ourselves and were seated beneath their fig tree. Amping up the atmosphere was the smell of ossobuco cooking in their outdoor oven. Our server pointed out their specialties, and we wound up choosing all of them. Their version of Oyster's Rockefeller, Oysters Bingo, was delicious and came with Hog Island oysters, Parmesan cheese, garlic, chipotles, and spinach. Their soup special was very satisfying. IIRC, it was a pureed spring onions and garlic soup w/ leeks and potato and topped with toasted almonds. The Rabbit Tostada came with red chile salsa, black beans & feta. It was a surprisingly light dish, and we loved the complement of the meaty rabbit flavor to the saltiness of the cheese. It had lots of good crunch and was carefully assembled. The Chinatown Duck Burger was also excellent, and came with house made shiitake mushroom ketchup & French fries. What sealed the dish, and acted as a great dip for the fries, was their housemade mustard (honey, mustard powder, and whipped creme fraiche). Combining food and atmosphere, this was probably my favorite meal of the trip. We were there for nearly 90 minutes, so goldangl95's timing advice was spot on.

            ~2PM Pride was closed on Tuesday, and Smith-Madron didn't have a 2PM opening, so we head straight to Russian River Brewery. We split a sampler of 16 beers, each with a 2 oz. pour. Not the ideal tasting method, but it's not like I come to Santa Rosa frequently... The Blind Pig IPA and Pliny the Elder were my favorite IPA's, but I knew that since I drink those regularly. The Salvation strong dark ale and Benediction abbey double were two new discoveries, and they even tasted great when sipped in an order meant to subvert their good qualities. The Russian River Porter and Consecration were great, but very sensitive to ordering. The food didn't look very good, so I was glad to have already been full from Cindy's.

            1 Reply
            1. re: hyperbowler

              Thank you for the report. I hope you had a fun time. Too bad you missed Pride, but it sounds as if the afternoon contained other pleasures. Glad you enjoyed Schramsberg. It is truly wonderful.