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Napa, California’s Well-Stocked Castle in Calistoga…Not Hearst Castle, Castella di Amorosa
By Inna Tysoe
The Sattui family, owners of V. Sattui Winery, did not go back to making wine when Prohibition was repealed.
Their vineyard lay mostly neglected until 1970 when Dario Sattui decided to make wine in a castle—the Castella di Amorosa in Calistoga, California.
Lore has it he came up with the idea while backpacking across Europe, but perhaps it was simply that if you’re going to make wine, a castle is an interesting place in which to do it. Whatever the reason, my husband and I drove to Castella di Amorosa.
The Trip to Napa
We used to drive through Napa Valley and Putah Creek a lot when we were younger because that was a perfect outing for a newly married couple on a budget.
So, we drove toward our destination on what should have been familiar roads but weren’t due to the fires of 2022.
Everywhere we saw blackened trees. The landscape looked as though a great battle had been fought there, and I suppose there had been.
Somehow, the ruined trees make the rest of the land—the trees that survived the carnage, the bushes and grasses just waking up—look all the lovelier. It’s still beautiful, but this beauty is haunting and fragile.
Internet vs Reality
We arrived at what must have been one of the busiest times of the day. (Word to the wise: Make sure you go before 11 or after 1.)
The Internet assured me I would need a printout of our reservation which I dutifully took and kept trying to show someone; however, no one could be bothered to look at it.
The gentleman at the gate just waived us through to the car park and the lady who handed us our tickets (and told us where the all-important restrooms were located) just asked for our names so she could look us up on her computer.
The Tour of the Castle
Tickets in hand, we waited for our guide, Chris, who loved and seemed to know everything about wine and wine country. He was less knowledgeable about the Castella di Amorosa itself (except for the torture chamber) though he gave us the basics.
He told us the castle was built from material that came from Spain, Italy, and Germany; pointed out some of those countries’ influences but omitted some interesting tidbits.
He did not (for example) tell us that the bricks were laid by hand. I looked that up. Even so, I learned a lot.
It’s not simply a replica of a Medieval castle à la Hearst Castle; it’s a fusion of Tuscan Medieval and wine-making modern that makes for a striking effect.
The Torture Chamber
I must admit it was the torture chamber that left the most lasting impression. Perhaps that is why Chris knew so much about the place he called “Human Resources.”
The chamber had the usual accouterments: the torture chair—a chair covered with spikes.
Chris told us that in the good old days, they would sit you on one of those, and passersby would sit on your lap to further drive you into the nails.
Castella di Amorosa’s Iron Maiden
There was an Iron Maiden in the Castella di Amorosa—a kind of cabinet with spikes. But what really got to me was an innocuous-looking, wooden prism. People would be made to sit on that and, over a long, long time, be torn apart.
Sometimes, if the Church (it was mostly the Church, Chris assured us, that specialized in this brutality) was feeling merciful, they would put weights on the condemned’s feet so they would die faster. For the most part, the Church didn’t show such mercy.
After the tour, we tasted the wines (this is a winery, after all). I sipped the only white I have ever liked, and we ended up buying it.
The wine I tasted was just ordinary compared to Castella di Amorosa’s lights. Their special wine could only be tasted by invitation in a special, very lord-of-the-manor sort of room. The closest we got to that was a peek of the room through the gate’s bars.
While we were tasting, I think we saw Dario Sattui, or at least someone who looked a lot like his picture on the Castle’s website.
He was rummaging under the counter for some wines, looking a bit frazzled. I think he had been conducting a tour and needed wine bottles for the wine-tasting part, and his table didn’t have any. It was refreshing to see the lord of the manor acting like an ordinary employee.
We then wandered about the grounds, looking at the animals: the sheep, emu, goats, and chicken who were just hanging about (and munching on) the grape vines.
The kids captured our hearts. There was a little white and black one who liked bossing his siblings around and whose antics made me smile. Perhaps I would have been less amused if I had to care for him, but he was a funny little rascal.
Near the kids, we saw an emu who my husband mistook for an ostrich. An easy mistake to make since the two birds are from the same family and look alike; even though the emu is an Aussie and the ostrich hails from Africa.
You should keep your distance from both since neither is terribly bright but kick hard and run over 40 miles per hour.
Advice for Visiting Castella di Amorosa
My one disappointment is that we didn’t get a more expensive reservation. We went on the Diamond Estate Tour, thinking we could roam about the castle at will, but that kind of access seems to be reserved for the longer and more expensive Cheese and Charcuterie Tour.
Even so, it was a great and memorable trip to a well-stocked castle.
When is Castello di Amorosa open?
Weekday: 10:00am – 5:30pm
Weekend: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Read here about Napa-Style Winery bike tours in Oakland, California.
When Inna Tysoe and her husband are not going on day trips, she enjoys reading an eclectic assortment of books and watching the odd murder mystery. Since December of 2022, she has been the Coordinator for a neighborhood newsletter called the River Park Review.