Mom was resting Friday, so I went wine tasting...
Thursday we went on a wild goose chase to the Sonoma Valley. I wanted to try to find some more artwork from my great aunt, who had lived in Glen Ellen for many years. I tried the Sonoma Art History Museum, the Sonoma Depot (historical society) and Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa - and came away empty handed at all three. I've never seen county museums with so little info about county history (not just my aunt either)! But we had a good time at a cheese tasting factory, ate at a cool bakery in downtown Sonoma, and had a really nice visit with my Uncle Al (prior to Sunday's big bash).
This weekend my brother and his family are coming down to spend some time with us, so Mom spent Friday in the RV park resting up. During the week, we'd driven by a couple of wineries with really cool buildings so I thought I'd focus on those two on my off day Friday (Mom is NOT a wine drinker and doesn't even approve of wine or drinking really, so we pretty much agreed that these were not trips she wanted to take part in).
First, I went to Castle di Amorosa, or Castello di Amoroso in Calistoga (only a couple of miles from the RV park). This was the pet project of one of Napa Valley's wine makers, Dariou Sattui, who is as fascinated with medieval Italian architecture as he is with the wine business - so he decided to combine the two. He initially thought he'd build an 8,000 sq. ft Tuscan Villa, but somehow his plan expanded to 121,000 sq ft! It opened to the public in 2007, but so many people are already touring it that they give tours every 10 minutes.
Here is the entrance from the street:
This lies up on a hillside and has outstanding views of the valley.
Even with such outstanding views of the Napa Valley, you probably couldn't take your eyes off the castle turret however. So as you approach the castle, this is what you see:
To enter the villa, you first have to cross an actual draw bridge! The owner tried to make everything as authentic as possible, importing stone and bricks from France and Italy. He also hired iron workers to make the same types of door hinges and fasteners as would have been used circa 1100-1300 (the era the villa represents).
The entrance takes you into a courtyard, where a small room is used to organize the tours. The courtyard is also used for many public functions, including concerts (although none were taking place when I was there).
Our tour started in the Chapel, although as usual I wasn't paying much attention to my camera settings so didn't use the flash as much as I should have. A great deal of attention was paid to the murals by the builders, a special artist was brought in to make them as authentic as possible (they certainly look very old).
There is also a Great Hall (of course, as no self respecting medieval villa would be without one). Castillo di Amorosa was preparing for some sort of function in the Great Hall, so the tables were being set while we were there. The most impressive feature of the Great Hall has to be the murals however.
We went through the courtyard again, where we learned that Castillo di Amorosa has been used in a couple of movies. Since this is a fairly new site, I expect there will be more to come.
Then we went downstairs to the torture chamber. There are a few authentic artifacts (including this iron lady), but most of the objects here are reproductions.
Finally, we toured the wine tunnels and started some wine tasting.
This is where they offer you the option to purchase wine, which I did some. Then I toured around the grounds a bit more taking more pictures. I was impress with the efforts they made to make it as authentic as possible, even including farm animals and old carts around.
And of course, a couple more pictures of the castle!
Since most of the castle is off limit to folks just wandering around, I eventually did need to leave. (Also, I wanted to visit one more winery this afternoon!) So I decided to head back to the RV and stash my haul (the wine's I'd bought after the tour). Mom and I shared a nice lunch, when she insisted on taking my picture by the roses along the fence of the RV park.
As is recommended in most of the tourist brochures, I called the next winery to schedule a tour and got on the 3:30 PM tour. Since I had some time to kill, I decided to check out Calistoga a bit more. One of the places I stopped (just because it looked interesting) was Vermeil Wines.
There is also a nice mural on the back side of the building that they use on their postcards. The cards were pretty pricey (for postcards), So I just took a picture of it instead. However, given the trouble I've been having with the camera, maybe I should have bought the postcard.
I hadn't made the connection from the name, but once inside found that Vermeil Wines is the namesake of Dick Vermeil, an NFL superbowl coach. It turns out that his family is from Napa and he has some background/connections to the wine making industry, so this is a little more then just a famous person lending their name to a business venture. In any event, it was interesting seeing all the football stuff, including his superbowl trophy (which is probably the closest I'll ever get to one!)
I also liked their wines, so picked up a couple of bottles...
Finally I made it to the Beringer Brothers Winery in St. Helena, about 7 miles south of Calistoga. I had seen a cool, victorian style house from the Highway several times so figured this would be a good winery to tour. (It turns out however that the house isn't really much of a feature of the tour - it is used mostly for the gift store as far as the general public is concerned).
The tour actually begins in the Old Stone Building, which originally housed the winery operations in the late 1800's.
Inside were some very decorative wine barrels, probably just for the tourists.
Then we went straight to the tunnels. The Beringer Brothers had used tunnels to make wine back in Germany because it maintains a good (cool & even) temperature and humidity for the wine. They hand dug the original tunnels for the winery, but new ones have since been dug using concrete and steel reinforcement. The tour guide explained how the oak barrels are used in the wine making process. Both this tour and the Castillo di Amorosa tour were very informative, but quite different.
Off to the side of some tunnels are storage rooms that kept some of the oldest (family) wine. One of these was used for the movie "A Walk In the Clouds", which I've seen.
The end of the tour here also included wine tasting, but again I failed to use the flash and all of my pictures of that were out of focus. This is unfortunate, since here the focus was on pairing - why certain wines are paired with different foods. When we went into the tasting room (which was also in the big house by the way), each place setting had a small plate with bites of three diffent foods: a piece of bread, a piece of cheese, and a piece of chocolate. There were several empty glasses by each plate. The tour guide poured a little of the first wine and had us taste it, then eat the bread, then taste the wine again. He did the same thing with different wines for the cheese and the chocolate last. It was very interesting how the food affected the perception of the wines flavor! At the conclusion of all this, of course he offered us a price list from which we could order wines if we wanted.
So then we were left to our own devices to explore the grounds or the gift shop. While it was hard to enjoy the victorian character of the house furnished as a gift shop, at least I photographed a couple of the windows:
And, I do have to admit that the grounds were very nice. They clearly spend a lot of time and effort on the gardens and it shows.