One Delightful Rainy Day in Napa Valley

“Wine improves with age. The more I age, the better I like it.”

There aren’t many red wines I don’t like. Zinfandel, chianti, cabernet, merlot… I’ll have them all. Or blend them, I’ll have that too. And I do. Because I have no self control when it comes to delicious red wine. Ergo, Napa Valley is a very dangerous place for a gal like me to spend an entire day.

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As I looked forward to a few days in San Francisco, there was no way I could not go to Napa Valley. It’s just over an hour drive and there are over 400 wineries! Sounds like a great way to celebrate a new job to me…

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Because they did it in the Full House intro, I definitely needed a convertible to drive over the Golden Gate on the way to Napa. So, I rented one. And, it was everything I wanted it to be (so long as the heat was on full blast).

I always read other blogs before I travel to get the best tips and recommendations. Numerous bloggers suggested stopping at the Napa Valley Welcome Center. It’s right in the heart of downtown Napa and on the South end of the Valley. If you’re coming from San Francisco it is a great place to get started as they are equipped with all the details of road closures, tasting discounts and the path of least resistance.

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The one winery I really wanted to visit was Sterling, as I’m a regular drinker of their Meritage and the winery itself came highly recommended by the Wandering Worldwide blogs most loyal follower, my mother! Sterling Vineyards is near the most Northern part of the Napa Valley and about 45  minutes from the welcome center. As we only had a half day to explore, we got straight onto the El Dorado Trail to start at Sterling and work our way back down to San Francisco.

This is where the convertible really paid off. As we winded down the Eastern side of the valley, we were in absolute bliss. The Fall colors across the vineyards were stunning, the smells of pine and grapes basking in the sunlight were divine and I had no complaints about the wind blowing through my hair.

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As we arrived at Sterling, a gray cloud swiftly rolled over. We figured it would just pass over, but we soon were convinced otherwise. After we took the tram up to the vineyard, we were greeted by an insane hail storm. Hail at least half an inch thick bounced off the ground, forcing the vineyard to close the patios and shut down the tram. We continued our tasting and self-guided tour, but were soaked on our way to our premium tasting and delayed moving on due to the rain.

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When we finally realized the rain/hail combo wasn’t going to stop, we we decided we needed to be on our way so we had enough time to visit one more vineyard. Due to the tram closure, we had to take a van down to our car. The nearest vineyard was Castello di Amorosa – a.k.a. The Castle.

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Castello di Amorosa is a little more expensive for tours and tastings than other vineyards, but upon visiting you understand why. We nearly missed the last tour of the day – but they very kindly added one for us and another  group who arrived late.

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The detail at Castello di Amorosa is outstanding. It’s built to model a 13th century European castle. It took over a decade to build as materials were shipped in from Europe and each brick was laid with precision and techniques used in that time. You can learn about all of the rooms within the castle here – my favorites are those pictured below.

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The barrel room is magnifico – built as wine storage and also a great large space for private events. The vineyard hosts a variety of members only events like a masquerade ball and a costumed Halloween party. On our tour, the Halloween decorations were still up which was a bit eerie as we journeyed through the underground tunnels, dungeon and torture chamber. I liked the dining room best.

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The vineyard’s owner had frescos commissioned for the dining room which brought back sweet reminders of touring The Vatican with our beloved Italian tour guide, Dario. Side note: If you’re going to Italy, check out our perfect 10 day itinerary.

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An unexpected learning opportunity on the tour, the dungeon and torture chamber at the Castle feature actual relics of torturers past. The first room you enter has warrior chain mail and helmets, some weaponry. The next room is the torture chamber and it’s freaky. I didn’t realize that some of the phrases we use originated from some of these torture devices – i.e. the phrase “in the hot seat” came from a literal hot seat which was used to singe the skin of the tortured (pictured right).

So there’s that… but it sure had beautiful views. And, the wine which is exclusive to the winery and not sold commercially was great too. Although I didn’t plan on taking home any wine, I caved had half a case of the red blend shipped back home to Chicago!

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