It hasn’t been all that long since Napa Valley’s hot and northern Calistoga area was awarded with its own AVA designation (for more on American Viticultural Areas, check out the Wikipedia article on the same topic). How has Calistoga wine fared since then, now that we’re coming up on some of the first bottlings to use the new AVA designation?
Based on my recent trip to Napa Valley, the answer is “pretty damn well.”
Napa Valley, for the most part, retains its varied soil profiles and gets warmer as you move north (much to the surprise and afternoon chagrin of many a tourist from the midwest and east coast), since the mitigating cooling effects that work their on the southern parts of the Valley have far less influence in the more northernly winegrowing areas. I can personally attest to the 100+ degree F roasting that is possible in the 2PM afternoon sun in Calistoga – not fun for humans, but certainly good for the ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Far more interesting than the hot daytime temperatures in Calistoga (to geeks like me, anyway) is the relative uniformity of the soil types found there – unlike the rest of the valley, the Calistoga soil is almost totally derived from volcanic types, and instead expresses its differences in more-or-less rocky profiles (more rocky on the hillsides, more gravelly on the alluvial fans, and more silty in the central areas). That’s not typical for Napa Valley, where you’re more likely to encounter anywhere from five to well over twenty different soil types within the same AVA.
The (relative) lack of soil differentiation hasn’t detracted from the Cabs one bit, which at their best tend to be less rounded in the palate than their southern Napa counterparts, and more focused in their black-fruit profiles. They don’t jump out at you, but after a few minutes in the glass they seduce the hell out of you. In a few cases, I was blown away by the quality of some of the wines that will be moving to the new Calistoga AVA on their labels – so don’t freak out when you start to encounter these beauties on the shelf, just because you aren’t yet familiar with the AVA on the label; you just might miss out on something stellar if you do!