About 14 years ago, rumors started to spread across the Napa Valley that long-time resident and vintner Daryl Sattui (owner of the famed V. Sattui Winery and tourist destination) was building himself a castle. I was living in the Napa Valley at the time, and many of the locals gossiped about how the castle would be gaudy, tacky, and would lead to the “Disneyland-ification” of the Napa Valley. Well, rumors be damned.
Last week, I had the rare pleasure of being led through the castle on a tour with Daryl Sattui himself. And there is nothing gaudy about Castello di Amorosa. Indeed, Sattui has spent a fortune and 14 long years bringing his vision to fruition, and the results are at once inspiring, breathtaking, and, at times, aesthetically moving.
Construction on Castello di Amorosa began in 1995; it was opened to the public earlier this year. The castle itself is 121,000 square feet, and includes four underground levels. To put its size into perspective, the underground cellars spread out over two acres. They twist and turn in a medieval labyrinth of stone and wrought iron doors, and transport one not only deep into an amazingly complex wine cellar, but also back in time.
There are 107 rooms in Sattui’s castle, including a church; stables; a great royal hall that features frescos painted by Italian artists in residency while construction was still underway; the royal apartment; secret passageways; a prison and torture chamber (which includes authentic instruments of torture); an escape tunnel; and gorgeous loggias. The ceilings throughout contain 200-year-old stones and bricks brought from Italy. They lend the castle an air of history and gravitas. The castle feels, literally, hundreds of years old. Sattui even had a defensive tower built, only to have it partially blown apart later so the castle would appear as though it had been through battle.
Sattui, who studies medieval architecture and history as a hobby, traveled all over the world while researching the construction of his castle. In the process, he purchased a medieval monastery in Italy and is currently renovating an old castle in Sienna, which he hopes to transform into a hotel. His meticulous attention to detail and obsessive need to render projects aesthetically and historically accurate have resulted in a castle that is nothing short of an architectural wonder. Castello di Amorosa is Northern California’s own Hearst Castle, but, dare I say, even more wondrous.
The long-term construction on the castle proved to be a great drain on Sattui’s resources. Just six months ago, he fired his gardener and housekeeper, all in an effort to tighten the purse strings and ensure that his dream would become a reality. In fact, on the day Sattui gave me a private tour of the castle, he was cognizant of lights that had been left on in unattended passageways and lamented the fact that it’s wasteful to leave lights burning when they’re not being used. Even now, he seems to be slightly overwhelmed by the responsibility of having built such an architectural wonder, but also awed and in love with the results at the same time.
The Man and His Wine
Sattui himself is tall and athletic. He has a sardonic wit and a take-no-prisoners attitude. He’s not one to suck up or try to impress. While his castle, ironically, is one of the most impressive winery buildings I have seen, Sattui seems not to care what others think of his architectural and enological dreams. He’s a maverick and a doer. Hangers-on or passive dreamers kindly step aside. Sattui is on a mission to make his life matter, and to leave behind a considerable Sattui family legacy.
I took an instant liking to Sattui, and his gruff, yet occasionally gracious manner. He is the fourth generation of his family who has dedicated his life to the wine business, having come from a long line of peasants who also made and, eventually, sold wine. He is grateful for the opportunity to have been able to make this kind of dream a reality, and often, during our tour, he referred to himself as “so blessed” and “so lucky.”
The wines of Castello di Amorosa are pleasant and, at times, lovely. The white wines are the real show stoppers, with a chardonnay and pinot bianco that are crisp, elegant, and very well made. The pinot bianco, an Italian-style white wine, captured my imagination. It is only $24 a bottle and has such gorgeous aromatics. I highly recommend this wine, as well as the gew¼rztraminer, a wine that appears to have been made to match perfectly with Thai food.
Sattui’s red wines include a 2003 La Castellana (the feminine head of a castle), a wine he dedicated to his wife, Yana. It is a super Tuscan blend that includes cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot. It would do well with a bit of decanting, but I would recommend this wine with a rich, lavish meal of New Zealand lamb or a great filet mignon, perhaps.
Do set aside some time this fall or winter to visit Castello di Amorosa. You will be glad you made the journey there. For all the castle’s opulence and splendor, there is nothing intimidating about the staff members who work there. They’re friendly, helpful, and casual, which makes a visit there all the more memorable and one of a kind.
For information on tiers of visits, which range from $20 per person to $365 per person (for a VIP private tasting with a meal), visit castellodiamorosa.com.