Castello di Amorosa Winery: The Caper at Sundown

HDR Photography at Castello di Amorosa

image:Golden Gates of Castello di Amoroso Winery

Gates of Castello di Amoroso Winery

Inspiration on the Golf Course

At golf the other day, when I told Vance that Mai & I were going to Calistoga for a soak in the mineral baths, photography and a voice coaching session for Mai, he lit up and ask; “Are you going to see that castle winery on the hill there?  You know, that one where it’s all imported from Europe piece by piece? It’s really fabulous!”

Admittedly, no, I hadn’t really heard of it. Shameful, I know, for a native Bay Area resident not being up to date with happenings in nearby Napa Valley.  The truth is, that I gave up on Napa as a wine destination years ago when it lost it’s real charm. Before V. Sattui got big with their picnic business and when I could go to the Martini tasting room and taste all day for free and where I tasted my first Merlot.  Days long gone.

Anyway, Vance’s description of this castle was intriguing and immediately a new intention became hardwired into me.  We will find it and photograph this castle on the hill. Vance didn’t remember the name of the winery, but how hard can it be to locate a European castle on a hilltop? I won’t ask a local in Calistoga either. We’ll just go manifest it!

Finding The Castle

image:Gates of Castello di Amoroso Winery

Gates of Castello di Amoroso Winery

Mai and I ate dinner early enough to allow time to go out and photograph the sunset.  She is so good about honoring my passion and plays very well with my photography. Leaving Calistoga, instinctively I turned the Jeep south on highway 29 towards St. Helena. Surely this castle winery is nearby.  I’m not attached though, so whatever shows up that looks cool to photograph is great with me!

Within a couple of minutes we saw this awesome looking gate off to the right.  We pulled in and I had to immediately went into action setting up a shot because the sun was so low.  Surely within minutes or possibly even seconds it would drop behind the lush vineyard covered hillside leading up the hill and the great light on the scene will be lost.

The photo to the right is my first shot there.  I took others but this is my favorite. During our time photographing here we noticed the “CLOSED” sign on the right gate… plus the gate itself was closed, as you can see.  Pretty clear that they’re not ready to entertain & delight sunset visitors here. I forgive and accept them anyway.

Ready or not, here I come!

The left gate is still open. I say to Mai, “Let’s go baby!”  Up the hill with windows and sunroof open to fully experience the warm & moist summertime evening wine country air!  Along entire stretch of the road beckoning us up the hill, we’re passing through stunning vibrant green grapevines growing in neat straight rows, as always. Upon reaching the elegant Italian cypress trees at the top of the hill is when The Castle appears in the distance!

image:Castello di Amaroso Vinyard

Castello di Amaroso Vinyard

What is immediately in front of me though, is an adorable chapel. I must have it!  Another hardwired imprint on me.  I instantly promised myself; “This is a shot I am going to get before the sun is gone.” It was just too good but I didn’t stop then to take the shot. Instead, I sort of filed away in my brain that I could get it on the way out, possibly even during a hurried exit, should the need arise.  This was in case we had to leave in a hurry because, after all, the winery WAS closed and I really wanted to check out as much of The Castle as possible.

Emus Everywhere

image:Emu Guarding the Castello di Amoroso Winery

Emu Guarding the Castello di Amoroso Winery

The light was just just gorgeous on the top of that Napa Valley hill.  Sunset might be still ten minutes away so we pulled up into the empty parking lot and again got quickly to work. Had to beat the sun setting and Security arriving.  It is unfortunate that there are not great views of The Castle from the parking lot and I knew we weren’t getting inside, no way Jose!  However, it turns out there were lots and lots of Emus roaming freely in the yard. Maybe they don’t call it a “yard” when it’s associated with a genuine castle? Maybe a “garden” or “sanctuary in nature” is more proper? So I got fixated on the emus for a few short moments and they were so curious.  They came right up to me and pecked my camera lens!  Funny critters.

Security Arrives Before Sunset

Fully engrossed in emu photography, then I hear, “…closed sir.  The gate is being locked down the hill. You need to leave now.” Or something like that, but more polite, I’m sure. Time was short, I knew, and the sun was still up!  Okay, screw it, I’m going to stop  at that chapel and get my shot on the way out. I figure that Security needs to make one final sweep in their cars before leaving so I’d have a couple of minutes of peace with my subject.  Here’s the shot of the chapel:

The Chapel of Castello di Aromosa Winery


Chapel at Castello di Amoroso Winery-Calistoga, CA

Want to See More of The Castle?

Yup, me too.  One day maybe I’ll be able to arrange an hour of private shooting after-hours inside the walls. It’s so great having this architecture in California. The vision of the creators of this behemoth project are to be acknowledged for the expense and effort involved making it happen.


Making these photos

Both main photos of this post were created using the Perfect HDR Workflow in Lightroom.  These HDR photos of the winery gate,winery and the chapel are all five shot brackets (-4,-2,-0,+2,+4). Usually I take only three. This time I just wanted insurance to have enough light info for HDR’s as I was working quickly.  The chapel photo was taken into Topaz ReStyle after Lightroom. The emu photo was strictly for fun, it’s not HDR and is from a single frame.

Update on the Perfect HDR Workflow

Sorry to have to bring you the news, I just found out myself yesterday.  Our friends at Photomatix have raised the price of the one tiny critical piece of software that I use in the Perfect HDR Workflow.  The merge-to-32-bit-plugin for Lightroom now costs $39 instead of $29.  Not the end of the world, I know. It’s just that my earlier videos on the blog and my YouTube channel showing you how to make perfect HDR photos in less than 5 minutes now need re-making. Did you know that I’m a perfectionist?  Yes, that’s why nothing ever gets done to completion in my world.  The good news is that the 15% discount for my readers is still saving you money when you buy it using the promo code “PerfectHDR”  Want me to put a good spin on that for you?  At the new higher price, you get to save even more! Try the free Photomatix trial version first though.

Learn How Quick and Easy You Can Make Photos Like Mine

In case all this HDR photography talk is new to you, it’s the method I use to make most of my art.  It’s not too hard to do HDR the way I figured out. If you’re curious, watch my YouTube video where I show how to process an HDR photo in less than 5 minutes using the Perfect HDR Workflow!

Showing 4 comments
  • Jim Sullivan

    Hi Captain Photo,

    Thank you for posting such great photos of Castello di Amorosa. It is a very special place and you captured it beautifully.

    Please let me know when you plan on returning. I’ll show you some new views.

    Warm regards,


    Jim Sullivan
    Vice President, Public Relations and Marketing
    Castello di Amorosa

    • Captain Photo

      That will be great fun Jim! Just from my hurried visit, I sensed that there is magic happening throughout the grounds. To capture the essence of Castello di Amoroso in photos is a challenge I look forward to.

      Please pardon my delay in answering. October was a very busy month with the trip to Sweden followed by a ten day photography road trip through the Southwest.

  • Jim Sullivan

    Hello Captain,

    Is it possible to change our name to “Castello di Amorosa?”

    Thank you.


    • Captain Photo

      Thanks for checking that Jim. Sorry for the delay. I’ve been in Peru the past few weeks.

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