Uber in the Napa Valley: Good for tourists?

Uber in Napa and Yountville

Dining at Angele

Uber in the Napa Valley

Wine country travelers to the Napa Valley will be happy to learn this news. Uber has invaded the Napa Valley. Taxi cab drivers may not like this, but certainly tourists will find Uber to be an added convenience for hopping around the Napa Valley. If you don’t already know, Uber is a company that sends drivers for hire at your beck and call. All you need is the Uber App on your smartphone to hire a driver.

Currently, there are three different taxicab companies that service the Napa Valley: Yellow Cab, Black Tie Cab, and Napa Valley Cab. Cabs have, in a sense, a monopoly because there are so many hotels and lodging and so few cabs. Rates can change on the fly. We once took a cab from the Marriott hotel in Napa to Don Giovanni restaurant. On the way back we hired a cab from the same company and the fare was much higher.

Uber started their service in Napa on April 3rd, so it is just beginning to test the waters in the Napa Valley. Looking at the Uber blog, the new service for now looks like it is just between Napa and Yountville. I spoke with Michael Palmer, the General Manager at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa. He welcomes Uber. “We have a shortage of cabs currently and sometimes it can be an hour wait for a cab. Right now my Uber App tells me a driver is just ten minutes away.” He also expects that once Uber takes hold in the Napa Valley it will improve taxicab service. “A little competition is good for all.”

The Taxi companies are based in Napa, so their rates are going to be less for travelers staying in the town of Napa. If you are in Yountville or St. Helena, the cost of a cab increases greatly. The concierge at the Hotel Yountville mentioned that a cab right out the door begins at around $20. On my Uber App, I entered a trip from the Hotel Yountville to Mustard’s Grill, just about three miles up the road. The fees would be $7 to $10 for the uberX, $17 to $20 for UberBLACK, and $27 – $32 for the UberSUV. Uber drivers are not allowed to take tips because the tip is figured into the cost of the trip. Black Tie Taxi tells me that they would charge $20 for the same trip, plus tip. If you have a group of six, the SUV Uber would be the way to go with the party members splitting the fare.

Another convenience factor in Uber’s favor is that your trip is automatically charged to your credit card. To sign up for Uber, one downloads the App to their smartphone and enters a credit card number and other pertinent data. As I mentioned above, the tip is included in the total cost of the ride. If Uber is successful, and they should be in the very touristy Napa Valley, I would expect Uber’s competition, Lyft and Sidecar, to also make their way to the Napa Valley.

I do think that hotels and B&B’s should promote safe driving as much as possible. The Napa Valley is all about fine food and wine. Drinking and driving is never a good idea, and hotels should encourage their guests to hire a taxi or an Uber driver. The old adage, “Better safe than sorry,” is never more appropriate than for visitors to the Napa Valley.

The Uber folks are offering up to $15 off for the first two rides. Valid from 4/3 to 4/30/14. Uber coupon

Napa Valley Tidbits – Ovation TV and The Art Of: Wine Country

Ovation TV – The Art Of: Wine Country

Ovation TV is available on most cable companies, i.e. Comcast, Uverse and Direct TV. This Sunday evening Ovation will broadcast “The Art of Wine Country” at 7:30 p.m. ET. I checked out a couple of preview videos and it looks like an exciting show. I watched a clip of Napa Valley’s Gordon Huether and his amazing sculptures at the Artesa Winery in Carneros. In another clip, Chef Cindy Pawlcyn talks about the art of her vegetable gardening and its importance to the success of the food she serves at her restaurants.

Each weekly show, The Art Of: Introduces viewers to “a new artistic medium explored through profiles of boundary-pushing artists. Focusing on the celebrated as well as the undiscovered, this series explores the creative process behind each featured art form and uncovers how and why these artists do what they do.” If you are a lover of wine country and art, tune in to The Art Of: Wine Country.

To find the specific channel for viewing The Art Of: click on this link to the Ovation Website to find Ovation in the area where you live. Here is a preview of the show.

Gordon Hunter and Artesa

Yountville Hill winery stirs controversy

There is a proposal on the docket to build a winery atop the northwest area on Yountville Hill. It sounds like a massive undertaking. The plan calls for a 100,000-gallon production facility and 36,000 square feet of caves. Also proposed is a 12,800-square-foot admin and visitor center. This site is just north of the main town of Yountville and just above where Mustards restaurant is located. Prescott Ashe and Eric Sklar, the former owner of Alpha Omega, have filed the application. Wine Travelers to the Napa Valley wine country should be concerned. Yes, it looks like another wonderful winery to visit, but remember there are four wineries in this immediate area and who needs more congestion on highway 29? 

Luxury Travel Package

For you wine country travelers in search of more indulgence, The Plumpjack Group and the Carneros Inn have teamed together to offer “Plumpjack’s Ultimate Napa Valley Experience.” The itinerary includes:

• One-night stay in the Harvest Cottage at The Carneros Inn

• A tour and tasting for two people at PlumpJack Winery, CADE or Odette

• A six-course tasting menu for two at FARM from highly acclaimed Chef de Cuisine Andrew Budnyj

Starting rates for the “PlumpJack Ultimate Napa Valley Experience” begin at $1,285 plus gratuities. For booking or more information, please visit www.thecarnerosinn.com or call 707.299.4850.

Underground Cellars New Idea

Underground Cellars has beta tested for 6 months a very different concept for online wine sales. It has officially launched this week, and it’s a novel way for wineries to sell wine they might otherwise release to flash online wine sites or the big discount stores. Nothing could be more galling for a customer to purchase a wine at a winery and find it a week later at a deep discount at Costco or the like.

undergroundcellars

This is how this site is different from a flash sale site. For the winery: Underground Cellars negotiates with the winery to sell off inventory along with a small number of their current wines, library wines or even magnums. When the Underground Cellars customer buys say six bottles of this wine, that customer receives upgrades. Example, they may have purchased six bottles of the entry level wine but now they get an upgrade to a higher-priced bottle. That could be a $100 bottle of wine they receive at no extra cost. If you go to this page on Underground Cellars you might get a better visual of the this concept: How it works.

To entice wine shoppers to sign up for an account, the Underground Cellars has a giveaway for one lucky wine shopper. “Grand Sonoma Wine-cation,” where a lucky winner and their 3 guests will be flown out to wine country for an all-inclusive and unforgettable VIP wine country weekend (value of this is $10,000). Note: One should know that the value of the prize will always turn up as income on a 1099. Wow, what a surprise when you find out you will be paying state and fed tax to treat your friends!

For more information in the giveaway, go here:

Hall Wines leaps forward with winery iPad technology

image Hall winery

Revel Systems winery iPad technology at Hall Wines

The next time you stop in at one of Hall Wines tasting rooms, there will be something new to ponder at the counter: iPad tablets used by customers and staff to simplify the purchase and shipping of Hall wines. Hall instituted the Revel Systems iPad point-of-sale solution two weeks ago and all appears to be working nicely. According to Revel System CEO Chris Ciabara, Hall has taken a giant leap forward, integrating all its technology systems into one easy platform that can be used on Apple’s iPad tablet. Will other wineries in the Napa Valley and other wine regions jump on this technology?

The Revel System provides the Hall winery and staff versatility for making quick sales and enabling customers to order wines on the fly. This could be in the tasting room, on a vineyard tour or at a special tasting event. The Hall staff can check inventory and other data from the field. Image yourself tasting a wine as you walk along the vineyards. You like it, you order it on the iPad, and when you get back to the tasting room your wine package is waiting. The software also has a ship-compliant component to decipher all issues at that end.

I have seen some limited use of the iPad in a few wineries that I have visited. Andrew Murray, in his Santa Barbara County winery, uses the iPad to take your order and swipe your credit card, but I think that is just about it. Kathleen Inman has something similar in Sonoma County for visitors to read tasting notes and place an order. We shall see how this works out and how many other wineries adopt iPads in the tasting room for all transactions.

revel ipad

Revel Systems winery iPad Technology

BottleRock Napa Valley is a “go” for a second year

The BottleRock music concert returns to Napa in May with a new producer and a terrific lineup. Tickets are now on sale. Last year’s event was very popular with some 35,000 people attending. Here is your chance to combine wine tasting, food and music. Take a look at what is happening at BottleRock Napa Valley 2014.

Tickets are on sale now for this event being held May 30 through June 1, 2014. Single day passes are $149 per person, and can be purchased at www.bottlerocknapavalley.com or www.ticketfly.com or charge by phone at 877.4.FLY.TIX (435.9849). 3-Day ($279), VIP 3-Day ($599) and Platinum Passes are also available. Check the BottleRock Website for complete details of this extravaganza.

image of the cure

The Cure performs on Friday, May 30th

Eco-Friendly Wine Route

Ten years ago only a handful of wineries in the Napa Valley used any solar power or practiced any sort of eco-friendly farming in their vineyards. Today that has changed dramatically. Many wineries in the Napa Valley can boast that they are eco-friendly in some fashion: certified organic, sustainable, biodynamic, Napa Green or solar powered.

For those wine country travelers who would like to visit some of these wineries, we have designed an Eco-Friendly Wine Route. We are listing five wineries that have extensive eco-friendly practices, in addition to making some very delicious wines and providing visitors with enjoyable experiences in the tasting room.

The Eco-Friendly Wine Route

  • Robert Sinskey – Biodynamic
  • Honig Winery – Sustainable
  • Round Pond Estate – Sustainable
  • Frog’s Leap – Organic, sustainable
  • Casa Nuestra- Organic

This wine route is centered around the Silverado Trail that runs along the eastern side of the Valley. Use the map below as your guide for getting to the wineries that you would like to visit on this trail. Always check the winery’s website for tasting-room hours and for booking tours.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

We begin our wine country getaway at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. The winery is located just north of Oak Knoll Road at 6320 Silverado Trail. It is on the right as you drive north. Robert Sinskey is a certified biodynamic winery and uses solar power. The terrace is a wonderful spot to sip some wine and take a look at the beautiful valley floor. Tasting is $25 per person including the appetizers from the Vineyard Kitchen. Tours are available by appointment. http://www.robertsinskey.com/visit

Honig Winery

“Family owned, sustainably farmed, and solar powered” is the slogan at the Honig Winery. This winery officially had its start in 1984 and is one of the first in the Napa Valley to start a program of sustainable farming. It has been a model for other wineries in California. To visit and hear about sustainable farming, you will need to make an appointment. If the weather is nice, you will sit outside and taste some delicious wines. We are particularly fond of both of the Honig Sauvignon Blanc labels, the Napa Valley and the Rutherford. “Sustainable” is a somewhat vague term, but essentially means that whatever farming is done does not deplete the land. Everything in some form finds it way back to the soil. “Sustainable” also means that the vineyards will keep the staff working long term.

Honig Tasting

Honig Tasting

Round Pond Estate

Round Pond is one of the new kids on the block with a first vintage date of 2002. The MacDonnell family owns the winery, olive oil plant and the vineyards. 95% of the grapes are sold to other wineries with the remainder allocated for the production of Round Pond Wines. “Sustainable” is the operative word at Round Pond, which has one of the most exciting views for a wine tasting. The patio is where you reserve your spot and enjoy a variety of food and wine pairings. The gardens, of course, are organically farmed.
Check the Website for the various tasting options.

The Terrace at Round Pond

The Terrace at Round Pond

Frog’s Leap

Frog’s Leap is another of the pioneering eco-friendly wineries of the Napa Valley. The winery has two different tastings for tourists, plus a fantastic hour-and-a-half tour that we suggest you take. It is very informative. The tour is impressive and demonstrates what each and every winery in the Napa Valley should be doing to preserve the environment. The tours are at 10:30 and 2:30, but you must call ahead to book your tour.

Frog's Leap

Frog’s Leap

Casa Nuestra Winery

For our last winery, we head up north almost to Calistoga to the Casa Nuestra Winery. This is another family-owned winery. This is a bit of a change of pace from the other wineries. Casa Nuestra is very small and on the funky side. It is a very fun tasting room to visit. The winery has been committed to organic farming for almost two decades. The winery also uses extensive solar power. The wines at Casa Nuestra are atypical of Napa Valley wines. Here you will find labels like Verdelho, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Tinto and Symphony. During the week you can probably just pop in and be able to taste wine. Weekends are busy, so be sure to call ahead to book an appointment.

Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index

sign for tasting room

How much $$ for tasting?

You’re heading to the Napa Valley and wondering how much to figure on tasting room fees for your travel budget. You are not alone. Our readers will often email us asking questions related to tasting room fees. What should I expect in tasting room fees on our vacation? Are the fees the same from winery to winery? Are there any tasting rooms in Napa that do not charge a fee? Where can we get a discount or two-for-one tasting coupons? This got me to thinking how much tasting room fees have increased over the years. There was once a time when no winery in the Napa Valley charged customers to taste their wine. I have no idea how much tasting room fees increase each year. I’m sure someone out there has done a reliable study, and that is more likely a survey for industry wine folks. I want something as a gauge for the wine country traveler who visits our Website looking for that information. I decided to devise a quick and easy, but unscientific, Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index, one that I can update a couple of times per year. It will be interesting to do a chart year to year on the increases in these wine-tasting fees. At the very least, the Index will give a ballpark figure when someone asks how much the tasting fees are in the Napa Valley.

Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index

For the index I decided on a nice, easy, round number of ten wineries. I decided that, since most folks travel Highway 29 when visiting the Napa Valley, to focus on wineries between Napa and Calistoga on this road. I selected wineries on this route that are highly visible and popular. They are all open daily and visitors can pop in any time that the tasting room is open.

sequoia grove

Sequoia Grove – $15 for wine tasting

Just about every winery in the Napa Valley has a range of tasting options. Reserve tasting, library tasting, food and wine pairing, barrel samples, and a tour and tasting. For each of the selected wineries, I am tracking only the tasting fee for a basic, or lowest priced, level of tasting. Currently, these are the established tasting room fees as of February 2014 at these ten wineries for a basic tasting.

  • Alpha Omega – $25
  • Beaulieu Vineyards – $15
  • Beringer Wines – $20
  • Grgich Hills -$20
  • Louis Martini -$15
  • Peju Province -$20
  • Provenance – $25
  • Rutherford Estate – $15
  • Sequoia Grove – $15
  • Whitehall Lane – $15

Doing a calculation, the average Napa Valley tasting fee for a basic tasting is $18.50. Five of the wineries charge $15, three at $20, and two at $25.

I always remind readers that there are ways to save on tasting room fees, especially in the Napa Valley. Check with your hotel concierge, who will more than likely have two-for-one tasting coupons. You can always share a tasting with your partner. I find that the host will pour a tad more than if it was just one person tasting. A few wineries will waive the tasting fee if you purchase a certain dollar amount of wine. For budgeting purposes, use the Index to estimate how much to set aside for tasting fees depending on the number in your party and how many wineries you plan to visit.

Provenance - $25 for wine tasting

Provenance – $25 for wine tasting

Do you really need a tasting room appointment?

tasting room sign

Open daily, no appointment

Tasting room appointment

In short, the answer is no! We visit the Napa Valley numerous times a year and hardly ever make an appointment. In our travels to the Napa Valley we find three different tasting room scenarios.

The first are the wineries with regular visiting hours throughout the week. There are a plethora of Napa Valley wineries open daily, some starting as early as 10 AM. Most are open by 11 AM and stay open until 4 or 5 PM. Just enter the tasting room and belly up to the tasting bar. If you look at our list of suggested Napa Valley wine routes, the majority of those wineries have regular tasting room hours and no reservations are required to do a normal tasting of wines.

duckhorn

Tasting room appointment recommended

The second situation are wineries that are relatively new to Napa Valley and are subject to newer Napa County regulations for tasting rooms. These require that the tasting rooms entertain visitors by appointment only. You may see a sign outside saying “Open by appointment only,” but in reality anyone can pop in and taste wines. Use your cell phone and call and explain that you are just outside the tasting room, and more than likely you will be invited to come in and do some tasting. Our guess is that these regulations are an attempt by the County to control congestion in the Napa Valley.

A third set of wineries, and very much in the minority, truly do require visitors to make a reservation to taste or tour. These wineries tend to be small, boutique, high-end, and not staffed to take in numerous visitors.

Appointment required

Appointment required

When planning a trip to the Napa Valley, it is best to peruse the Website of each winery you want to visit and check on the section for visiting the winery. This is the best way to get the latest information.

If you are interested is a special tasting, a group tasting, a tour, or food pairing, more than likely you will need to call the winery and make a reservation. Two helpful winery reservation Websites are the Cellar Pass and Vino Visit. They have each contracted with a set of wineries to do all the booking work for the winery. They both work like Open Table does for restaurants. Both of these services do make a commission on each booking, so only a few wineries are using these services. The rest rely on folks hitting the website, emailing or phoning.

If you look at our Winery Finder/Trip Planner you will be able to see which wineries have regular tasting room hours and those that are open by appointment only. Always double check with the wineries, because they often change tasting room hours. Another good thing is to find out the cost of a tasting. If you are on a budget, tasting fees can add up quickly.

Your best course of action when visiting the Napa Valley and its many tasting rooms is to spend some serious planning weeks before your scheduled visit.

Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

First-time visitors to the Napa Valley are often bewildered or overwhelmed. When should we go, where should we stay and dine, and most often which wineries are the best ones to visit? Let’s tackle these dilemmas one at a time.

Napa Valley Wine Route Planning

Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

When should you visit the Napa Valley?

In my book, anytime is a good time to visit the Napa Valley. No matter what time of the year, the Napa Valley has something special to offer the wine country traveler. In winter it is the mustard, the cover crops, and the bare rows of vines that delight. Spring brings bud break and wildflowers. Summer brings the warm weather and full growth to the vines. Fall means harvest of the grapes followed by the fantastic autumn colors in the vineyards. Yes indeed, any time of the year in the Napa Valley is a good time to visit.

image of calistoga

Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga

Where should you stay and dine?

The main towns for lodging are Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. We like each town; they all offer something different in lodging and dining. We recommend you lodge within walking distance of dining. When you can walk to restaurants there are no worries about drinking and driving. In Calistoga, there is a free shuttle that runs most of the year. It will bring visitors to restaurants, wineries, and shopping and then pick you up when you are done. There are three cab companies in the Napa Valley, so taking a cab is a great option if you cannot walk to a restaurant. Yountville has the most-noted restaurant scene with five Michelin star restaurants, all within a few blocks of one another. Check our list of recommended restaurants for Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga.

image of bottega

One of Yountville’s many fine restaurants

Which are the best wineries to visit?

We recommend that visitors to the Napa Valley Wine Trails visit between 3 to 5 wineries in one full day. More than that and you will miss something and mostly likely imbibe too much of the good life. There are over 400 wineries to visit in the Napa Valley and, if you are visiting the max of ten wineries in a two-day excursion, how does one seriously decide on which of these 400 wineries are the most enjoyable to visit?

image of clos pegase

Clos Pegase

You can visit the best wineries in two different ways. One way is to follow one of our ready-made wine trails. Or you can mix-or-match the wineries within our Napa Valley wine trails. A second way is to head over to our Winery Finder and search for tasting rooms and wineries according to your likes and dislikes. The winery finder will enable you to select the best wineries to visit by various criteria. If you want boutique wineries that are family owned and have a picnic area, the winery finder narrows down the choices for you. It is a very handy tool for the first-time visitor or ones who visit the Napa Valley every few years.

Lastly we encourage you to watch this informative short video on Napa Valley Travel Tips.

Wine Country Photographs 2013 – Our Favorites

In 2013 we probably spent more days in wine country than any other previous year. We spent a full week in the Napa Valley in addition to some two-day getaways to the Valley. We took trips to Sonoma County, Mendocino and Paso Robles. We spent ten days at the North American Wine Bloggers Conference with a pre-trip to Lake Chelan, Washington, followed by the main conference in Penticton, British Columbia. We also spent one week in the Santa Barbara wine country. The highlight of our year in wine country was a four-week trip to France and Spain in October. We enjoyed two weeks in the Rhone Valley and Languedoc wine regions of Southern France and two weeks in the Priorat, Montsant and Rioja wine regions of Spain.

In 2013 I shot nearly 10,000 photos during our visits to the wine country and these are my favorites of the year. I narrowed them down to 32 photos. They may not all be the best photos, but for us they bring back lots of wonderful memories. These photos are meaningful and delightful for us to view. I hope you also enjoy these photos.

Wine Country Photographs 2013

Click on the photo to view gallery of 2013 photos

Click on the Napa Valley photo to view gallery of 2013 photographs

Sunburst Calistoga: The Poor Man’s Solage

The Sunburst Calistoga Hotel

A couple of weeks ago we decided to spend an overnight in the Napa Valley. It happened to be the same time as the Napa Film Festival activities, and almost all the lodging in the Valley was booked. Since we travel so often to the wine country, and tend to spend most of the day visiting wineries and exploring the valley, we are always looking for budget lodging. If you are spending little time in your room, all you need is comfort, cleanliness, and safety.

room view sunburst calistoga

Our room at the Sunburst Calistoga

Our friends at the Stevenson Manor suggested we try the Sunburst Calistoga. They said it was their new sister property. We booked a room that was available and off we went to the Napa Valley. After a day’s worth of activities visiting wineries, we headed to Calistoga to find the Sunburst. Where is this place? Well, it is on the outskirts of the town on Lincoln Avenue. As soon as we saw it we realized that this place had previously been a huge eyesore. It looked like a slum, run down and unkempt. Now the place has been completely redone. Each room has been remodeled and decorated with very bright colors and light. The Sunburst Calistoga opened in August of 2013.

The interesting thing about the Sunburst Calistoga is that it is almost a stone’s throw away from the Solage Calistoga. The Sunburst is on Lincoln Avenue and just over the Napa River on the Silverado Trail is the Solage Calistoga. Room rates for the Solage will start about $600 whereas the typical Sunburst room will be $230 on weekends. I like giving the Sunburst the name “The Poor Man’s Solage.” Each room at the Sunburst Calistoga has a flat screen TV, a mini fridge, a single-cup coffee maker and free Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi sent a very strong signal to our room, which was about as far away as possible from the motel office. I liked that very much. The stay at the Sunburst includes a small continental breakfast in the Lobby.

view of motel rooms sunburst

Solage Calistoga is across the way

The rooms are comfortable and, of course since it is new, the entire room was immaculate. There are also a hot tub and swimming pools that receive waters from the famous geothermal wells of Calistoga. The other amenity that we very much appreciate, and one that is available at all Calistoga lodging, is the shuttle service to local restaurants and wineries. We called and within ten minutes the shuttle picked us up at the Sunburst Office and delivered us to Brannan’s restaurant. When we were done dining, we called and were returned safely to our abode.

pool at Sunburst Calistoga

Warm mineral pool

We found a couple of things we did not care for at Sunburst. Janelle thought it was a little too isolated and had a motel feel to it. Another weird thing was the atrocious warning sign at the pool entrance. Perhaps it is the new code that warrants such an extreme warning. It is so outrageous that I for one would not want to step into that pool. You need to see for yourself. Maybe the powers that be will take that sign down before you visit.

If you’re looking for budget lodging in Calistoga, give the Sunburst a look!

Blending wines at Castello di Amorosa

14 years to complete

14 years to complete

Castello di Amorosa

The last time we had visited Castello di Amorosa was in May of 2007, shortly after it had opened to visitors. The winery was nearly completed except for a few landscaping details. Tours were fun but there were a few kinks to be worked out. Today all looks good as tourists flock to see this amazing castle and winery owned by Dario Sattui. It is a marvel! We were invited to Castello di Amorosa for a media event on Thursday, November 14. It was an event where each member of the wine blogging community tried our hands at blending five wines into a Super Tuscan wine.

The Great Room prepared for the blending event

The Great Room preparing for blending event

We met in the Great Hall and, as you can see in the photo, the Great Hall features fresco paintings with brilliant images and colors that immediately catch your eye. All the important people were present to lead us through our blending exercise. This included the man himself, Dario Sattui, a very tall man dressed Italian in style. Flanking Dario Sattui was winemaker Brooks Painter, associate winemaker Peter Vellano, consulting wine maker Sebastiano Rosa, CEO Georg Salzner, and VP of Marketing Jim Sullivan. What a treat to be surrounded by all these wine gurus.

image of brooks painter

Winemaker Brooks Painter with Dario Sattui

First we learned what constitutes a Super Tuscan wine. In the 1970’s a group of Tuscan winemakers wanted to produce wines outside of the very detailed restrictions of the Chianti area. They felt they could make better wines by using other varietals along with the Sangiovese grape. They made various blends adding Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make their Super Tuscan varietal. Today these wines made in Tuscany have their own official designation, IGT. This designation denotes wine of high quality and characteristically these wines are big and bold, and they command steep prices. The Castello di Amorosa winery makes a Super Tuscan Reserve they call La Castellana. We tasted the 2007, 2008, and 2009. They were all very delightful and elegant wines. They are pricey wines but deservedly so. It takes the best grapes, barrels, and attention to make a distinctive Super Tuscan.

Blending a Super Tuscan wine

It was our task to take five different barrel samples of the 2012 vintage and make our own Super Tuscan wine. We had a Sangiovese, two different Merlot samples, and two different Cabernet Sauvignon samples. This was my first taste of red wines from the fabulous 2012 harvest. Folks are raving about this harvest as being one of the best in many years. I must say that the barrel samples we tasted were quite delicious and in particular the Sangiovese. I can’t wait to try this wine. This Sangiovese juice will be bottled in June and perhaps released in 2014.

Because I liked the Sangiovese so much I decided to make it the prominent portion of my blending experiments. In the first try I used 50% Sangiovese and equal parts of Merlot (Carneros) and Cabernet (Rutherford). I made a second blend but this time, 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet from the Rutherford AVA. This one was my favorite and quite excellent in my humble opinion. One thing the blending exercise emphasized to me was that winemaking to a large extent is part art. It is a creative activity requiring expertise in taste, experience, and imagination. All in all, the blending exercise was a great educational experience.

The blending session was followed by a gourmet lunch and the chance to continue tasting the fine wines produced by the Castello. As we concluded, each wine blogger was presented with a lovely bottle of the 2010 Sangiovese to enjoy at home.

I was amazed to learn that all the Castello di Amorosa wine is sold online, at the winery, or to the wine club members. That means you will not find the Castello di Amorosa wines in any wine shop. If you want to sample the wines, mostly Italian style of wines, you must visit the winery to get started. The winery at this time of the year is looking spectacular. The fall colors of the vines make the castle look even more brilliant. General admission is $19 per person, free for wine club members, and includes a tasting of five premium wines. Tours are $34 per person, followed by a tasting of five premium wines. The winery is open daily and reservations are recommended. Check the Castello Website for more information.

Brilliant fall colors at the Castle

Brilliant fall colors at the Castle