One of the many unique features of the Napa Valley is that not only does it produce some of the world’s greatest wines, it is home to world-class wineries with an array of styles of architecture. Some are historic (over a hundred years old) reflecting their founder’s old-world roots while others are extravagant modern innovations. This contributes to the Napa Valley being not just a wine-producing region but a tourist destination where people come from all over the world to taste the wine, view the natural beauty of the vineyard, experience the ambiance of the architecture and then enjoy first-class dining at local restaurants. In essence, the Napa Valley is to some extent an adult playground.
One such larger-than-life winery is Castello di Amorosa, a medieval Italian castle located near Calistoga on the north end of the Napa Valley. It was founded by Dario Sattui who also owns and operates the V. Sattui Winery, which is named after his great-grandfather who originally established a winery in San Francisco in 1885.
What began almost as a hobby of Dario Sattui eventually turned into obsession that took approximately 15 years and near 40 million dollars to complete. It is a larger than life winery that has to be seen in order to be truly appreciated. While there may be other wineries that have a castle-theme in their design, such as Eagle Castle Winery in Paso Robles, Castello di Amorosa is no mere facade. It truly is a monumental stone fortress.
The castle is enormous consisting of 121,000 square feet with 107 rooms on 8 levels above and below ground. It is no mere model, or a simple veneer seemingly like Hollywood movie set or a cheap amusement park building. It is a solid stone fortress that is an authentic reflection of a medieval Italian castle in Tuscany.
The masonry, ironwork and woodwork was fashioned with old world craftsmanship. The building materials consists of 8,000 tons of locally quarried stone, in addition to paving stones, terra cotta roofing tiles and approximately 850,000 bricks imported from Europe. Surrounding the castle is a moat with a drawbridge cornered with defensive towers. Inside its walls is a courtyard leading to the chapel, and within its walls is the Great Hall. It is 72 feet long and 30 feet wide, with a 22-foot high ceiling. The main door is hand-planed 500-year-old Italian oak, covered with steel latticework and 2,000 hand-forged nails. The room has a coffered ceiling, surrounded by walls featuring frescoes painted by two Italian artists that took about 18 months to complete. One mural on the wall dramatically tells a tale of knights and kings, bloody battles and unrequited love, marriage and murder. The stone of the parquet floor was sourced in Luxembourg, and the 500-year-old Italian fireplace is big enough to stand in. Over the fireplace is a portrait of a king holding the Sattui family crest. Italian muralist-designer Fabio Sanzogni painted Dario Sattui’s likeness into the painting, giving him a beard. Loosely translated (from Italian), the inscription above it says, “I am the lord of the vines.”
Extending into the hillside on the west side of the valley, the castle has a labyrinth of caves some 900 feet in length. Underneath the castle within the caves is a torture chamber with authentic 300-year-old iron maiden, a replica rack, and prison cells. There is also a war room in the Knights Chamber with its parabolic dome ceiling and an Armory with its display of chain mail, helmets, suits of armor, swords, battle axes and halberds (long poles topped with ax blades), spikes and hooks.
Beneath the castle is a 12,000-square-foot Grand Barrel Room with 60-gallon French white oak barrels stacked three deep. The cross-vaulted Austrian brick ceiling is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture. Entering into the room the air is thick with the musty aroma of aging wine and visitors are invited to sample the most recent vintage from a barrel that is waiting to be bottled. At the end of the winding tour through the caves and barrel rooms the visitor enters a tasting rooms where they can sample wines available only at Castello di Amorosa.
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
The first pour was the 2011 Pinot Bianco - California. This is a white wine made from a grape that is also known as Pinot Blanc which is a genetic mutation of Pinot noir. It is straw-hay in color with tropical fruit aromas of aromas followed by apricots, stone fruits and almonds. It is light and crisp with citrus notes on a medium length finish. The wine sells for $25 a bottle.
The second wine was the 2012 “Dry” Gewürztraminer – Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. This wine is somewhat floral with underlying notes of lychee and apricots. It is medium in body and although it is labeled “dry” it seemed more off-dry with a hint of sweetness and lacking the crispness and acidity I would expect from a truly dry Gewürztraminer. The wine also sells for $25 a bottle.
The third sample and first red wine was the 2011 Pinot Noir – Carneros. This wine is ruby red with aromas of black cherries and underlying aromas of earth and smoke. It is medium isn body with medium acidity and very fruit forward on entry. It reminds me a lot of the 2008 Pinots from the Carneros AVA. The wine sells for $36 a bottle.
The fourth wine was the 2009 Sangiovese – Napa Valley. This wine is ruby red with aromas of cherry lozenges, sweet plums, cloves, vanilla and subtle notes of spice. It is medium in body, weight, with firm tannins and sufficient acidity with a medium length finish. The wine sells for $36 a bottle.
The fifth sample was the 2009 Merlot – Napa Valley. This wine is bright ruby red with aromas of ripe cherries, red currants and mocha. On the palate it is medium in tannins, body, acidity and finish. The wine sells for $36 a bottle.
The sixth wine was the 2009 Il Brigante - Napa Valley. A Super Tuscan-like blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Sangiovese, 17% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, 7% Zinfandel, 5% Malbec. This wine is dark crimson in color with has subtle aromas of cassis, black cherry, anise, earth, tobacco and oak. On the palate it is medium bodied with fruity black cherry and vanilla with a medium length finish. The wine sells for $32 a bottle.
The seventh sample was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley. This wine is plum to ruby red in color with aromas of cassis, cedar and damp earth. It is medium in tannins, body and acidity. The wine sells for $49 a bottle.
The eighth wine was the 2008 La Catellana, a Reserve Super Tuscan blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 14% Sangiovese. A complex wine of dark cherries followed by aromas of leather, suede, earthy notes of forest floor and dried herbs. On the palate it has more fruit with blueberries, black cherries, plum, and fennel. It is medium in body with ample acidity and a medium length finish. A nice wine but a bit too steep at $88 a bottle.
The final red wine was the 2009 Il Barone, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley. A ruby red wine with aromas of sweet dark cherries, plums, followed by hints of eucalyptus, anise and a hint of pine. On the palate it is youthful and vibrant with well structured tannins, medium body and acidity and a medium length finish. A nice wine but I don’t think the $115 price tag is justified.
I then transitioned to sampling the desert wines which they refer to as “the sweets.” Most wineries that produce sweet wines only make one or two at the most so I was quite surprised by the line-up:
The first dessert wine was the 2009 Il Passito – Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. This wine is made from late harvest Semillon using a Botrytis, “Noble Rot”, which is a benevolent form of a grey fungus. Grapes typically become infected with Botrytis when they are ripe and if they are then exposed to drier conditions they become partially raisined which produces particularly fine and concentrated sweet juice. This wine is golden yellow with aromas of honey, vanilla extract, dried apricots and a hint of white flowers. It has a residual sugar 13.3 Brix so it is rather sweet but it maintains sufficient acidity to prevent it from becoming syruppy. The wine sells for $39 a bottle.
The fsecond dessert wine was the 2011 Simpatica, a Riesling Desert Wine - California. This wine is a blend of 75% White Riesling and 25% Muscat Canelli. On the nose it has floral aromas of orange blossoms, honeysuckle, hibiscus followed by concentrated fruity aromas of canned peaches and apricots. On the palate it is very sweet with a residual sugar of 45.0 g/L but it has a nice mouth feel and a lingering finish. The wine sells for $27 for 750ml bottle. If you are looking for an affordable alternative to a Sauterne, this is a nice option!
The final dessert wine was the late harvest Gewürztraminer. This wine was made using the same method as the previous wine. It has intense aromas of honey and apricots followed by honeysuckle and hints of floral soap. On the palate it is hedonistically sweet and yet maintains sufficient acidity to give it a nice mouth feel and keep it from becoming syrupy. The wine sells for $39 for 375 ml bottle.
To see more pictures of Castello di Amorosa Winery, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:
To visit or for more information:
Castello di Amorosa
4045 Saint Helena Highway North
Calistoga, CA 94515