Castello di Amorosa Review
Address: 4045 North St. Helena Hwy Calistoga,California 94515.
Phone Number: 707-967-6272
Tasting Hours: Mar-Oct: 9:30-6:00; Nov-Feb: 9:30-5:00
Region: Napa Valley AVA, Diamond Mountain District AVA, California
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Review Date: 1/15/2017
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
From the moment we approached the Castello di Amorosa, I felt as if I ought to be carrying a rapier on my hip, ready to duel. The crow of roosters as we crossed the drawbridge into the shadows of the turrets was almost too much, almost too real, and began taking me back to my boyhood, where my friend Christopher and I would spend hours on green lawns sword fighting with wooden weapons fashioned by our fathers in their respective woodshops. I was the Dread Pirate Roberts, or I was Wesley; while Chris often assumed the role of Inigo Montonya, and reciting lines from The Princess Bride by heart, we would pass whole days running about our yards whacking each other with wooden swords. These are some of the best memories of my youth, and they came flooding back en masse as my wife Sonja and I entered the Castello di Amorosa some two and a half decades later. Cats, which I later learned were suitably named Sir Lancelot and Lady Guinevere, patrolled the grounds freely, while the familiar cry of an unseen peacock from high upon the ramparts made the place feel all the more medieval.
It may have felt like Medieval Europe, but in reality, it was January of 2017 in the Napa Valley, and Sonja and I had begun our new year with a tour of wine country. Up the valley from St. Helena, nearer the little hamlet of Calistoga, and tucked far enough off the road that it cant be seen by passersby, the Castello di Amorosa is a monument to ancient architecture and, just as cool, a winery. Founded by Dario Sattui, grandson of the founder of V. Sattui Winery back down the valley towards Napa, The Castle as it is often referred to is a monument in every way. Originally intended to be an 8,500 square foot farmhouse from which to sell and store grapes, the castle evolved in Darios mind until eventually, he had to make it a reality. He intended to stop here, said Savannah, our guide, pointing from the crush pad in the back towards the farmhouse, which would be an impressive structure were it not standing in the shadow of a castle. And he ended up building this, she pointed back at the castle opposite the farmhouse. I guess you could say he got a little carried away.
All told, the Castle took fifteen years to plan, and fifteen more to build. Having reopened his grandfathers winery in 1976, Dario opened the doors, er drawbridge, to the Castello di Amorosa in 2007. In touring the estate, it quickly becomes evident that Dario spared no expense. The sheer size is impressive, but the details are inspiring. An elaborate Tuscan fireplace in the Great Hall dates back to 1447, the oldest of many artifacts in the gargantuan stone structure. Outside, different styles of stonework tell the story of castle history in Europe, with mighty square stones aligned neatly, indicating times of peace when attention could be paid to the aesthetic of a building, and collections of mismatched stones and rubble in others reminding visitors that in times of war, one built quickly and with whatever was available. In the caves below the castle, 300-year-old Austrian bricks make up archways that lead towards the cellars, and countless other details and artifacts are more than enough to keep the curious entertained for more time than the lengthy guided tour allows.
The most interesting story is perhaps that of the frescoes that adorn the Great Hall. Two brothers, Oolio and Fabio, began the work together. When one left early and before the work was completed, the other painted over his brothers name and, so I was told, the pair havent spoken since. In all, the tour and the stories Savannah relayed to our party of ten or so visitors, were quite enjoyable. The high battlements offer terrific views of the vineyards below and nearby Mt. St. Helena to the north, while a well-equipped armory and torture chamber remind visitors that not everything about castles and their era was romantic. The efforts of Dario Sattui in creating this structure were tremendous, and today one can take all of it in for a modest fee.
After more than an hour of touring the impressive facility, the tasting began. Leading us out of the torture chamber, Savannah called back over her shoulder: Were going to head further down. There are a lot of twists and turns, so stay close because if you get lost then you dont get any wine and youve listened to me talk for an hour for nothing. Sonja and I took the hint and stuck close as we made our descent. Finally, in a massive hall far below the castle and supported by gorgeous Roman arches, we got to the best part of any winery tour and started by barrel tasting a young Cab. We then made our way a lengthy tasting bar where Savannah did a remarkable job of keeping all in our party with full glasses, answering questions and popping corks the entire time.
The day Sonja and I tasted was the day after Castello di Amorosas Gewurztraminer, not a terribly common varietal for the region, had won best white wine in its category from the San Francisco Chronicle. We enjoyed it, as well as the Zinfandel and the Pinot Noir, amongst others. The Castle also offered a non-alcoholic grape juice, which was bottled and labeled like their other wines, perfect for my pregnant wife to not have to spit, or for our son Titus to enjoy the next time we visit the Napa Valley and bring him along. All told the estate is 171 acres; the 31 of which are planted yield a relatively modest 25,000 cases annually. All of the wines at Castello di Amorosa are sold direct to consumer, and are unavailable elsewhere on the market, giving visitors to the Napa Valley all the more reason to put CdA on their list of must-visit locations.
Undeniably, a castle looks a little out of place in California wine country, and indeed it was quickly teeming with tourists flashing pictures and jamming the line in the substantial three-room gift shop. As we were walking out, we passed walls built out of shiners unlabeled bottles, that had clearly been collecting dust for years. When asked about them, Savannah explained that Dario wasnt satisfied with his first vintage after bottle, and had used all ten thousand bottles to build these walls as he was unwilling to sell them to the public with his name on them and his reputation at stake. Dario Sattui and those in his employ have a clear, high standard for everything they do, from creating the single most impressive winery building weve ever visited, to crafting excellent wines for their visitors to take home with them. Sonja and I enjoyed our visit, and I thought often of our son Titus while we were there. I look forward to building him wooden swords as my father did for me, watching The Princess Bride with him when hes old enough not to be terrified by the screaming eels, and hopefully, one day, bringing him with me to tour Castello di Amorosa.