Wednesday, September 5, 2012

California Trip - Day Three: Napa Valley

On our last day in Napa, we woke up early again to make it to the hot air balloon ride. When we got there, the pilots again told us that the weather was looking bad, and we were so worried! It was our last day in Napa, so we knew that we'd have to skip it entirely if it didn't work out.

Luckily, the pilots decided it would be okay to take off 45 minutes away in Davis, CA and fly over the Central Valley instead. We didn't get to fly over Napa Valley, but at least we got to go, and the scenery in Davis was beautiful! Here's one of the balloons being inflated: 

Here's our balloon! It's name was "Tango."

Once the balloon was totally inflated, it was time to get in the basket! Our basket had 8 people and the driver riding in it. 

The balloon runs totally off of hot air, produced by giant heater/blowers:

When the balloon air got hot enough, we just started floating up! 

Here are the other balloons in our group, still on the ground: 

The hot air balloon ride was so smooth and floaty... it just drifts with the wind/air, so it was really peaceful and pretty!

We flew over the UC Davis "test vineyards" where they do research with new methods, treatments, etc. for growing wine grapes. So interesting! 

The area we flew over was filled with fields of various crops... it was so pretty to see all the different squares of various plants! 

After about an hour in the air, we drifted back down to the ground to land at a little airport. 

Watching the guys deflate the balloon was kind of fascinating... it looks like hard work! 

With the detour to the Central Valley, we ended up running a little late to breakfast at Churchill Manor. Luckily, the sweet ladies running the B&B noticed that we didn't make it to breakfast and they waited for us. Isn't that so nice? 

This is where we ate breakfast every morning!

 Breakfast was delicious again... yummy muffins, then melon and granola and yogurt, then strawberry pancakes and a quiche with lots of fresh veggies. Yum! 

After breakfast, I ran around taking some photos of Churchill Manor because it was just so pretty! Here's the breakfast room (it connects to the porch, so we could sit in either place). 

Here's the front entrance:

The front parlor - this is where the wine and snacks for Happy Hour were every afternoon.

Beautiful gardens!

More pretty roses!

Croquet in the grassy area!

Pretty front gate

We miss you, Churchill Manor!

On our third and last day in Napa, we had a few more wineries to see. The first was Amizetta. We tasted an Amizetta wine at a wine bar here in Houston a while back and loved it, so when we saw the Amizetta sign on our way to another winery, we made sure to call and set up a tasting appointment. 

Amizetta is a smaller winery, so we ended up getting a private tour with the owner! So fun. He lives on the property with his wife, and his three sons grew up there, then went to college and majored in enology (winemaking), and now the sons run the winery. Isn't that so sweet? Oh, and the winery is named after his wife, Amizetta. So sweet, right? 

This winery is unique because it's on mountain land rather than down in the flat part of the valley. The vines are all grown on hillside terraces. It was a long, windy drive up the mountain to get there, but the views were so pretty when we arrived! 

That's Lake Hennessy in the background! 

The owner walked us all around the property, told us about how it all got started in the 1970s, pulled wine out of the barrels in their wine cave to do tastings (we'd never done barrel tastings before - SO FUN to taste the difference between wine that's been in barrels for a year, and wine that was just put into a barrel recently!), and then did some tastings with us of their bottled wines. We bought a couple bottles of their cabernet (we can get most of the others at home here in Houston).

So pretty! 

We snapped this photo from the car on the way out... beautiful!

After Amizetta, we drove out to Healdsburg to visit Seghesio. We had heard great things about their zinfandels, so we were pretty excited! 

We somehow got the wine guy to let us taste four off-menu wines at Seghesio, so it was pretty fun! We ended up buying three bottles... a zinfandel, their Marian's reserve red blend, and an aglianaco. Have y'all every heard of aglianaco grapes? We hadn't, but we really liked the wine, so we bought it! It's apparently an Italian grape, and it's a pretty full-bodied red. I'm excited to drink it! 

After Seghesio, we headed to the last winery of our trip, Castello di Amorosa. Basically, the guy from V. Sattui Winery got rich and built an authentic European castle, and now they grow wine grapes and sell wine there. When you buy a tasting/tour, you get to wander around and see the castle, then head down to the basement/cellar to do your tastings. 

The vineyards

The castle

Lovely views!

The really awesome thing about Castello is that you get to pick which wines you taste. Most places give you a set menu of 3-5 wines, but here - they hand you a giant menu of about 25 and you get to pick which five you want. So if you go with your husband and you coordinate your picks and share... you can taste 10 different wines, all ones you picked! So fun. We were running out of room in the suitcase for wine by this point, so we just bought one bottle - a sparkling rose called Fantasia that was just delicious! 

After Castello, we stopped for dinner at Pizzeria Azzurro, which was ABSOLUTELY AWESOME. I highly recommend the Grano Bruscette and the Funghi Pizza. 

And then, we said a fond farewell to Napa Valley and set out to drive toward San Francisco for part two of our trip, in which we visited with Jeff's cousin and her family in Corte Madera (a San Fran suburb). 

Up next - adventures in Marin/San Francisco! 


  1. i'm so jealous of this trip! love the hot air balloon and all the vineyards. so cool!

  2. Was the hot air balloon ride scary? I think it would be so fun!

  3. Hi Katie,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Napa Valley to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you :)