Calistoga Wine Stop celebrated their 30th year anniversary in the Napa Valley in May 2016 – having been founded by Tom and Tammy Pelter in 1986. Staying in one place this long in any business is rare. Being a small family owned retail wine shop located in the exact same building for 30+ years in Napa Valley is extremely unusual. This is one of the oldest continuously operated family owned wine shops in the Napa Valley; only Wine Country Connection (formerly Groezinger) in Yountville with its multiple owners over the years and the St. Helena Wine Center, owned by the Beringer family since 1972 – are older.
Tom is originally from Los Angeles County – he was introduced to wine in his twenties through his brother who worked for a well-known distributor at the time. Tom remembers being introduced to certain wineries because his brother was representing them – wineries as such as Napa’s Louis M. Martini and Livermore’s Concannon Vineyard.
Tom and Tammy moved to the Napa Valley because they wanted to be surrounded by the wine industry. They did not have jobs yet lined up – but then one of Tom’s friends in the area, a real estate agent called him up one day and offered to show him a unique ‘building’ in Calistoga. This turned out to be the Calistoga Depot building -located just west of the Calistoga Visitors Center and almost across from Cal Mart, the specialty supermarket. At the time of their purchase the shop had already been developed into a storefront for wine. Tom soon became friends with a number of vintners in Napa and Sonoma and sold their wines here.
Their original shop was located in an old railroad caboose car within the actual depot building. Other than the wine train in Napa which has their own wine shop this was the only other wine shop in the Napa Valley with a tasting room associated with trains. Their small tasting room was located just outside the caboose car. For many years entering the shop was a bit like walking back in time – Tom never embraced technology to manage the store (he did not even own a computer).
In 2006 a small room across from their original wine shop became available and Tom turned this into an informal tasting room – both to host visitors and for his own research in deciding which wines to carry in the shop. Unfortunately Tom passed away in mid 2019 – he will be missed by many in the local community and those who bought wines from him over the decades.
The train car that housed the wine shop dated from 1866 and was built for Central Pacific Railroad. It was shipped around Cape Horn to Sacramento on a steamer ship where it played a role in building the Transcontinental Railroad. The builders of this rail car certainly had no idea it would eventually house a wine shop in tiny Calistoga. And the historic depot is nearly as old having been built in 1868. It is considered to be the second oldest remaining railroad station in the state of California.
After 30+ years in the old Calistoga Depot, in 2019 Calistoga Wine Stop vacated their old premise and moved to the other side of the street (Lincoln Ave) and reopened at 10am on November 15, 2019. This shop is more organized and has a cleaner layout then the old shop but still features a wide variety of wines. Select tastings focusing on mostly small Calistoga area producers are offered typically on Fridays through Sundays. Sometimes special tastings are held – where an invited winemaker will pour his or her wines. These tasting dates are updated on their website. Truly a family affair, daughter Tara now operates the shop.
The wines offered for tastings and for sale are often from boutique wineries well under the radar of most visitors to the valley. And they typically do not have their own tasting rooms. These wines are produced in small quantities and as a result can be difficult to find outside of the Napa Valley. Calistoga Wine Stop focuses on both Napa & Sonoma wines, but sometimes wines from other Northern California regions are available. And this shop has on more then one occasion been the first retail outlet for various small producers.
Tom considers himself fortunate to have moved to the Napa Valley when he was so young – and at a time before the number of wineries in the valley increased so dramatically. In later years, he admitted to us on more then one occasion, a customer would walk in the door and mention a name of a label, and Tom’s response was “who?!” Understandable, considering all the new labels founded in the Napa Valley in the last 10 years.
Tom was blessed to have become friends with owners of some of Napa’s most venerable properties through years of selling their wine including former owner of Mayacamas Vineyards, Bob Travers and the Davies Family, owners of Schramsberg Vineyards.
A visit here is casual with a focus on matching customers with premium wines fitting both taste preferences and budget. During multiple visits, we have always noticed their prices are quite reasonable. Calistoga Wine Stop is not a shipping company, but they will ship wine purchased from the shop to all 50 states.
— Dave's Travel Corner (@DaveDTC) May 28, 2016
The Pelters have formed relationships with a number of regional wineries; if a wine is not in stock they may be able to ship it at a later date. With significant time spent in and around the Napa wine industry, they know the wineries they represent very well. Tammy and Tara are excellent resources for recommending food & wine pairings, what wines to cellar and which wines should be consumed in their youth versus those that should be aged.
The family’s own label is called Pelter, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Tammy’s small vineyard in Calistoga next to her home. Their grapes usually produce only about a barrels worth of wine (24 cases) which as of our last update was made at Judd’s Hill Winery (microcrush). This wine is not made every year (as of our latest update to this review the 2018 vintage is their current release and unfortunately the last planned vintage of this particular wine). It is available exclusively for tasting at the shop and in addition, can only be purchased on site.
And an unusual region to find wines represented at a wine shop in the Napa Valley are select wines from Pelter, an Israel based winery founded by one of their cousins. Another unusual offering are the select California appellation chalice wines produced by Calistoga Orthodox Wines (the St. Simeon Orthodox Church and Holy Assumption Monastery located only two blocks from Lincoln Ave/downtown Calistoga.) For more information visit: www.calistogawinestop.com