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Chateau Montelena Pushes for Calistoga Appellation

Napa town known for its Cabernets would join Oakville, Rutherford and others in having its own AVA designation.

Lynn Alley
Posted: September 29, 2003

Napa Valley is already divided into 13 subappellations, but the Calistoga area -- although as well-known nowadays for its Cabernets as for its hot springs -- is not among them. Chateau Montelena co-owner and winemaker Bo Barrett is trying to change that.

Barrett has filed a petition with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau seeking to establish an official Calistoga American Viticultural Area, around the township of Calistoga in northwestern Napa Valley.

The towns of Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Yountville all have their own AVAs, as do many of the mountain areas in Napa. So Barrett thought it made sense to allow winegrowers in the Calistoga area to place the prestigious name on their labels.

He explained that he initially felt the need to petition for an AVA when touring Germany with his Napa colleagues two years ago. "The Napa Valley Vintners Association had this groovy colored map of the Napa Valley AVA's, but Calistoga was missing," he said. "If you didn't know better, you might not realize that Calistoga was a part of the Napa Valley."

Yet Chateau Montelena helped bring world attention to Napa Valley nearly 30 years ago during the famous 1976 blind tasting in Paris in which French wine critics preferred the estate's 1973 Chardonnay to many top white Burgundies. And among the 15 or so wineries lying within the proposed AVA are Araujo, Clos Pegase, Robert Pecota and Sterling Vineyards.

The proposed appellation would encompass about 7 square miles of land on the valley floor and in the adjacent mountains, with elevations ranging from 300 to 1,200 feet. The area is bordered on the west by the Mayacamas mountain range (which separates Napa from Sonoma) and on the east by the Vaca range. The appellation would be north of the St. Helena district, west of the Howell Mountain AVA, east of the Diamond Mountain AVA and just below Napa County's northern border.

Some of the Calistoga area is unplantable because of the geothermal springs, but there are currently about 2,500 to 3,000 acres of vineyards, according to the petition. The most prominent grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, Barrett said.

Although Barrett drafted the AVA petition, he said, "Bart Araujo and I resisted the idea at first. We think it's more important for all the Napa Valley vintners to stick together; all the sub-appellations should work together. We want to avoid the type of micro-breaking-down seen in Bordeaux. I still feel strongly about it."

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Learn more about Calistoga and other Napa Valley sub-appellations:

  • March 8, 2000
    Calistoga and Napa Valley appellation map
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