Lauryn in a vineyard in Napa California
Western US Travel Diary

Day 8—Day Trip to Napa Wine Country

We were a little bummed because the forecast called for rain ALL DAY. However, we weren’t going to let that ruin our Napa wine country experience.

As I always do before trips, I did some extensive research to find the best wineries to cram into our one day. I found about 10 that really fit the bill, but I knew I {unfortunately} had to narrow it down. I settled on 3: Failla, Castello di Amorosa, and Chateau Montelena. We would also be stopping at V. Sattui Winery/deli for lunch at some point. Failla came highly recommended to us from Lisa, our neighborhood sommelier {she’s not really, but she knows so much about wine she might as well be}, so we knew we had to go there. The other 2 just looked really cool.

Our first tasting was at 10:00 am at Failla, so we had to leave San Jose no later than 7:30 am in order to arrive a little early. If you don’t know me, I’m never late. I can’t stand to be late to anything. I’d rather be 30 minutes early than 5 minutes late any day. So we left at 7:15 am in order to grab a quick breakfast.

We stopped at a little place near Kevin’s neighborhood that has tasty breakfast sandwiches and doughnuts. Me, thinking ahead, thought I would get a couple extra doughnuts to snack on in between wineries. Because doughnuts are the best thing to fill your belly between wine tastings, right?

Selfie on our way to Napa wine country
On our way to Napa… That’s a box of delicious doughnuts in my lap. Also, the best picture of us happened to be the most blurry… oh well!

We pulled up to Failla around 9:30 am. The only sign from the road was their name printed on the mailbox; thank goodness for Google maps! Once we drove briefly down the driveway, directional signs appeared and were steering us towards this teeny tiny yellow house; it looked like someone’s personal home. It was definitely not like other wineries I had been to.

The entrance to Failla winery in Napa California
Failla didn’t open until 10:00 am, so we hung out in the car for a little bit. I was catching a little grief from Eric since I insisted on leaving so early. We could have easily gotten stuck in traffic on the way up and I was NOT going to be late for our first tasting of the day.

We walked in at 9:45 am and I immediately saw a sign next to some glittering wine glasses and a bottle of wine that said “10:00 am Lauryn Neas Party.” It was so personalized! This got me even more excited.

Sign with my name on it at Failla winery
Edited for the privacy of the other group’s wine leader

We walked up to the back bar where a lady checked us in and told us how much she appreciated us being early for our tour. I love it when people appreciate my timeliness. She told us there would be another group of 3 joining us for our tour and to relax and make ourselves at home while we waited.

The tasting room was gorgeous and so cozy. It was decorated like a chic mountain cabin with wine enthusiast owners. They even had their Christmas tree out and of course, it was appropriately decorated with the finest wine related ornaments.

It was now 10:00 am and the other group still hadn’t shown up. Our tour guide, Sarah, came up to introduce herself and told us the other group would be there in 10 minutes. She apologized and asked if we were on a tight schedule. Our next tour wasn’t until 12:30 pm, so we had a good bit of time. I told her not to worry, we were patient people. She thanked us and offered us a bonus sample of wine to sip on while we waited. I hope everyone is learning a valuable lesson here: timeliness, patience, and kindness get you far in life… in our case, an extra sample of wine!

Our day of wine started with the Hudson Chardonnay. I’m a huge Chardonnay fan and it definitely did not disappoint.

Cool Blue Kev enjoying his Chardonnay

The other group of 3 finally arrived around 10:15 am. They said they were staying in Napa. And they really couldn’t make it in time? I made sure they knew we had driven all the way from San Jose and made it 30 min early. I hope they felt bad.

Our tour started with a little history of Failla. One of the owners, Ehren Jordan, studied all about wine making from a prestigious winery in France. Failla is a small winery and only produces 15,000 cases of wine per year.

Then, we strolled over to the wine cave.

Eric and I had been to a wine cave in Georgia at Yonah Mountain Vineyards, but this cave blew that one out of the water wine barrel.

Wine barrels at Failla winery in Napa California
Sarah showed us these awesome concrete barrels they use to ferment wine. They looked like giant eggs. Concrete has been used for wine fermentation for a long time, but the egg shape is fairly new. The reason for using concrete is to create a more pure taste in the wine without any added/unnecessary tastes from chemicals or metal. It also keeps the wine at an optimal, consistent temperature for fermentation. This reduces the need for artificial cooling.

Cement wine barrels at Failla winery in Napa California

The tasting area was towards the back. They had big comfy chairs set up around tables. Again, they really personalized our tour by making us a menu special for our party. Such a nice touch!

We tasted 5 wines. My favorites were the Chardonnays. They also had 2 Pinot Noirs and a Syrah. We didn’t like those as much. Don’t get me wrong, they were amazing; just not our favorites. At the end of our tasting, she said she had a Syrah that was just bottled and asked if we would like to try a younger wine for comparison; we all said yes, of course! It’s amazing how different a wine can taste based on its age.

That’s not a coaster, it’s a vino chapeau! Fruit flies are inevitable in wine caves, so they gave us these nifty wine glass covers to keep them out.

When our tasting ended, I was a bit sad; I didn’t want to leave!! But we needed to get some gas before we made our way to Castello. So we waved goodbye to the friendliest winery I’ve ever been to and on we went.

Can I trade in all my Christmas presents for this wine cellar?

We pulled out of the Failla driveway and headed towards Castello. We had some time, so Kevin took us on the scenic route. We found ourselves on a quiet road running through countless acres of grapevines. I was feeling spontaneous so I told Kevin to pull over so we could take some pictures with the grapes. I’m glad I did; I think we got some of our best pictures here! We were stopped for at least 10 minutes and zero cars passed us. It’s like we had Napa to ourselves!

This is my, “I had doughnuts and wine for breakfast” face
Three cab sav grapes on a vine!
Just a girl amongst thousands of olive trees and grape vines… heaven!

Then we found a Napa sign and took some more pictures!

We stopped in the tiny town of Calistoga to get gas. All of Napa is just so cute!

At 12:00 pm, we pulled up to Castello di Amorosa.

I had seen pictures online, but it was so neat to see the castle in person. It was legit. I was expecting a castle, but I wasn’t expecting it to look so authentic.

To enter the castle, we had to walk across a drawbridge over a moat. I felt like I was stepping into Game of Thrones! Except, less violence and more wine.

We checked in and had 30 min to roam around the front part of the castle.

We came upon a courtyard area that looked like it was being set up for a lavish party. I stopped dead in my tracks. There it was: the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones!

Whoever was throwing a party later was obviously having a Game of Thrones theme. I would have sat on it if they didn’t have decorators and party planners everywhere eyeing the tourists giving us a “don’t you dare” look.

At our tour time, we walked up to a pair of giant wooden doors and handed our tickets to the lady guarding them. She let us inside and we met our tour guide. His name was Patrizio and he was from Roma with a beautiful Italian accent. He brought us to the first room: the chapel.

All of these rooms were over the top and so authentic looking. The next room was the dining room. There were enormous paintings all over the walls and a fireplace so big that I could walk inside. Our guide explained that the paintings in the castle were all done by just 2 brothers.

We couldn’t see the entire dining area because a band was doing a sound check in half of it.

We continued down into the lower levels of the castle; this place was huge! 121,000 sq ft to be exact. We had a group of women join our group late and they were obviously a few glasses in. They were so obnoxious; I felt bad for Patrizio.

We walked down a dark maze of corridors. Patrizio told us the bricks that formed this castle were imported from ancient castles in Europe, so they truly were authentic and not just made to look old.

I had to lighten these pictures quite a bit which is why they are so grainy

Everywhere we turned there were bottles and barrels of wine. Apparently, the barrels are so heavy when full, they don’t move them. They fill the barrels where they are and use a hose system to bottle the wine after it has fermented. They only move the barrels when they are empty.

We passed through more and more corridors until we came upon the torture chamber. They had one authentic piece: one of those things with spikes in it where a person stood inside and the spikes went through them when the door was shut. The other pieces were replicas, but no less terrifying. He was explaining all the devices and I started to get a little nauseous; wine, please!

Next, he brought us to the biggest room of the castle: the great dining hall. The rich fool throwing a party there that night had the biggest dining table I have ever seen in my life. The massive flower arrangements on the table had more flowers in one arrangement than I think we had in our entire wedding… and they had at least 20 of them.

After we OOO’d and AWW’d over the spectacularly decorated dining room, we FINALLY got our wine!! Just one tasting though. This one was a young wine straight out of the barrel. I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but I’ve never tasted a wine straight out of a barrel before so I thought that was neat.

Our next stop was the tasting room. We were brought to our own private area to choose 5 wines we wanted to sample. Eric and I chose different wines so we could sample more of a variety. I can’t remember all 10, but Eric liked the Sangiovese that was similar to a Chianti and I, surprisingly, loved their Fantasia, a sweet wine. It was sparkling and had a wonderful raspberry flavor. Normally, I am not a sweet wine fan. But this one was light and not too sweet at all.

After our private tasting, we walked through the main tasting room (for those not lucky enough to get a tour). Here, we bought the 2 wines we liked the best. It’s so fun to do these tastings, buy a bottle or two, then a few months later open the bottle and re-live all those wonderful memories of the trip. Can’t wait for that! Also, fun fact, they do not distribute their wine anywhere. The only place you can buy their wine is at the castle or on their website, which made our purchases a little more special.

We bid adieu to the castle and realized the doughnuts weren’t going to hold us over much longer. Kevin quickly got us over to V. Sattui before we became too famished!

The outside of the winery deli was gorgeous. Yes, it had been cloudy and rainy all day, but the rain was making all the greenery so vibrant and lush everywhere. Combined with the browns, reds, and golds of the season, it really painted a beautiful picture for our eyes to feast on throughout our day in Napa.


We walked into a grocery store-like area with a cheese and deli counter. In the back, there was a tasting room where we could do different kinds of tastings or just buy a bottle to go with lunch.

We ordered some sandwiches and tried some cheeses; we settled on a garlic basil gouda. When in wine country, you must have wine with lunch. So we asked for a bottle of their generic red and on we went to have an indoor picnic. They had a great picnic area outside, but it was raining of course.

Lunch was delicious, but I was trying to eat quickly because I really wanted to see Chateau Montelena even if we couldn’t do a tasting. Well, I didn’t realize how late it was and the Chateau was closing at 4:00 pm. It was 3:30 pm. I quickly started looking up different wineries close by just to see if there was one worth checking out before we left Napa. Most of them were closing at 4:00 pm… Ugh! NAPA, WHY!?! So we just decided to stroll around V. Sattui a little more then return to San Jose.

It was our last night in California, so for dinner, we went back to downtown Mountain View to help Kevin become more acquainted with his neighborhood. We had dinner at a place called Eureka! (the exclamation point is part of the name, I wasn’t THAT enthusiastic about it). Yet again, we had a lackluster service. What is up with Mountain View? We had a server, but he told us he was just covering for our real server who was on break. Then our real server showed up after we already had our food. He introduced himself, then we never saw him again. The manager had to bring us our check when we were done. Very strange. Food was good at least!

VTA took us back to Kevin’s place and we all crashed. Drinking wine all day is exhausting! Our flight was at 1:00 pm the next day. This meant we wouldn’t land until after 8:00 pm ET and probably wouldn’t get home until 9:00 pm. So we wanted to make sure we got a good night’s sleep so we could endure a long day of travel without feeling like we were dying.

Despite the gloomy weather, California was great to us. Kevin was a trooper and did all of our ridiculous touristy activities without any complaints (the selfie stick took some getting used to, but he gave up was fine with it after a while). He was also our chauffeur the whole time which was incredibly nice of him. Thank you, Kevin!!!

And that, mes amies, is the end of our Western adventure. I hope you enjoyed living it through my descriptions and pictures. I’ll probably write a couple more posts about what we liked, disliked, what we’d do differently, etc. Stay tuned!



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