Castello di Amorosa opened its doors to the public for the first time on Monday April 9, 2007 – this work of medieval architecture in the new world was conceived by long time Napa vintner Dario Sattui, owner of V. Sattui winery. This is an immense structure and down to the smallest detail, resembles a real medieval castle. Construction began in 1994 and lasted about 15 years with much of this time spent on the underground vaults and caves. We had the privilege of touring (translation: sneaking in) to the castle construction site several times before it was even open.
The long steep cypress lined driveway is located off of Highway 128/29 just south of the town of Calistoga; as your climb the driveway and crest the hill, ones eyes feast on truly a spectacular site as this massive Tuscan style castle comes into view.
As expected with such a unique structure, “the castle” as it is colloquially called by locals in the Napa Valley attracts sizable crowds. If you would like to visit with the fewest amount of people, consider arriving on a winter weekday at 930am when they open.
Parking is in a lot located near the main entrance. The first few parking spots have been converted over to use by wine club members only. During busy weekends, cars are wrapped around the road leading in front of the winery and down the main road. Simply put, this is one of Napa’s most popular wineries and it can get extremely crowded. Of all the wineries we have visited in the Napa Valley – one has the best chance of hearing languages from around the world as the castle sees a diversity of visitors from numerous countries.
Old gnarled olive trees dating from the late 1800’s were cut back, transplanted and grow in front of the castle. These trees help add to the appearance and feel of this being an ancient site.
The castle contains four levels of underground cellars, by numbers – 100+ rooms spread over 8 levels, 121,000 square feet or from another perspective, encompassing some 3 acres of rooms! More than 200 containers of shipping materials were transported from Europe and over 8,000 tons of locally quarried stone were used in the construction – all chiseled by hand by 16 different stone masons. Nearly 1 million handmade bricks were shipped over from Italy. Dario shipped other pieces of the castle over from Italy as well as hired Italian craftsmen to hand paint exquisite colorful frescos and other murals.
The castle features escape tunnels, a central courtyard, turrets (great view by the way of the northern Napa Valley from the top of one of these), a small chapel, the Great Hall and some very interesting and historical wine making artifacts, some of which date back several hundred years to when they were originally used in Europe. The fireplace and mantle in the Great Hall is more then 500 years old (its date of construction clearly shows as 1447). Of these artifacts perhaps the most interesting is a wooden basket style press that dates from 1780 (located near the main courtyard on the ground floor). It is massive and we can only speculate on the shipping costs from Italy where it originated.
It is hard to imagine when you first pull into the parking lot, but this is a working winery. The production facility is located towards the back of the castle. The property is 171 acres of which 30 are planted to vine.
One of the main highlights of a visit is walking into the Great Hall. It is an impressive rectangular room beautifully decorated with hand painted Italian style frescoes; individual stories accompany each mural. These frescoes (including the art on the ceiling) was hand painted over 18 months by the Italian artist – Fabio Sanzogni. The floor is made up of stone bricks from Luxembourg estimated to be around 400 years old – the massive wooden oak doors were imported from Italy.
If you know where to look among all these frescoes that line the walls you will spot the Sattui family coat of arms on a shield. Above this is written “I am the lord of the vines and when you find me good I make everybody happy and give peace of mind”!
A long wooden dining table is located in the middle of this room; a table of this size certainly must be used and it is – members of their wine clubs enjoy some memorable parties. Jesters, jugglers, royal musicians, sword play and jousting events accompany some of these events.
One of the largest events is the annual mid summers festival. Over the years, a number of celebrities and politicians have stopped by including Arnold Schwarzenegger. Disney filmed a movie here called Bedtime Stories, with Adam Sandler and other filming included a scene from The Bachelor, a Fiat Commercial and scenes for a video game. Look for more Hollywood interest in the future. The castle is the perfect set!
Visitors enter the castle by crossing a wooden drawbridge (yes it does raise). After one passes through the giant wooden doors you will be directed to the Castaldo room on your left. Choose from a variety of tour and tasting options (limited areas of the castle are accessible with the self-guided tour). For a more in depth experience including a visit to the dungeon choose the guided tour and tasting. This guided tour lasts about 2 hours including the tasting; there is no other tour in Napa Valley quite like this one.
During your tour notice the details that went into the construction. Attention to detail went into every facet of the construction; many of the stones were chiseled by hand as was all the iron work. Case in point is the one turret which appears to be damaged, probably from cannon ball fire. This was left this way to appear like the castle suffered an attack. If you see something built into the castle that you have a question about, the most common answer you will receive from your guide is “well that’s how it would have been 800 years ago”
During the tour you will forget you are in a fully functioning winery until you exit the rear of the castle and enter the tank room. Triple jacketed steel tanks are used to so tank temperatures can be carefully regulated during fermentation. These type of tanks were quite rare at the time of their installation – we have since seen other triple jacket tanks at select local wineries.
A small “dungeon” room, (also called “The Pit of Despair or the Armory) contains some of man’s most medieval devices for torture including a rack which was originally used to stretch limbs – a truly agonizing method of torture. Look for several other nasty looking pieces of equipment including the highly confining “iron maiden” with its sharp interior spikes which dates from the late Renaissance period. Dario purchased this at an auction – and of all the torture items contained here, this was the only one that was actually used – our guide told us the DNA of 146 different people were identified from ancient blood residue inside. Right, you will *not* see this type of stuff on any other Napa winery tours.
Numerous narrow brick walkways and tiny rooms are located near the torture room and it can be easy to get lost down here. Castello di Amorosa’s first vintage was in 2000 – however Dario wasn’t pleased with the quality of his wines – so rather then release and sell this wine, he hoarded it. Today some 40,000 bottles are stacked up in some of the small rooms throughout part of the lower levels.
Towards the end of the tour, guests will try wine directly from a barrel. This will occur in the largest room in the castle (the primary barrel room) covered with brick arches and storing numerous oak barrels. Apparently someone got a little crazy on one of the tours, testament to the broken glass scattered around the tasting area when we were there.
Tours end with a tasting (either a general or reserve depending on which one you paid for). The tasting counter is in a small dimly lit brick room below the main courtyard – only those from your tour are lined up along the counter – this is a good chance to meet others from your group. Mark the wines you want to taste on the tasting card. Several small bread items and other pairings are available.
Keep in mind you are in the Castle of Love and romantic inclinations combined with glasses of wine are a true possibility here. If you see someone staring at you from across the tasting room, and they keep staring – give them a smile and walk over and introduce yourself.
A number of items for sale are organized around the tasting room including pasta imported from Italy and olive oil harvested and produced from their Morning Dew Ranch in Anderson Valley (Mendocino County).
Wondering why a number of employees in the tasting room speak Italian? Dario employs interns from Italy who speak good English, some of whom are housed in the ‘intern house’ on the other side of the valley.
As of our latest update, they produce nearly 30 different wines from both the Napa Valley as well as other California vineyard locations – as far away as Temecula in Southern California. And unlike most Napa Valley based wineries, the Castello di Amorosa produces a number of dessert wines. The Reserve tasting offers samples of some of their more limited production higher end wines.
The 2006 Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay has a rounded mouth feel, with aromas of toasted almonds and crème Brule on the bouquet with a note of toasted oak on the finish. The 2005 Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay reserve on the other hand is more citrus like on the nose with hints of pineapple. The finish is very clean.
The “Gioia”, a rosé of Sangiovese is quite popular with visitors. Literally translated to “Joy” in English, there is no Joy in the Castle when they are sold out of this wine. The only non blended wine we tried is the 100% Diamond Mountain grown “II Barone” Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a big wine with rather robust tannins on the finish. This is also their flagship wine – often highly rated – a small cellar room within the bowels of the castle is even devoted to aging this particular wine.
The 2014 Castello di Amorosa Cabernet Sauvignon was grown on site; the bouquet shows aromas of spice including white pepper, red fruits and a hint of sweet mocha as the wine opens further. Medium bodied shows more red fruit on the palate then darker fruit. Fairly well balanced – the tannins are slightly dusty, still a bit tightly woven – finishing with earth notes, flavors of red cherry and a cedar spice nuance.
During various visits, we have also sampled their entire flight of dessert wines. Their “ray of sunshine” Muscat is a light crisp fruity wine with some nice mineral characteristics. Think their Muscat is fruity? The Fantasia takes ‘fruitiness’ to the next level. This is wine made from Gamay grapes lighter in color and slightly effervescent. Our guide described it as “adult soda”. One can taste a lifetime throughout the Napa Valley before ever hearing that description again.
The late harvest Gewürztraminer is made from botrytisized grapes (visually very ugly grapes – at the time of harvest they are covered in grey and black mold). This wine features honey and honeysuckle aromas followed by decidedly tropical fruit notes on the palate. This wine always has high residual sugar and is intensely flavored. Serious dessert wine enthusiasts will want to try some of this.
Similar to their sister winery, V. Sattui, the “castle” wines are only available for sale here or online – i.e. they have no distributors whatsoever – are not found in any restaurants, wine shops or other wine retailers. However, we must clarify this – we know of at least one instance where some of their wines were for sale in China.
For those looking to make a serious splash in their wine collection can do so by participating in the Castello di Amorosa’s Barrel for Sale program – the minimum purchase of select wines is 24 cases. Once you have purchased your barrel – once the wine has been bottled, the exact barrel will be mailed to you and one of the heads of the barrels will be personalized and engraved and displayed in the castl’s Il Passito Reserve Room. During our last update, we were told some 600 barrels of wine have been sold to date through this program including to a number of well known celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joshua Bell, Robert Redford, Joe Montana, Pierce Brosnan, Adam Sandler, Bon Jovi and Kenny Loggins among others.
Monastero di Coriano
For lovers of travel to Europe and its rich classical history, Dario owns the Monastero di Coriano, located about a 25 minute drive east of Siena in Tuscany Italy. It was built more then 1000 years ago and functioned as a monastery in the Augustian Order of the Catholic Church until 1650. Dario purchased the property from two French Painters in 1991. Wine club members take note: a single apartment within the monastery complex can be rented on a very limited basis a week at a time by active wine club members of V. Sattui and Castello di Amorosa. A stay here is a very memorable one for lots of reasons!
As you exit the castle you will do so next to farm animals that roam freely within a fairly large lawn area in the shadow of the castle walls. Some interesting looking chickens, emus and other birds live here. More farm animals are contained in a small pen near the main parking lot.
Due to the unique nature of this winery, it is often home to a number of concerts and events especially in the courtyard in the spring and summer months as well as in the Great Hall. Check their website for more details.
NOTE: Often on busy weekends the ‘castle’ can become a victim of its own success (especially in the afternoons). Parking on site may be completely at capacity; if so, attendants stationed at the base of their driveway will provide instructions and information to those in entering vehicles about estimated wait times. If you have a reservation already, this parking limitation does not apply to you.
If wait times to drive into the property are extended they will indicate you can return in an hour or two, to possibly gain entrance – sometimes if wait times are not to long, they will have you pull off the driveway and park at the flat area next to the driveway.
Castello di Amorosa hosts a select number of other tours, food and wine pairings and even several VIP experiences which as of our last update range in price from approximately $1000 to $20,000 per couple.
Those wanting to learn more about ‘the castle’ can reference Dario’s 220+ page book titled, Castello di Amorosa: A Labor of Love. As of our last update to this review, total annual production is around 30,000 cases. For more information about this one of a kind winery, and or to join one of the “Amici del Barone” wine clubs (among the most wine club options of any winery in the Napa Valley), visit: www.castellodiamorosa.com
Winery + Barrel Rooms
The Castle Animals
The Signs of the Castle
High visitor numbers equals a remarkable number of signs!