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Calistoga merchants vow a sweet Valentine's Day

Early next week, part of the staff at EV Floral Design in Calistoga will be getting up very early to get down to the big flower market in San Francisco.

Chocolatier Chef Holly Peterson in her Wappo Street kitchen prepared boxes of her handmade chocolate ganache treats for shipping all over the country in advance of Valentine’s Day. | Photo by Danielle Wilde

Early next week, part of the staff at EV Floral Design in Calistoga will be getting up very early to get down to the big flower market in San Francisco. They will leave town about 1:30 a.m. and hope to be back by eight, when work will begin readying their flowers for Valentine’s Day on Wednesday.

“We might have to go down there twice,” said Erica Ramey, the shop’s owner. “Valentine’s Day, along with Mother’s Day, are our busiest. Hopefully, this year will be too.”

Expectations are that it will be. A recent survey from the National Retail Association suggests that American consumers will spend close to $25.8 billion on gifts, cards and dinner out to celebrate a loved one. That's an average of about $185 per person.

In Ramey’s shop, that means a lot of roses. “It’s almost automatic,” she said. “We try to sway our gentleman customers to consider something more interesting. There are many other beautiful choices.”

The roses she will sell mostly come from Ecuador. The tulips are from the Netherlands, and there are also some flowers that will have come from Israel. As the weather warms, however, she will get flowers from farms much closer to home.

Erica Ramey, owner of EV Floral Design in Calistoga, said Valentine’s Day along with Mother’s Day are her busiest. | Photo by Clark James Mishler

“It’s nice because during the summer, we pretty much only have local flowers in the shop,” she said.

Another local business owner who is busy this month is chef and chocolatier Holly Peterson, who runs Flourish Chocolate, located on Wappo Street.

Well known in the culinary world of Napa Valley for 30 years, Peterson trained as a chef at the Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris. She helped open the Culinary Institute in St. Helena and taught there for 10 years.

“All of our chocolates are my own original recipes,” said Peterson, who spent the weekend slapping labels on boxes that will be shipped all over the country. “Some companies make chocolate-covered candy. I don’t. I just make chocolate.”

Her interest in chocolate bloomed after being asked to participate in the annual Napa Valley fundraiser supporting the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

“I had done a lot of work on cancer-fighting foods,” she said. “All of a sudden, I thought of Robin’s eggs. An egg being a symbol of new hope, new life, new birth.”

From there sprang her trademark pure chocolate ganache bonbons. And do not call them candies. She doesn’t use sugar; instead, she uses fruit juice or sometimes coconut milk.

“Chocolate started on the side,” she said. “I’m an artisan. I don’t ever want to make mass-produced chocolate or anything like that. I love what is handmade, what is beautiful inside and out.”

She’s been running her kitchen in Calistoga for about five years. While her business is not oriented as a retail outlet, she has local customers coming by all the time.

“I want to bring a spirit of celebration no matter what,” she said.

Paul Crudo said Bella Bakery & Cafe is busiest during the summer months, but Valentine’s Day remains a big off-season event.

“Sure, it’s an important day,” he said. “We rely on the local customers to get us through the winter.”

He said he wasn’t sure yet what the specialty items might be for next week, but said he was sure there would be some. No doubt they will be baking up a lot of heart-shaped ice cookies, custom cakes and maybe some strawberry-filled pastries.