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 (also known as il padrone), owner of V. Sattui winery. Dario purchased this 171-acre property in what is now the Diamond Mountain District in 1992 (one of 17 sub appellations within Napa Valley). 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, one’s 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 (visits are by appointment).
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 Napa Valley this one offers one 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 1800s 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! Nearly 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 are more than 500 years old (its date of construction clearly shows as 1447). Of these artifacts perhaps the most interesting is a wooden basket style press which 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. And in 2022 Disney premiered The Quest, fantasy-based reality television series in which Castello di Amorosa is prominently featured in some of the scenes. Continue to look for more Hollywood interest in the future. The castle is the perfect set!
In early autumn 2020, the Glass Fire burned through this part of Napa Valley including the Castello di Amorosa property. The roof and tower of the large Farmhouse caught fire (located behind and to the north of the castle). About 120,000 bottles of wine were stored here at the time including some of the 2020 vintage which was still fermenting. The total estimated loss was somewhere between 15 and 20 million USD. The roof was completely restored by the spring of 2023.
As of our latest update, Castello di Amorosa produces nearly 30 different wines from both Napa Valley as well as other California vineyard locations including as far away as Temecula in Southern California. The winery owns approximately 130 acres of vineyards in Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. In addition to vineyards under their ownership, Castello di Amorosa also purchases grapes from other growers. As of our latest update to this review, they source grapes from several highly regarded vineyards including Morisoli-Borges in Rutherford and Melanson on Pritchard Hill. Some of their single vineyard bottlings and other red wines regularly receive mid to high 90-point scores from prominent wine critics and wine magazines.
In 2023 all of Castello di Amorosa’s vineyards are now certified CCOF (organic). And their vineyards in Napa Valley are certified Napa Green. This certification program is managed by Napa County Department of Public Works and the California Green Business Program overseeing water conservation and reduced energy and waste within Napa based County wineries. Natural fertilizers are used among their vines, and sheep are allowed to graze at certain times of the year.
Dario donated 4.5 million USD to San Francisco based Gladstone Institutes, a bio medical research organization. The funds are being used to support scientists in their research of heart failure and heart fibrosis including creating a specific laboratory for such studies.
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 types 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 Valley 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 than 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 used to try wine directly from a barrel from the largest room in the castle (the primary barrel room) covered with brick arches and housing numerous oak barrels. Apparently, someone got a little crazy on one of the tours, testament to the broken glass scattered around the tasting area during our last visit.
Unlike most Napa Valley based wineries, Castello di Amorosa produces a number of dessert wines. The Reserve Tasting offers samples of some of their more limited production higher end wines.
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 young interns (generally in their early to mid 20s) from Italy who speak good English, some of whom are housed in the ‘intern house’ on the other side of the valley. Some of these employees are from the Accademia Symposium in the Franciacorta region, south of Iseo Lake; they have two years of education on hospitality/wine tourism and are certified WSET Level 2.
The 2022 Castello di Amorosa Dolcino Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer is pale to medium yellow in color; if sunshine had a smell, one might imagine the aromas would be similar to what one smells on this bouquet. It is both floral and simultaneously tropical, with scents of star jasmine, citrus blossom, ripe lychee, papaya, pear, honey and pineapple. There is also a very subtle herbal quality which adds a light spice note to the bouquet, perhaps a smell of pine needle, fir branch or even ginger or maybe a combination of all three. The palate offers a noticeable (but not syrupy) sweetness which continues to persist on the fruit filled rich and long-lasting finish. It reveals flavors of apricot, pineapple, yellow peach, nectarine and very ripe pomelo. The accompanying texture is supple and smooth. This wine is named Dolcino because that word in Italian literally translates to “sweetie” or in the case of this bottling, a wine that is slightly sweet. It was aged in stainless steel tanks with a residual sugar of 35g/L.
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 for comparison, is more citrus like on the nose with hints of pineapple. The finish is very clean.
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 Napa Valley before ever hearing that description again.
The Castello di Amorosa late harvest Gewürztraminer is made from botrytisized grapes; these are visually ugly grapes which at the time of harvest are covered in grey and black mold. Regardless of vintage, 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.
The “Gioia”, a rosé of Sangiovese is quite popular with visitors and is one of their most affordable bottlings. Literally translated to “Joy” in English, there is no Joy in the Castle when they are sold out of this wine.
The 2019 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese Napa Valley is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot. This wine is medium ruby in color; the Sangiovese grapes for this wine come from both the estate vineyard located at the castle and the Voyager Vineyard. The bouquet offers aromas of bittersweet chocolate, cloves, creosote bush, bramble, red plum, rhubarb, a dark woodsy spice and deeper into the aromatics, a note of dark pepper. As the wine evolves the fruit starts showing a bit more including of raspberries and cherries. It offers some spice notes on the palate, including of spicy plum skim and notes of toasted oak which especially continue to persist on the finish. Lingers savory with notes of crushed peppercorn, dried herbs, dried tobacco leaf, a dust nuance and light but grainy tannins. This wine was aged 18 months in Burgundian French oak of which 35% were new barrels.
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 among their most premium bottlings and is often highly rated; a small cellar room within the bowels of the castle is even devoted to aging this particular wine. The Sinalunga Cabernet Sauvignon is their most premium bottling of this variety.
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 and finish with earth notes, flavors of red cherry and a cedar spice nuance.
For a long time, similar to their sister winery, V. Sattui, the “castle” wines were only available for sale here or online – i.e., they had no distributors whatsoever and were not found in any restaurants, wine shops or other wine retailers. However, in more recent years some limited distribution was made, IE, Costco and we know of at least one instance where some of their wines were for sale in China.
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 castle’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.
NOTE: this section of the review has been identified as needing a *major update* including current release tasting notes.
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 too 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.
In 2023 Castello di Amorosa was identified by the London based group, CV Villas as being the 3rd most Instagrammed winery on the planet behind Boschendal in South Africa and Penfolds Magill Estate in Adelaide, Australia.
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, to schedule a visit and or to join one of the “Amici del Barone” wine clubs (among the most wine club options of any winery in Napa Valley), visit: www.castellodiamorosa.com
Patrick Creek Historic Lodge, Gasquet California
While exploring the far reaches of Northern California in 2020, Dario and his wife Irina spotted this historic lodge which was closed and for sale at the time. But later Dario returned and after a realtor showed him the interior, he soon purchased the property.
The lodge is located in “the middle of nowhere” next to Highway 199 at the edge of Patrick Creek and also a short distance from the Smith River. The closest small community is Gasquet about a 10-minute drive away or about a 35-minute drive to Crescent City on the coast. From Castello di Amorosa the drive is about 6 hours.
The lodge is reasonably priced with rustic but comfortable rooms. For a more private experience, a two-bedroom cabin is also available. Guests can also enjoy food and drink in the on-site bar and restaurant. This is redwood country; the largest redwood in the world is located within only a few miles from the lodge.
We plan to visit and stay at the lodge before the end of 2023. Updated notes and photographs will be added here at that time. ”
For more information and to book a room, visit: www.patrickcreekhistoriclodge.com
Monastero di Coriano, Tuscany
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!
Sattui also owns a Medici palace in southern Tuscany, a castle in France and is a partner in a castle/hotel.
Winery + Barrel Rooms
The Castle Animals
The Signs of the Castle
High visitor numbers equal a remarkable number of signs!