High up on a hill is a sight you probably thought you would never see in Napa. You blink in disbelief, but when you open your eyes (watch out, oncoming traffic!) it's still there. Yes, it's a 107 room, 121,000 square foot, full size and to scale medieval Tuscan castle, looking more like something out of The Lord of the Rings than a winery.
Castello di Amorosa was built by vintner Dario Sattui - yes, the same guy responsible for the incredibly popular V. Sattui's on Highway 29. I know, by now you have all sorts of red flags popping up. After all, V. Sattui is darn near a tourist trap with the hoards of people fighting for a sip of wine inside and an even bigger hoard fighting for a picnic table (or parking space) outside. But trust me, you're going to want to visit the castle.
Construction started in the early 90's, taking 13 years to complete and costing Dario Sattui nearly every dime he had. Insisting on authenticity, Sattui only used materials and techniques that would have been available in the Middle Ages. For example, bricks are held in place with a mixture of lime, sand and water - not cement. Obsessed with perfection, Satuii made regular treks to Europe to visit old castles, snapping pictures and studying the most minute details as he designed and built his own.
You'll find sprawling stone courtyards, five defensive guard towers with battlements, gargoyles, secret tunnels and even a dungeon fitted with real torture equipment. The massive stone bricks were shipped over from Europe, many from the Hapsburg dynasty in Austria, and were hand-hewn using the same techniques employed in medieval times. Even the ironwork was hand-forged over an open fire, the same way it was done 800 years ago, making it look as it it were hundreds of years old.
Look around and you'll see different stones and different construction methods used side by side. This was done to suggest a castle that took hundreds of years to build with periods of war and different economic times - smooth rock and craftsmanship construction was used during the good times, rough rock and rough construction after a war. Come on, who does that? The 1,000 pound doors even feature custom Italian nails, and check out the impressive Great Hall, a huge 70' by 30' room with 22' high ceilings decorated with authentic Frescos and - oh yeah - a 500 year old fireplace.
You can visit the winery to taste, but to see the castle you need to do the hour and a half tour. The bulk of the time is focused on the castle, so don't expect a "how wine is made" tour. Instead, you'll be treated to secret areas closed off to the casual visitors, a trip to the wine caves, and even a stop in the dungeon, where you'll see real torture equipment! Geeky? Maybe, but who cares when you're having this much fun?
You'll be shown the story of love and lust on the hand painted floor to ceiling Fresco walls, and find out how the knights plotted their plans to overthrow the King without being heard by whispering in specific places and allowing their voices to carry discreetly across the room.
As interesting as the castle is, the wine is still the main draw. The La Castellena, a reserve "super Tuscan" blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese, can best be described as deliciously well balanced, and the Reserve Cab with the hand dipped wax over the cork is clearly a highlight. Nearly all of their wines are outstanding examples of Napa's best.
Casual visitors taste in the main tasting hall but those on the tour will find themselves away from the crowds in a private, more intimate tasting area.
Since its opening in 2007, Castello di Amorosa has been garnering high praise from its visitors, earning it a reputation for being one of the most interesting and unusual tours. Those short of time can still stop in for a taste and a peek, but if you have the time I strongly recommend you put a tour at Castello di Amorosa at the top of you agenda!
More info at Castello di Amorosa website!
Local Wally, 2013
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SPRING 2013: Thank you everyone for making this one of the most popular sites on Napa. Very cool.
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