Before heading down to Disneyland in Anaheim from San Francisco this August our group took a 1-day detour up to Napa and stayed in Calistoga. Keeping with the family-friendly theme of our trip, we visited a winery where children are welcome and even get their very own local drink (non-alcoholic of course) to swirl, sip, and savour.
Castello di Amorosa is located at 4045 Saint Helena Hwy, just north of the Culinary Institute of America, and south of Calistoga. Their wines are only sold on-site (and online), meaning you won’t find them in any liquor stores north or south of the border. After spending over a decade on building the winery’s authentic-style 13th century castle, you’ll see why they want to get feet in the door to show off this stone marvel.
Driving north from San Francisco, you’ll hit the Napa Valley in about an hour, depending on traffic. Continue up the valley for about 30 minutes and you’ll reach V. Sattui Winery in Saint Helena. This is the family winery of Dario Sattui who built Castello di Amorosa. Dario resurrected his grandfather’s V. Sattui San Francisco wine label in the early 1970s.
Keep heading north and you’ll reach the Castello in about 10 minutes as you wind through the countryside, hugged by the valley’s walls and surrounded by vineyards, orchards, and fields. On a hot summer day the crisp air flowing up from the bay pours into the warm valley providing ideal growing conditions for grapes. The day we visited it was rather muggy and after a hot summer the ground was brown but the trees and vines were glowing green.
I didn’t spot the Tuscan-style castle from the road but once you start climbing up the paved driveway — flanked by vines, olive trees, and wandering fluffed-up brahma chickens — it will majestically appear.
Chickens, geese, peafowl, and an emu or two share the lawn and garden space and you might spot a few feathers flying between the rows of vines that gently grade back down toward the highway. However, walking around the outside of a castle is not nearly as fun as exploring one on the inside.
You can check out the castle on your own for a fee (with limited access) or do tours and tastings for just a few dollars more, which is the much better deal since you get full access, a tour guide, and various tasting options.
After a few minutes of walking around the outside of the castle — complete with a moat-like pond — our group walked up the steps, past gargoyles and stately statues of lions, to the entrance where our group met with Jim Sullivan, Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing. For the next two hours Jim took us around a good chunk of the castle’s 121,000 square feet, including several tunnels and underground levels along with wine caves.
Jim told our group that Castello di Amorosa (the Castle of Love) was Dario’s way to bring a slice of Italy back to Napa. “As you look around the courtyard you’re doing to see different architectural styles represented. One of the things that [Dario] wanted to show was how castles would evolve over time.”
We pivoted on the stone courtyard floor as our eyes darted from feature to feature, flying buttresses to hand-forged ironwork. One structure would have been the chapel in 8th or 9th century Romanesque style with very little cement or grout used.
We turned again and glance up to another corner above the courtyard as Jim explained, “Back here is 9th and 10th century, still Romanesque, when they found out how to use cement, sand and limestone.” He added that it would be typical for castles to start something and stop then go to war then come back and finish it, or not finish it, explaining how pieced together the Castello is so that it looks authentic – from the 8th century to the 14th century and beyond.
The castle’s history is also Dario Sattui’s history, which you can read in detail on the winery’s website. Online, Dario separates the history into three sections: The Start, The Castles, and Building the Castle.
In the mid 1990s, Dario enlisted Fritz Gruber from Austria to teach medieval building techniques along with a small team of others when he was finally ready to start building his own castle in Napa (after owning a 12-century castle in the Italy’s Florentine Hills). After 30 years of history and 15 years of building, the underground portion was completed in 2004 and by 2007 Castello di Amorosa opened.
Following a tour, there are several tasting options, from private rooms in the underground tunnels to the wine caves and tastings paired with cheese or chocolate. We headed up to the Il Passito Room where we sampled two whites and two reds, and the kids in our group got a special Muscat grape juice to sip. The whites were crisp and fruity, and the bold reds paired beautifully with a collection of decadent chocolate truffles.
Currently ranked as the #1 attraction in Calistoga per Trip Advisor, Castello di Amorosa is a thoroughly entertaining stop for any wine country adventure – with or without the kids. You can completely geek-out on wine with their wine club, special events, and tours or grab a bottle to-go while the family takes photos of the animals on the front lawn and explores the stone corners of the castle.