Napa Valley for Beginners and Amateurs

As a wine amateur and California first-timer, I intended on feeling somewhat intimidated in Napa Valley. I pictured wine snobs and locals who secretly rolled their eyes at the visiting tourists. However, what I found instead, were incredibly friendly and helpful locals who appreciate your business and want to educate and entertain the tourists!

We stayed in Napa, but to save money, stayed in a beautiful hotel that was located in an office park outside the trendy downtown area. The scenery and hills around the hotel were gorgeous and the drive to downtown restaurants and shopping was only 5-10 minutes, which made the savings totally worth it.

From Napa, we decided to drive to Calistoga (about 30-45 min away and an absolutely beautiful drive) for our first winery visit. We chose Castello di Amorosa, not only because of the great things I had read about them online, but also because our lunch waitress on our first day in Napa recommended it as well! Pulling into the lot from the long, elegant driveway, surrounded by vineyard and greenery, it was a beautiful site to see! The castle itself is an authentic, 13th century, Tuscan inspired treasure that offered some truly breathtaking views. Outside the castle, there are lovely little streams, chickens, goats, and various other small animals. We walked through the castle, exploring, learning, and admiring the beauty before heading to the tasting room.

In the tasting room, we were greeted with a friendly and welcoming wine expert, who explained how the tasting worked. We read through wine descriptions and marked down which 5 we most wanted to try. She brought each wine out, gave us a little description and history, before pouring and allowing us to savor the taste and abundance of flavors. What I thought would be pretentious and intimidating turned out to be a very enjoyable experience.

Driving through the countryside in Napa Valley was one of my favorite parts of our trip. We visited in February, so it was not overly warm and the vines were not full or ripe. But what was in full bloom was wild mustard. Bright, dazzling yellow blooms filled the fields as apparently, it helps protect against erosion, as well as suppressing damaging worms in the vineyards. It was truly one of the most stunning places I have ever been.

Next on our list was Vintage Sweet Shoppe in Napa. I found a Groupon deal for a wine and chocolate tasting and we decided to give it a try. The shop itself is very quaint, reminding me of the old school candy stores with so many varieties that it really drives home the "kid in a candy store" feel. Tucked to one side is a small bar, where we were seated and treated to 5 different chocolates paired with 5 corresponding wines. What a treat this was! Lemon white chocolate paired with Moscato, spicy chili dark chocolate paired with a cabernet (which was really different but so good!), and several other unique pairings that made this a really interesting and memorable experience.
After treating our taste buds, we decided to spoil our bodies and minds as well so we headed to Napa Vineyard Massage for a long (but not long enough!), relaxing couples' massage. Again, this was a deal I found on Groupon and was definitely worth it! The spa is located in an office park. In fact, from the outside, you'd never guess it was a massage spa. However, walking in, they have done a wonderful job of making it soft and relaxing, warmly welcoming you and making you feel right at home. I would definitely recommend spoiling yourself a bit here!

Wine, chocolate, massages, and exquisite natural beauty - it was a long, satisfying day in Napa Valley! Back to the hotel to prepare for the next day on our California adventure. Stay tuned for more!

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