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Calistoga Depot back on track

As I scanned through the lengthy list of hundreds of comments, views felt as split as our country’s political sides.

The hills and valley are alive with the sounds and sights of spring, with wildflowers and grapevines popping off, as local businesses and events resurrect after a wet and wild winter.

Up Valley, the Calistoga Depot reopened its Lincoln Avenue doors with aplomb, in an effort to become the one-stop destination for libations, food and fun in Calistoga, thus bringing a three-year restoration project to life with panache. One, of course, would expect nothing less from proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset and his ringleader Michael Madden, who will oversee management and operations with the apt title of Operator and Director of Fun. “My team and I welcome one and all to take the trip of a lifetime at the Calistoga Depot!” says Madden of the newly renovated train cars hosting his and Boisset’s various food and drink operations at the site of the town’s old train depot. “All aboard!”

The Depot Provisions, the site’s gourmet food and grocery shop which opened last year, only to go into hibernation for winter, reopened as the Calistoga Depot Provisions by Nova Terra Kitchen & Creamery, featuring local artisanal producers, organic and environmentally aware offerings, and a menu full of plant-based comfort food options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The opening also marks the unveiling of The Depot’s historic station and rail cars that date back to 1868 and hold the title as the second oldest train station in California. Each rail car offers a unique food and beverage experience, including the JCB Parlor Car featuring Champagne, oysters, and caviar; the First Millionaire’s Saloon; Casa Obsidiana featuring gourmet Mexican cuisine and Casa Obsidiana tequila; the Calistoga Depot Wine Merchant and Historic Tasting Room; and Earth & Sky Chocolates. The latter, which creates chocolates that look like works of art and taste even better. The bananas foster and passion fruit please me and the PB&J variety have found repeat buyers in my tweens.

The mega-complex (by small town standards) is a salute to town founder and 19th century entrepreneur, Sam Brannan, whose contributions include heralding the Gold Rush of 1849, starting San Francisco’s first ever newspaper and building Calistoga’s first railroad, all of which led him to become the first millionaire of Northern California.

Having lived in Calistoga since 2010, I can barely recognize what I once used to refer to as the casual, cowboy town of Napa Valley. Gone are the cheeky shops and uninspired eats, instead replaced by excellent restaurants, art galleries and unique boutiques that are putting a notable if not stylish dent in my piggy bank on a regular basis.

Collective Napa Valley

Also back from hiatus with an attack on the senses this month was the infamous Auction Napa Valley which, to snag from its latest tagline, is “better than ever.” The weekend-long, wine-fueled affair, which dates back to 1981, branched out in new ways and locations and no doubt reeled in a whole new era of well-heeled attendees, whose money will benefit youth mental health initiatives in Napa Valley. The auction is hosted by the community philanthropy group Collective Napa Valley, and an online portal that requires free membership registration to get a purview at the hefty price tags for tickets, and to score some of your own.

The live auction took place June 1 at Far Niente Winery with the fan-favorite, Napa Valley Barrel Auction, happening at Hall Winery the previous day. New this year, high rollers experienced the June 1 Napa Valley Your Way, where attendees partook in up-close-and-personal visits to wineries for an afternoon of tasting, education and an exclusive look into the inner workings, paired with intimate dinners and other winery experiences throughout the valley.

Listen up

The Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) held two virtual listening sessions this winter to solicit public feedback around proposed regulations on the labeling of wine, distilled spirits and malt beverages, including disclosures for per-serving alcohol and nutritional information, major food allergens and/or ingredients.

While many industry reps spoke in favor of off-label disclosure via QR codes, as I scanned through the lengthy list of hundreds of comments, views felt as split as our country’s political sides. Notes ranged from thoughtful commentary to unrest and unapologetic annoyance—especially when it comes to how the cost to comply might further tax underdog small producers and craft distillers who remain at a disadvantage compared to large wineries who remain at the top of the Napa Valley wine heap.

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