Our day started at Domain Carneros. The Grand Staircase welcoming us to the patio and lobby made me feel very important somehow. We walked in the lobby and I was introduced to Peter Drier, our tour guide. We were about 20 minutes early. He welcomed us and sat us out on the veranda with a glass of their Ultra Brut while we waited for our tour to start. Lucky for us, there were only four other people taking the tour so it was a very intimate experience. We started on the hill side where Peter explained the different varietals and the different sections of the vineyard those varietals come from. I believe he said there are around 90 different varietals produced by Domain Carneros. We then went inside and toured the heart of the winery where we learned the wine making process and got to see where the wine is made and stored. We then got to my favorite part, the tasting. Four bottles of wine and a bottle of Peach Champagne Vinegar later, we were on our way to the next winery. Peter was so knowledgeable and personable, I made sure to take his card and get the days he is available for tours. I want my friends to have the Peter experience when possible.
Regardless of my google maps directions I brought with us, we turned the wrong way when leaving Domain Carneros so we were about 15 minutes late getting to Rutherford Hill winery. I did call on our way to inform them and they told me no problem and drive safe. When we arrived, we met with Hillery who gave us a short overview of what is offered there before giving us the option of eating first or touring first. We chose eating and Hillery showed us to our table in what I believe was their olive grove with a gorgeous view of the vineyard and Napa beyond the vineyard. What an amazing picnic sight. They also offer their rose garden and Oak Grove as alternate picnic spots for a fee of $35, which includes $20 towards a bottle of wine and these awesome, reusable Go-Vino glasses that will be great for our next picnic. She brought our lunch boxes from Soda Canyon Store, a deli and grocery store from just down the hill. Each box included a different delicious sandwich, salad, fruit and a cookie. The box lunch with all that amazing food is just $17. This was the tastiest picnic I’ve ever had. While we ate, we got to know Hillery and the winery a little better and Nikki Hauser stopped by the table to introduce herself. She is the wineries events manager and also runs the Terlato Family section of the winery, I believe. The Terlato family grows their varietals in the Rutherford Hill vineyards.
After lunch, we took our tour around the winery grounds (I kept commenting on how wonderful the air smelled), passed
the amazing main entrance doors that are as tall as a house, and toured the caves where the wines are stored in barrels. Hillery explained the reason for keeping the barrels underground is both the temperature, since Napa gets extremely warm in the summer months and pretty cool in the winter months, and humidity. We learned that the barrels are used no more than three times to hold wine while it ferments because you lose the flavor of the wood with each fermentation. We went all through the caves. Hillery showed us where they can set up dining tables for large parties in the tunnels and smaller rooms for smaller groups. You can even have dinner with the wine barrels.
We didn’t actually do any tasting because we had to be at the next winery. We did learn that Rutherford Hill only produces still wine because producing sparkling is really a whole other process and takes a lot of additional equipment and space. Hillery sent us on our way with a bottle of Merlot and a bottle of their extra virgin olive oil made from their very own olive grove. We really enjoyed Hillery and lunch, the view and the tour. We were sorry we had to rush off.
Driving up to Castello di Amorosa I thought we had possibly time traveled and skipped continents. Who knew there was a little piece of Italy in wine country? Well, maybe not such a little piece. The castle is 121,000 square feet, after all, and such a grand piece of art. When we arrived, we went up some stair across the draw bridge and into the little shop where we waited for our guide, Jim Sullivan, the wineries vice president of public relations.He took us on a tour of some of the castle’s 107 rooms. Several of the rooms’ walls were adorned by beautiful artwork from an artist from Italy. Even in the caves, at the end of each alcove holding rows of wine barrels was a beautiful and vibrant portrait style painting. The castle and winery owner, Dario Sattui, wanted the castle to be as authentic as possible. He has imported what seems like millions of dollars worth of furniture, art and the like to decorate the beautiful stone structure. Even the rocks and stones used for the exterior walls were chosen specifically to resemble the walls of a European castle, using different colors and sizes on different sections. This was to mimic different parts of the castle being built at different times, being added on, and the same stones would not have been available, even though the castle was actually built all at once and completed in 2008.
The most interesting part of the castle for me was the torture chamber. Sattui was determined to make the castle as authentic as possible and so he traveled back and forth to Italy over the course of about 40 years. There was an Iron Maiden, one of which I had never seen in real life before… scary… a chair with spikes for the seat, a table with restraints that could be adjusted to stretch a prisoner, and so much more.
We ended our tour in a huge tasting room with several others tastings going on all at ones. You could tell everyone was having a wonderful time. Catello di Amorosa produces exquisite still wines. A few of them have been honored with extremely high scores from Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and various wine competitions. You will find only about four different varietals from Castello di Amorosa on store shelves and the rest can be bought at the winery itself, online or by phone order. I already know I will be back with my grandmother who will undoubtedly believe she must move in. Jim was extremely pleasant and knowledgeable, answered all of my questions, and took pictures for me and my boyfriend. This was definitely an experience neither one of us will soon forget.