Winery Wandering: Castello di Amorosa
Italian Cyprus and olive trees line the winding driveway to a 13th century castello and every curve you pass on the gentle climb up affords a wider panorama of green expanse. A pale, red brick road and its rustic fence curve around the medieval stone structure, wending their way past livestock and a moat flowing under a drawbridge. Beyond the stairs of the castle’s main entrance, a sharp right brings you up to the parapets for a wondrous view of the surrounding vineyards. Rows upon rows of young grape vines, their gnarled branches neatly pruned yet rebelliously unruly, conform to unseen lanes; they comprise small lots of various varietals, including the requisite Italian Primitivo, Pinot Grigio, and Sangiovese.
Pop! I hate to burst your bubble, but the castello (Italian for “castle”) didn’t actually live through the Dark Ages, and we’re not in Italy. In fact, we never even left California. But it does seem idyllic and Italian, and for a brief moment in the St. Helena-Calistoga area of Napa Valley, we can play pretend.
Built over 14 years in the Bay Area’s northern wine country, Castello di Amorosa was constructed with authentic, handmade European bricks, medieval decor, and underground caverns. This “Castle of Love” truly is a labor of passion; short of actually teleporting you to Tuscany (I’d pay the premium ticket price for that!), its only outright deficiency is the lack of spoken Italian. Considering, however, that the melodic sounds of “Ciao, bella!” or “Va bene?” aren’t components of the native English language, I suppose it can’t really be considered a fault at all, can it?
You could get so caught up touring the seemingly ancient castle that you might momentarily forget this is a winery. Even if you never get past the outdoor common space, the craftsmanship is undeniable; you could lay eyes on the piazza (courtyard) and liken it to Montepulciano’s Piazza Grande, or look down the corridoio (corridor) thinking you’re in Naples‘ Santa Chiara.
Considering owner Dario Sattui initially had no plan to open a winery where the castle now stands, it’s impressive that the unique locale benefits from such a steady stream of visitors – even on rainy days. The castello is only nine years old, yet looks older…and why wouldn’t it with nearly a million antique bricks from Italy, Austria, and Romania? Complete with 107 rooms, a watchtower, and a drawbridge, the winery is quite a departure from its original concept as a small farmhouse.
Is that a garden photo of Giardino di Ninfa? Oh no, still Calistoga. Let’s head indoors, shall we?
The castle’s Great Hall, like all great halls, is meant to display prestige; and just because the castle doesn’t belong to an old, royal bloodline, doesn’t mean that expense was spared in creating the banquet space. Italian painters labored over two years to recreate paintings of famous frescoes in Tuscany. And above the fireplace –imported from a 15th century castle in Siena– rests the portrait of the former family patriarch who started it all: Vittorio Sattui (the castle owner’s grandfather and founder of V. Sattui Winery). His portrait’s apt Italian inscription roughly translates to “I make great wine and I make people happy.”
As in all medieval castles, the fermentation rooms are equipped with stainless steel barrels and flat-screen TVs. ;) Just like the castle was hand-hewn, the metal here is hand-forged and all the vineyards are hand-harvested. After fermentation, wine is aged in new barrels; after a mere two uses, the barrels are subsequently used at sister winery V. Sattui (founded two generations prior) or sold to other wineries. Like neighboring Sterling Vineyards, Castello primarily uses French oak barrels.
It’s common to turn a corner and find a new collection of bottles. Considering the castle has eight levels and countless corners, can you imagine how many bottles you could store here? You’ll find most of the wine underground, where it’s cool, but don’t wander too far: the “underground” is four levels deep!
The medieval theme is unfaltering. Designed and constructed for accuracy, the castello even has an armory, torture chamber, and (naturally) a dungeon.
It may not be as ancient or as Italian as it looks, but the castello is a fantasy come true. Speaking of, there’s a sparkling sweet wine in the tasting room called La Fantasia, and I’m getting thirsty. Care to join me in a flight of wines?