Napa Valley vintner is king of his wine castle
Daryl Sattui set out to build a modest, 8,500-square-foot winery. Millions of dollars and 120,000 square feet later, he’s king of a wine country castle complete with drawbridge, dungeons and nifty little slots for the old boiling oil trick.
If neighboring Sterling Vineyards decides to make a move, he says with a chuckle, "We’ll be ready."
So far, the chief invaders of Castello di Amorosa -- "Castle of Love" -- have been tourists and wine-lovers, eager to get a look at the 13th-century-style Tuscan castle that sits on Diamond Mountain, just south of Calistoga on Highway 29.
No cheesy replica, Castello di Amorosa looks and feels like the real deal.
That’s because it is, says Sattui.
The roughhewn walls and ceilings contain bricks hundreds of years old, all imported from Europe -- there are 850,000 in all. Where stone was used it was hand-carved by stonecutters following traditional methods, which could mean spending an hour and a half on one stone.
Medieval masons used lime in their mortar, so did Sattui. In the old days, lamps were made by hand, each a little bit different, so are his.
"We either used old materials or we did it the same way it would have been done, not 100 percent, but to the extent we were able to with modern building codes," he said.
There are 107 rooms on eight levels, four above ground and four below. Much of the underground space is used for barrel storage but there is also a pit for disposing of enemies, a Knight’s Room decorated with lively frescos and a torture chamber with gruesome replica instruments and one very gruesome, non-replica, 300-year-old Iron Maiden.
On a sunnier note is the Great Hall, 72-feet-long and 22-feet-high, decorated with huge frescoes -- replicas of medieval Italian paintings that took two Italian artists about a year and a half to complete -- and capped by a gilded and beamed ceiling that looks hundreds of years old but isn’t.
There are secret passageways, a church, which Sattui plans to have consecrated, a kitchen, an apartment for the nobles, stables and an outdoor oven for baking bread. There are plans to make olive oil here, too, in keeping with the fact that Tuscany’s castles were agricultural centers as well as defensive fortifications.
Sattui has been making wine in the Napa Valley since the ’70s when he started the V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena. The winery is named after his great-grandfather Vittorio, an Italian winemaker who made wine under the name V. Sattui in San Francisco until Prohibition shut him down.
A room in the castle is dedicated to Vittorio, it features dusty old bottles, most empty but a few still labeled and corked, that come from his original winery.
Wine is the focus of the new castle, despite its eye-catching exterior. Wines produced here are sold under the Castello de Amorosa label, and like the V. Sattui wines they’re available only by mail or at the tasting rooms. Sattui is producing about 8,000 cases a year of Castello de Amorosa wines, which range from a buttery chardonnay to crisp pinot grigio and pinot bianco, both Italian-style wines, to a plush red cabernet and some dessert wines.
The castle opened for tours earlier this year and has thousands of visitors already, some coming back for a second or third time.
And it’s getting attention elsewhere. On a recent tour, Sattui was interrupted when his cell phone rang -- presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani calling to talk about a fundraiser at the castle.
Tourists who recognize Sattui are apt to stop and congratulate him on the years of effort that went into Castello de Amorosa.
"Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve met anybody who doesn’t like this and some people are just ecstatic about it, no question," said Sattui. "It makes me feel good."
The castle joins a number of architecturally interesting wineries in the northern Napa Valley including nearby Sterling, which has an aerial tram and a terrace that offers a spectactular view of the valley and its new castle.
"The view from the terrace is quite stunning," said Sterling hospitality manager James O’Shea. "It’s really an architectural feat and it’s really an extraordinary addition to the Calistoga wine country."
So no need to fire up the oil. For now.
"We have no plans to invade ... to date," said O’Shea.
If you go...
Castello de Amorosa: 4045 N. St. Helena Highway, 2-1/2 miles south of Calistoga, Calif.; http://www.castellodiamorosa.com or 707-967-6272. Tasting fee is $10-$20. Tasting and one-hour tour is $25, $30 on weekends. Reservations strongly suggested for tours.