This Is Calistoga

Ask A Local: Where Can I Find the Authentic, Calistoga Winery Experience?

Our Ask a Local blog series is designed for guests who want insider knowledge about the town’s authentic, laid-back style. This series is all about locals’ tips on where to go, what to do and what makes Calistoga unique!

Laura Swanton, owner and President of Laura Michael Wines, (as well as self-proclaimed “Chief of Everything” in her business), is a big fan of Calistoga’s “small, tight knit community.” One of the things that makes our town so special is the authentic sense of community that visitors get from the moment they arrive. Despite its location in one of the most legendary wine growing regions in the world, Calistoga retains its heart, its charm and its quirky, boutique wineries.

Laura’s winery is no exception, as she and her husband, Michael, work in the tasting room themselves. Most of the week, you will find one or both of them in the tasting room, (with their faithful dogs nearby), pouring wine and showing guests what makes Calistoga unique. With the hundreds of wineries in the Napa Valley, the experience of engaging directly with the winery owners and winemakers is not as readily available as it once was. Luckily, you can still experience this authentic vibe at Calistoga’s many family-owned wineries. Kicking back in the beautiful rose garden and enjoying the vineyard views at Laura Michael Wines with a flight of their signature Zinfandels is “a throwback to the more rustic character that once was all of Napa Valley.”

We asked Laura what makes Calistoga special to her and why she and her husband choose to make their home here. Here’s what she had to say:

What first brought you to Calistoga? What was the pivotal moment you knew you belonged here?

I purchased my winery in 1999 and moved to Calistoga full time in 2002. My desire to be here was driven by my business investment, but soon turned to enjoying the Calistoga community and all it has to offer.

What would you suggest someone do on their first trip to Calistoga?

My must-do list would include:

  • Traditional mud bath followed by a massage and some time in the garden at Indian Springs Resort.
  • Wine tastings:  Brian Arden Wines on one day,  Laura Michael Wines and Chateau Montelena on another. Make sure you bring along some snacks from CalMart, our local, independent grocery store which also has an attended cheese section to make your picnic easy and complete!
  • Get a delicious and hearty breakfast at Solbar at Solage Resort. On the weekend, choose brunch at Lovina or Evangeline – YUM!
  • Don’t miss a bit of shopping in our downtown area – cute boutiques, gift shops, wine tasting rooms and more!
  • For the sports lover, close the evening taking in your favorite sports team at Johnny’s, where you will find the best sports bar food ever and beer brewed in-house!

If Calistoga was a celebrity, who do you think it would be and why?

Dick Van Dyke. His mantra is to keep moving, evolving, changing – don’t stop moving or you’ll fade away. Calistoga has been around a long time and has evolved as Napa Valley has grown and changed. We haven’t lost our small town feel, and we continue to entertain every single day.

What is your favorite spot to unwind at the end of another glorious Wine Country day?

Besides the back deck of my house, which overlooks our vineyard and Oat Hill, we love to relax at the end of the day on the patio at Sam’s Social Club. Choose to sit at tables under umbrellas or enjoy a nice glass of wine by the fire! Another great spot is the beer garden at Calistoga Inn. A dozen or more craft beers, produced on-site, along with a selection of locally sourced wine flights makes for a lovely evening next to the Napa River. And, if shellfish is your thing, Veraison has a great oyster bar and terrific wine list every night of the week!