Heading north along the St. Helena Highway it’s difficult not to be enamored by the sheer beauty of Napa Valley. Having just left the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, we felt transported to another country far removed from the hectic city life.
It has always been our dream to visit the Napa Valley region, to visit the legendary birthplace of the world’s finest wines. Before pursuing life of travel, I worked in hospitality as a waitress like so many others before. I have uncorked an unimaginable amount of fine Napa wines in my lifetime, though have actually only tasted a fraction of these.
But here in the wine capital of America, one can sample so many world-famous wines in tasting rooms set up throughout the region that you’ll most surely become three sheets to the wind before lunch even comes around. Which brings me to the number one tip when visiting Napa Valley, travel with a designated driver!
With so many wineries in the region however, it can be overwhelming when it comes to selecting one to actually spend your time. We spot names of familiar and famous wineries at almost every mile of the drive, and we could have paid a visit to any one of them. Though nothing seemed compelling enough to warrant a stop.
As we pass each winery, they all seem to be offering the same experience of sampling their various wines in a somewhat arrogant setting. Twenty five miles down the road, as we neared the town of Calistoga, we had seen an abundance of beauty, but had not made a single stop. I guess we were looking for something more than just a wine tasting, which can be experienced pretty much anywhere, with these wines offered in countless restaurants across the country.
Somewhat discouraged, we then stumbled upon a winery which instantly demanded our attention. An authentic 13th-century Tuscan-inspired castle nestled in the western hills on 171 acres of land.
A medieval castle in Napa Valley – who would have thought?! Though sure enough, the Castello di Amorosa, boasts “121,000 square feet, and includes 107 rooms (90 of which are devoted to winemaking and wine storage); an enormous Great Hall with 2-story replica Tuscan frescoes painted by Italian artists and a 500-year old fireplace; 8,000 tons of hand-chiseled stones; 8 levels (4 above ground and 4 below); a drawbridge, dungeon and torture chamber; medieval church; and arguably the single most impressive wine barrel room in the U.S., with ancient Roman cross-vaulted ceilings.”
You’ll be hard pressed not to fall in love with this incredible masterpiece of architecture, even from the first moment you drive onsite. The magic begins as soon as you enter the gates – making your way up the long and windy drive with a 13th century inspired Tuscan castle looming ahead. And if you think we’re talking about some mock up version of a castle you might find in a theme park, think again.
This castle was meticulously built using tools and methods from the day so to make it as authentic as possible. Each brick was laid by hand, and all materials for the construction were imported at an incredible expense directly from Europe. This was the vision of its creator Dario Sattui who, after several decades of personal adventure visiting and studying medieval castles and wineries throughout Italy and Europe, desired to create something remarkable in the States. A fete he most certainly achieved.
The first thing we noticed was the wide range in ages and personalities whose attention had also been captured by one of the winery’s numerous options for tours. Impressively, after having lowered it’s drawbridge only as recently as 2007, Castello di Amorosa has already accumulated many awards which include best in class wines, best wine tasting rooms, and winemaker of the year under their Director of Winemaking Brooks Painter.
Various tour options are offered to suit any and every visitor’s needs, and everyone from the first time drinker to the seasoned wine veteran will walk away having experienced something special. While self guided tours are available, we found joining a guided tour invaluable due the rich history and in-depth information you learn along the way.
With Carly as our incredibly knowledgeable guide, we not only learned of the history of the castle, but about the complete wine making process as well. And then of course, it was into the dungeon for a tasting of the award winning wines which are sold exclusively at the castle. I found myself particularly fond of their Moscato and desert wine.
We left with incredible memories from Napa Valley, and highly recommend a tour of the Castello di Amorosa so you can leave with the same.
For contact details and more information on their tours please visit www.castellodiamorosa.com.