Calistoga and Saint Helena: Sun, local food and wine at your fingertips

VGS Chateau Potelle.
The starting lineup at VGS Chateau Potelle.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

After more than five months in the City, I’m starting to finally feel like I have a handle of the neighborhoods, my commute and my watering holes. But like any other restless traveler, I’m constantly looking elsewhere to explore. After my first trip to Napa Valley a couple months ago, I was long overdue for some wine tasting, farm-to-table eating and legit wine country sun. Thankfully a trip to Calistoga was just what the doctor ordered.

Where to stay

Walking around the grounds of Brannan Cottage Inn, you’ll find plenty of greenery and trees older than the building itself.

I first heard about Brannan Cottage Inn back in February and had been dying to see one of Napa Valley’s most historic inns in real life. The building dates back to 1860 but its complete restoration has perfectly mingled its historic character with modern necessities. Outdoor spaces, trees twice the age of the building, lush amenities and a perfect location make Brannan Cottage Inn a perfect place to call home while you’re exploring the Valley.

Brannan Cottage Inn
USB jacks and a headphone sound system built into the wall. How genius is this?!

Each of the six rooms at Brannan Cottage Inn have their own distinct style, with nodes to the Art Deco and Victorian eras. I especially loved the lush bedding, robes, in-suite illy machines and modern conveniences in my room. Plus, the custom USB and headphone jack in the wall is a genius design move.

Brannan Cottage piano
Make sure to check out the beautiful piano in the breakfast nook

Make sure to spend some time in the front room after you check in or while you’re enjoying the complimentary coffee, tea and pastries in the morning. You’ll love all of the old photos of the Inn from back in the day, as well as a beautiful 1880 Guild, Church & Co. piano gifted by composer/conductor Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli.

If you’re new to the area, I highly recommend you let the concierge service at the Inn make recommendations on places to eat, play, shop and drink. I gave Eden Umble, the Inn’s Marketing and Hospitality Direction, an idea of my arrival time and interests and she made sure I got to see and do everything on my list.

Where to wine taste

Inside VGS Chateau Potelle.
Inside VGS Chateau Potelle.

Before checking in, I was able to experience a wine and food pairing at VGS Chateau Potelle in Saint Helena. The unassuming tasting room, which has been making a name for itself in the valley for 30 years, is just steps off the main drag and offers a beautiful space for wine tasting and events. Step inside and enjoy a food and wine tasting among beautiful art with a feminine touch. Or, enjoy the delicious Riviera Rosé or VGS Chardonnay near the water fountain while you soak up the wine country sun.

Owner and winemakes Jean-Noel Fourmeaux du Sartel has a playful approach from the winery’s philosophy to how he named the winery. (VGS stands for Very Good Shit, the simple way a visiting Texan described the wine and managed to tell all of his friends to pay Jean a visit. The visitors came and continue to come in flocks.)

I highly recommend you opt for the wine and food pairing when you visit. You’ll enjoy a perfect sequence of whites and reds along with paired bites from the famed, Michelin starred restaurant, La Toque. The chefs at the restaurant prep all of the ingredients before delivering them to the winery daily, where the bites are beautifully assembled.

The stunning, and oh so delicious, food and wine pairing at VGS.

How does a Chardonnay paired with a Chilled English Pea Veloute (soup) with fresh mint and goat cheese mousse sound? Or a Smoked Liberty Farms Duck Breast with Cherry-Onion Relish atop a polenta cake paired with the 2012 Illegitimate, the winery’s blend of Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Viognier?

You’ll absolutely love the sliver of Grilled Merguez Sausage and White Bean Puree with the VGS Syrah 2012. And in order to save the best bite and sip for last, the spicy and fruity VGS Zinfandel 2012 perfectly complements the Niman Ranch Beef Loin with garlic aioli, crispy potato and celery shoots. The wine pairing is an absolutely heavenly way to enjoy the sips and bites of Napa Valley.

The rose gardens leading up to Laura Michael Wines.
The rose gardens leading up to Laura Michael Wines.

Another unique wine tasting room that I was able to visit was Laura Michael Wines, a short drive from the Inn. If you’re like me and love a hearty, berry-inspired Zinfandel, you’ll love this rose garden of a winery. Whatever your preference, Laura Michael Wines has something for you. The 2013 Chardonnay is a perfect way to start your tasting before you venture into spicy Zinfandels and herbaceous Cabernet Sauvignons. I had the absolute honor of tasting the 2005 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon and it was by far one of the most memorable wines I’ve ever tried.


This small production winery has quite the story and Jim Kozier, one of the winery’s hospitality representatives will gladly share the history of the area, its soils, grape varietals, migration and everything you could possibly imagine about wine country. Tastings are by appointment and some walk ins of small groups are permitted so make sure you call ahead to arrange a tasting.

Laura Michael Wines
Winery dogs at Laura Michael. What a life.

The winery’s premises are absolutely stunning. You’ll smell the roses as soon as you park your car and you’ll likely be greeted by one or both of the winery dogs. Get a bottle and enjoy yourself and your company in the rose garden. Or better yet, become a member and attend a wine club party in one of the gardens. This place is something you absolutely must see in person.

Where to eat

Inside Farmstead.

One of the best things to do if you’re in a new area and are looking for a really great meal is to ask the locals. I headed over to Farmstead after a few people recommended this gorgeous farm-to-table restaurant. Tucked away off the main drag, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch is a locals’ favorite for live music, mingling and delicious food. The menu is seasonal and shows off the area’s best produce, meats, wines, olive oil and more.

Farmstead Saint Helena
Go to Farmstead hungry and stay for the lively locals.

I stopped in for happy hour and highly recommend you check out the outdoor bar, order a cocktail and enjoy the scenery and sounds. I ordered the Cheddar Biscuits with Honey Butter and the best Carmelized Beet Salad I’ve ever had, served up with local goat cheese, arugula and chimichurri.

Ask around for restaurants with a local focus and I guarantee you’ll have a delicious meal among people from the Valley.

Where to sweat

Donovan Wellness Solutions
Photo courtesy of Donovan Almond.

With the valley heat, it’s natural that you’ll sweat out some natural toxins and all of the wine you’ll be drinking. In order to find some balance on this trip, I took a barre/pilates workout class with Donovan Almond of Donovan’s Wellness Solutions. Donovan has been a trailblazer in the area when it comes to fitness, boot camp, nutrition, group fitness and more.

Our group met at a local spa known for its mineral baths and spa services and we sweat out all of the goodness we partook in from the evening before. Donovan caters to groups of all sizes and offers personal training, nutrition consulting and more.

Calistoga and Saint Helena are quickly becoming my favorite place to drive to when I need out of the city and into the sun for some wine tasting and outdoor play. A HUGE thank you to Eden Umble of Brannan Cottage Inn for designing an unbelievable way to experience the town. I’ll definitely be back.


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