Calistoga Pottery

So…. we were hanging out in downtown Calistoga, California looking at the tourist map on Main Street.  I see it lists of a number of antique shops, coffee shops, restaurants and a bookstore. Off in the corner a little square on the map says “Calistoga Pottery.”

My eyes lit up! Of course and I had to check it out.

Calistoga Pottery is a little shop behind a home on the highway just before the turn into/out of Calistoga. We had the privilege of chatting with the owner/operator/artists, a husband and wife team. He makes the pottery and she glazes the pottery. Together, Jeff and Sally have been in business almost 40 years.

They make dinnerware for more than a dozen of the local restaurants. A list hangs on the wall by the door. They also sell their pottery to the public out of this working studio, the one pictured here.

Both Jeff and Sally were absolutely lovely to talk to and were particularly enthusiastic when we told them we were from Canada. Sally told us of a time when she lived in British Columbia in the 1970s. She remembers it very fondly. When it came time for me to complete my purchase, she joked that I could even pay in Loonies (Canadian coins) if I had them!

Sally showed me a number of her signature glazes, including one that was made from the ash of grapevines from a local winery.  Such a beautiful effect on clay!

I did also mention to Sally, how much her shop reminded me of the pottery business established in Manitoba by another potter, my friend Jeff Bettle. “Manitoba Jeff” has transformed an old church and made it into his home and studio over the course of the last 20 years. I told her how much I admire people who master their craft and share it with others.

Maybe someday the 2 Jeffs and Sally will bump into each other at a clay convention. They can swap stories and tell the tales of life and work aside a highway, and the tourists who stop in. And they’ll have a laugh about that charismatic chatty Cathie who happened to connect over clay, in Calistoga California one July afternoon in 2019.

What’s a wine tasting like?

What’s a wine tasting like?

If you’re going to the San Francisco/Napa/Sonoma/Bay area you will find countless opportunities for a wine tasting experience.  Literally, they’re on every corner, country road and patio.

Your hotel or tour brochure will tell you whether a specific winery accepts walk-ins, or is by appointment only. If you’re on an organized tour, you’re good to go! Everything will be pre-arranged & effortless.

If you’re doing it as a do-it-yourself experience, watch for highway clues and big parking lots. “Visitors welcome” plus business hours, or “by appointment only” notes are common on property signs or gates.

In Sonoma, there is a “staging area” (aka Visitor/Tourist Centre) off the highway just before you get to town, (and the highway junction to Napa) that will give you maps, instructions & even discount passes. (Like 2 for 1 stickers/coupons). This staging area also has 4 wineries for tasting, a gin/spirits distillery/tasting room, a restaurant, gorgeous garden areas, expensive shops and a clean, modern washroom.

Sonoma Corner Stone, or “staging area” as I call it. Many bus tours start here.

The tasting experience itself is generally a stand-up counter. A sommelier will offer you a list to choose from. Then you will select a “flight” of 3-5 wines. The menu will have a brief description of each, but your host will provide more details (and even suggested food pairings) with each. Ask questions if you have any. The host is the expert and eager to tell you what makes their wine special.

Our knowledgeable wine hostess, at the tasting room at Castello di Amarosa.

Each tasting glass of wine is about 2 oz. If you are switching from white to red, or vice versa, expect to receive a new glass. Otherwise you’ll be drinking all your samples from the same glass.

What happens if you don’t like, or can’t finish your sample? There will be a pour bucket at your counter/table/ station where you can discreetly empty your glass.

While I LOVED the wines of Italy, (when I was in Italy, not this recent Napa trip) the pours were more generous on our tour, and the wines were strong. By the time we visited the 3rd winery and 8th or 9th sample, I could barely take 2 sips before having to pour it out into the slosh bucket.  I had reached my comfortable limit.

Here’s a pro-tip: crackers. Have crackers and a bottle water in your purse for in between snacking, as you travel winery to winery.

Above all else, stay sober if you’re driving.  Accompany your friends and drive if there’s no bus tour available, so they stay safe too. Then buy yourself a bottle for home/hotel use later with dinner.