Sunday, February 28, 2016

USA 2015: A Tour of Napa Valley - its macarons, the veterans home, the wines

the colors of autumn at Yountville

Day 2 of our US road trip was spent at Napa Valley with our relatives. It was a late start to the morning as we enjoyed breakfast at home first. Napa Valley was just about 30 minutes away from my Aunt's place so we had plenty of time. And since she and my uncle both work in that area they were already familiar with the place and the traffic conditions.

Bouchon Bakery. 6528 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599.

After a hearty breakfast, they drove us to Yountville for some macarons. Yes, macarons. And yes, after breakfast! Who would have thought that we'd be having macarons at Napa Valley? 

Bouchon Bakery sells traditional French pastries/desserts and my cousin said that their macarons were heavenly so we had to give it a try. There were several flavors to choose from so we got chocolate, vanilla, pistachio and caramel. The Bouchon macarons were HUGE about the size of 2 to 3 normal sized ones. We even had to cut the macarons in half or used a fork to slice a small piece to taste. They were delectable indeed. Bouchon also has a dine in restaurant if pastries are not enough. 
my aunt and I with our macarons
still eating even at the car park
Washington Street is a bustling community with several dining places to choose from. After driving along the barren roadsides of Hway29 (St Helena Hway), turning into Washington Street was a welcome sight. Seeing the trees which lined up the sides of the streets was a treat for us since we had wanted to take photos of autumn foliage.

One final look at Washington Street in Yountville before we drove off to where our relatives were working.

Veterans Home of Yountville California.

My Aunt and Uncle both work as nurses in this facility which is the largest of its kind in the country. It is home to aged and disabled war veterans where various care facilities are being offered. They briefly showed us around and shared some stories of their experiences working there.

The Veterans Home is strategically located along the hillsides of Napa Valley. A place of serenity and tranquility, where one could just sit by a park and simply appreciate the surroundings. 
Here's a photo of us at one of the car parks in the facility under this tree with bright red leaves.
The beauty of autumn colors.

Castello di Amorosa. 4045 Saint Helena Highway, Calistoga, CA 94515.

My husband and I are not really wine-lovers but a visit to the Napa Valley wouldn't be complete without a tour of its vineyards (one at least) and a taste of it's world-renowned wines. I had Castello di Amorosa in mind when I was planning our itinerary but I left it to my relatives to decide which they think we should visit. Coincidentally, they had not been to Castello di Amorosa yet and looked forward to visiting the place. My cousin said it came highly recommended and prior reservations were not required. 
We passed by several vineyards and wine tasting facilities on our way to the Castello. It was a scenic drive at some point when the vineyards were visible by the roadside. The main gate of the Castello is located along CA-29, on the left if you are coming from the south. Then you have to drive in, through a steep road that leads to the castle passing by rows and rows of grape vines. As we pulled in the parking lot we could already see the majestic castle that was Amorosa which was located atop a hill. 
a moat where swans and ducks were swimming
The cool breeze of the afternoon was the perfect weather for some wine tasting. As we walked up to the castle, we stopped to take in the surroundings and posed for some photos.
family photo on our way to the Castello
we've seen several tourists stopping by to take a photo from this angle, too
inching our way into the castle
I love this family photo by the "draw bridge". 

and this is Sir Lancelot, the resident feline
After going through the main entrance, we walked into the reception area where tickets were sold. The decision was to take the normal admission which came with premium tasting of 5 wines and just do the tour of the castle on our own.

Although this was only a replica of some medieval castle in Tuscany, it felt authentic with all the detailed trimmings and furniture. The dining room featured a traditional long table and had beautiful painted walls. I could imagine kings and queens having a feast in here.

We were mesmerized by the grand courtyard which had a wishing well as well as tables and chairs for visitors to lounge on. A perfect setting for a wedding reception or a simple gathering with friends.
Inside Castello de Amorosa
a glass of fine wine (and grape juice for the kids) completes this photo
where the aging of the wine is done

On the second floor we were able to appreciate the beauty of the courtyard even more. At the landing of the top of the staircase was a display cabinet with a collection of wine bottle openers.

Hanging on the walls of the corridor were Christmas wreaths made from various materials. These were sponsored or donated by several institutions within Napa Valley in support of their chosen chai
this one caught my attention because it had the colors of autumn

After going into the different rooms which had displays relating to wine making, we went down again for the much anticipated wine tasting.

I just had to take a snap shot of the ladies room which featured paintings of ladies during the medieval ages
The next part of our Castello di Amorosa tour was a visit to the wine tasting room, just outside of which was the souvenir shop. You can find anything from fridge magnets designed as wine bottle openers to plates decorated with a picture of the castle to olive oils to chocolates and so much more. I could not decide which one to bring home and had actually forgotten about it after the wine tasting!

We made our way to the wine tasting room but had to wait a while for a spot in the bar so we walked around and checked our more souvenirs and different wine displays.
Ira trying on a crown on display so he could be a king for less than a day
Our group was called after a while when an area has been cleared to make way for our wine tasting experience. Since we did not know much about wines, my relatives surveyed the list and decided which ones we should have. We started with the sweet tasting ones (lower in alcohol, naturally sweet and with bright aromas) like La Fantasia and Moscato. We had white wine Pinot Grigio and red wine Cabernet Sauvignon.
toast to good health
cheers to more road trips
This experience was our induction into the world of wines. The tasting room attendant, who was warm and friendly, gave us a brief background of wine production in Amorosa. He introduced each and every wine we'd chosen - how they were made, which food they would complement. By the end of the day, I had a slight idea which type of wines were good for desserts or red meat (that was a much as I could remember). 

I personally liked the sweet wines and maybe the whites, but definitely not the reds. I find it too strong for my taste. The sweet wines were heavenly because of the fruity taste which I preferred. The white wines I could tolerate more than the reds. If we are ever faced with a dilemma involving wines, we will already have an idea which one we will choose and enjoy more. 
cheers to marital bliss
And so the adults savoured their fine wines while the kids enjoyed their grape juice. Kelvin wanted to have a sip of the wine but rules have to be followed (no minors allowed to drink wine). We wouldn't want to be thrown out of the castle just for a sip of wine. And we wouldn't want to get them into trouble doing so (at least that was what the wine tasting attendant said). Few more years and he will have his turn in wine tasting. In this trip, however, he had to settle with grape juice which he found good for his palate.

a glass of wine, some bread sticks,a cup of grape juice.
Oh, we loved the bread sticks....

I may have had 4 or 5 drinks too many
We all agreed that it was a good deal paying less than US$50 per person for 5 glasses (I think we even got an extra 1) of wine when we would have paid so much more in restaurants or hotels. Thanks, Auntie and Uncle. This is going to be an unforgettable one.
at the threshold 
- on one side is a souvenir shopper's heaven
and the other, a wine-lover's kingdom 

When we left the wine tasting room, I may have been a bit tipsy, to tell the truth. I realized my tolerance for tequila and vodka was better than that for wines. Still, it was definitely an experience worthy to write in my books.

When walked out the door of the castle from the souvenir shop, we thought that was the end of our tour of the Castello but the greenery behind the castle made us even more in awe of this property. There were even animals roaming around. We could not resist taking more family photos with the beautiful backdrop.

And the vineyards, of course. Although the grapes have already been harvested, the autumn colors of the leaves were just inviting.

"Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of the heart and generosity of spirit.
Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living." - Robert Mondavi
And that indeed was what wine was for us on our visit to Castello di Amorosa. A celebration with family members whom we had not seen for a while. So thankful are we for their heartfelt welcome and quintessential hospitality.

Goodbye for now. We'll visit again when the boys can have their wines.

On the way back to their house, my aunt and uncle decided we grab a bite and The Habit was the choice for the night. America is known for its burgers after all. The Habit did not disappoint. Grilled burger never tasted better. If we were going to eat like this for most of our days in this road trip, we would probably gain a lot of weight!

taken at my relative's beautiful home

We did our final packing and gathered our stuff for the next leg of our trip. We were urged to stay one more night but we insisted to drive to the hotel that night. It would be better since we had a full-day of itinerary planned for the following day. We talked till late in the night (I thought it was deliberately done so we would be forced to stay the night) but had driven to San Francisco reaching the hotel almost midnight. It was just about an hour drive from my aunt's place. Be prepared to pay a toll of US$4 if you are ever driving that way into San Francisco.

We were graced by the sighting of a falling star while driving along Hway 80 West. How wonderful is that?! So, as falling stars would call for, I wished for safe travels and plenty of memorable experiences throughout our journey. 

Castello di Amorosa info:

  • Open daily from 930am-6pm March-October; 930am-5pm November-February
  • Admission rates: US$25 for adults includes premium tasting of 5 wines; US$35 for adults, with reserve tasting of 6 wines including Reserve Wines; and US$15 for minors (ages 5-20) includes juice. 
  • For more info, visit
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