An amateurs trip to Napa

Author:  Wendy Nation

Castello Di Amorosa

Castello Di Amorosa

My friend and I had been threatening to go to Napa/Sonoma for years.  One day while enjoying happy hour we said “let’s just do it, we can drive there, let’s just go”.  Let me start by saying I don’t recommend driving for most people (and not sure I recommend it for me again).  The trip there was good, we were in full ‘road trip’ mode and took our time.  There is some really beautiful scenery on the way and with the right music anything is possible.

We left at 9:00 am and pulled in to the Travel Lodge in Redding CA. at 9:00 pm.  (On a side note, for a decent, clean, affordable room you’re just going to use for a nights sleep, Travel lodge was perfect.)  We left at 11am and arrived in Calistoga at 3pm.

Castello Di Amorosa

Castello Di Amorosa

Now the days in wine country start at 10-10:30 and are over by 5.  So with our two hours of precious time we chose to do something close to our Inn and on the top of our list….Castello Di AmorosaThis Castle is a must see.  Built in 2007 by Vintner Dario Sattui it is breathtaking.  The wines I have to say though were just ok, probably the least favorite of the 7 wineries we were able to visit during our short stay.  However he also has the V. Sattui Winery just down the road that we heard was better in that department.  The gift shop was full of must haves (albeit spendy must haves) such as pewter stemmed wine glasses that made me ooh and aah, (they made their way immediately to my pinterest “things I need page”) and a few chintzy tourist pieces that made us grimace. 

Calistoga is the first town you come to when heading in from the north.  It was a lovely Main street type town that I would stay in again. Unfortunately I have nothing to compare it toJ  We stayed at the Euro Inn and spa which is located one street over from their main street.  That makes it a very easy walk to dinner after a long day of wine tasting (I highly recommend staying somewhere you can walk to dinner!).

Kevin at Chateau Montelena

Kevin at Chateau Montelena

Our only full day started at 10:30 at Chateau Montelena (it really does look like a french chateau).  This is the winery famous for the 1973 Chardonnay that won the 1976 blind taste test in France that caused such an uproar (Rent the movie Bottle Shock and you’ll be up to speed on that).  Every wine we tasted was magnificent, the Montelena Estate 2009 Cab made me moan out loud!  That did earn me a curious look from Kevin our wonderful and handsome pourer.   Kevin was a standout, our experience with the pourers varied from Gracious and knowledgeable to indifferent or better suited to selling cars.

On the way to Montelena, you will pass Summers Winery.  This is a small unassuming winery/vineyard that had some very decent wines.  I purchased a Charbono there that is a grape I had previously never heard of.  Their other claim to fame is being the property next to the park that is home to Old Faithful.  We were told by our server the previous evening that you could see the Geyser go off from their patio.  During our tasting our pourer pointed it out.  There was a small plume of what looked like steam off in the distance.  Just go for the wine.

Sterling Wine & Food Pairing

Sterling Wine & Food Pairing

Heading out of Calistoga tucked in the hills is what looks like a great white compound.  This is Sterling Vineyards.  We first saw it from a turret at Castello Di Amorosa.  This was a definite highlight of our trip.  After coming up the vineyard lined drive.  (Oh…all the vines in the off season are completely bare, no grapes no leaves, nothing but dry trunks and stumps of vine.  This I should have known but really didn’t think about. Like I said….amateur.) You will take a gondola up to the winery, which is just cool in itself.  When you arrive, there is a pourer to greet you and give you your first two tastings before entering.  The walk through is interesting and towards the end you come out to a nice view point where you can have a seat or take a few pics.  They offer the option of adding a four wine food pairing, which we decided would be lunch.  We sat out on the patio and enjoyed the views, music, food and wine.  I would lunch like this everyday if someone would let me.  This was by far the best deal we saw the whole trip.  It was $40 for the tasting, walk through tour and food pairing.  Plus they gave us coupons for free tastings at a couple of their sister wineries. We took advantage of the one at Beaulieu Vineyards, this was on our list anyway so it worked out perfect.

Pam at St. Supery

Wendy, Pam and Marni at St. Supery

Next stop and as far south as we ended up going was to St. Supery Winery where we had a complimentary tasting set up by the restaurant manager where I work.  Again, not a spectacular winery for the grounds, views or tours but the wines were fantastic.  Their whites were exceptional.  Our host Pam was generous and knew her wines.

We turned north and hit the Beaulieu and Beringer on the way back.  The Beaulieu was on our list because we buy BV Coastal at home.  They make it but you taste the Beaulieu Vineyard wines that are not available in retail stores, they were all very good.

Beringer, I’m sorry to say we hit last and they were just about to close.  We’d already done 5 winery’s and I honestly can’t say much about it…I’m betting it was good though, my friend bought two bottles of the Private Reserve 2006 Cab…oh wait, I remember that, it was very good.

Needless to say our trip was short but sweet.  To make ourselves feel better we decided to call it a ‘scouting trip’ for our actual trip to Napa/Sonoma in the future.  I can’t wait to get back.

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