Castello di Amorosa, An Italian Castle in Napa Valley
It is hard to know what to say about Castello di Amorosa that has not already been said: magical, fantastic, well done, amazing, must see, a fantasy, incredible, and unbelievable are a few of the adjectives that come to mind.
And it is incredible – an authentic 13th century Tuscan castle and winery built in the hills of Napa Valley, California. As you drive up the hillside, you’re flanked on both sides by tall cypress trees and vineyards (just as in Italy)… and then, like a mirage, the castle appears in the distance.
Pretty cool. There’s even a little roadside chapel, such as you see scattered across the Italian countryside.
In true Italian style, owner Dario Sattui, a fourth generation Italian American, left nothing to chance when he began building his castle in 1994. Sattui first thought only of replanting old vines on the land he had purchased over twenty years ago. Then, on a trip to France, he visited some ancient underground wine cellars and was determined to build his own cellars in Napa Valley, along with an authentic castle to showcase his Italian-style wines.
After years of research in Italy, he hired only the best architects and builders, artists who understood his vision and shared his passion for medieval architecture. Every brick, every nail, everything to do with building Castello di Amorosa had to be authentic to the 13th century. If the original material could not be found, then it would be recreated in the same way it was created in medieval times.
Such attention to detail and insistence on perfection translated into some big numbers. The Castello took twelve years to build, at a cost of many millions of dollars. It’s over 121,000 square feet with over 107 rooms. More than 1,000,000 bricks were imported and over 8,000 tons of stone were poured to recreate this Tuscan masterpiece.
But why was Mr. Sattui so hell-bent on building a castle in the vineyards? What could possess a man to gamble everything on reproducing a Tuscan castle in California? The answer is: there is no answer. It just is. He’s obsessed with makeovers. He’s restored a Victorian house in Napa Valley (where he currently lives), a monastery in Italy (which he rents to travelers), and has another project in the works. Based on the success of Castello di Amorosa, it seems he’s a professional gambler.
I took the guided tour of Castello di Amorosa, which included a reserve wine tasting at the end. If you are interested in history, architecture, Italy, or, all of the above, I highly recommend the guided tour.
Our guide, Anthony, was full of fun facts and details about the castle. Did you know that in medieval times, the more nails you had in your door the more prosperous you were? Or that the reason you often see ancient buildings with windows bricked over is because the owners wanted to avoid paying taxes, which were calculated based on the number of windows you had?
The guided tour also takes you to the castle cellars which are really beautiful. A huge space (135 feet long and with 40 Roman style cross vaults) – it’s impressive! (There’s that word again.) Not to mention the 1,200 barrels of wine stored there… it’s enough to make you wonder what it might be like to be king of this particular castle.
Other tour highlights included the great hall with frescoes styled after those seen in Siena government buildings, a view from the upper level battlements across the vineyards, and finally the torture chamber with an authentic iron maiden. There’s a moat, drawbridge, chapel, inner courtyard, secret passageways, dungeon, and stables. All of course, authentically 13th century.
And what of the tasting? I had the option of tasting ten wines! Five of them were reserve wines. It was a bit overwhelming for me, and I think I skipped a few, but at least I was conscious enough to take some notes of what I liked. There were three red wines and two whites on the reserve tasting. I’m not a wine expert, but I do know what I like, and it seems to consistently be the most expensive wines on the menu. I’m not sure what that means, but I think a few other people must agree with me as my favorite, the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, was sold out. I also recommend adding chocolate to your wine tasting. Chocolate with the Pinot Noir or the reserve Cabernet is nothing if not divine.
If you choose not to take the guided tour, Castello di Amorosa is still a destination worth seeing in Napa Valley. Perched on the hillside with a view of Mt. St. Helena, it’s a beautiful spot to just get outside and wander. Pigs, chickens, and peacocks roam freely. You can also opt for a vineyard tour. Allow at least an hour to wander around on your own, or 2 – 3 hours for a full tour with a tasting.
Castello di Amorosa has been rated one of the top wineries and top destinations in Napa Valley numerous times since opening in 2007. Not that I’m partial to anything Italian, but it was on the top of my list of places to see in the area. Now that I’ve been there, I’d have to agree. For more information website visit the website Castello di Amorosa.
My tour of Castello di Amorosa was sponsored by Visit Calistoga however all opinion are as always, my own.
I’ve linked this story with Monday Photo Discovery.