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A review of the Castello di Amorosa experience

by TrevR on April 17, 2007

Here on The Cork Board we’ve covered Daryl Sattui’s brand-new castle winery, Castello di Amorosa, quite extensively–writing about it a couple times before it opened and providing a glimpse of what it looked like the day it officially opened to the public. Today, we’re bringing you multiple photos of the “castle of love” (the English translation) and our review of the visiting experience.

Sign for Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga Now, before we go any further, let us state for the record we are quite cognizant of the fact that many of the things we experienced on day-one will be ironed out (and probably already have) as the staff get settled into their roles and the winery is done being built. So, lets get to it…

The winery: We drove up the long, slightly winding-driveway past the budding vines and at the crest saw the massive castle, outlined by the brown dirt upon which it sits. Workers were busily planting olive trees around the outside of the castle and working on various other things. There were a few folks milling about in the parking lot (an artist painting a picture of the structure), but as the winery officially opened to the public on a Monday, things were relatively quiet.

As we got out of the car, gathered our things and started to walk toward the castle, we noticed a man sitting in the middle of the stairs leading up to the main entrance. Dressed in blue jeans and a light shirt, the grey-haired man was talking on his cell phone and looking out toward us. We immediately realized we were looking at Dary Sattui, the guy who spent the past 13+ years and millions of dollars building Castello di Amorosa. As we approached, he got up and walked behind the massive wooden doors–disappearing from our view and still talking on the phone. At the top of the stairs we paused to take in the eastward-view across the Napa Valley and to snap a few photos.

Front entrance to Castello di AmorosaView from just inside the entrance of Castello di AmorosaCourtyard with flowers at Castello di AmorosaSign to the concierge where you buy tour and tasting tickets

Before we knew it, we were having a private, one-on-one conversation with Mr. Sattui, shaking hands and talking about the winery, the opening and how we heard about it. Sattui was kind enough to pose for a photo for us (which we’ve posted here) right in front of the main entrance.Daryl Sattui in front of Castello di Amorosa

He was quite welcoming and clearly happy to have finally seen his dream come to fruition. After our chat, we went inside, bought our tickets for the tour and tasting ($25 per person) and set about doing some of our own exploration of the castle.

The tour: While supposed to be no more than 12 people (per the ticket), our tour (the winery’s second-ever) included a little more than 20 people evenly divided between locals and tourists. Before we got started, Sattui posed with the group for a picture (taken by our tour guide Lynn) to commemorate the grand opening.

Tower at Castello di AmorosaView from the top of Castello di AmorosaThrough the windowMural under construction at Castello di Amorosa

The tour took us all over the 121,000 square foot castle, up and down the seven levels–where we learned about Sattui’s obsession with art, architecture and attention to detail (such as the 1,000 pound authentic wooden doors). With such a large group, we found it difficult to hear everything being discussed and had to wait several times for everyone to finish taking pictures and catch-up with the rest of the tour. At a little over an hour in length, the tour focused a bit too much on the structure itself and not enough on the wine and winemaking process for our taste.

Inside the Great Hall at Castello di AmorosaWe visited the ‘Great Hall’ with frescos on every wall and learned the castle has an on-site church and steeple, which may someday be available for weddings. The castle was built in an area of the valley originally settled by the Wappo. Apparently the first ten years of construction were focused on building the four underground levels of cellars and caves. This is where the wines are stored and aged and is home to the torture chamber, which includes a 15th century iron maiden, among other frightening items.

Underground view inside Castello di AmorosaTorture chamber inside Castello di AmorosaKnights room at Castello di Amorosa

The staff: Everyone we encountered was friendly and welcoming. The staff were undoubtedly working out the kinks–figuring out where to position themselves, learning the best routes to navigate the 107-room castle, etc. The tour in particular will certainly only get more polished and informative as time goes on.

The tasting room: The tasting room, like the rest of the castle, was large and roomy and still very much a work in progress (for example, we had to pour our excess wine into plastic cups after each tasting). The room, which gives off a feel of elegance and royalty, is outlined with wine bottles stacked neatly about waist-high. The tasting area features a thick white and black marble countertop underneath large brick arches and offers plenty of room for patrons.

Wine bottles in the Castello di Amorosa tasting room

The wine: We had a six-flight tasting of wines that are only sold at the winery or through the wine club. We started with the 2004 Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard ($36). This chardonnay, from vineyards in Santa Barbara, was full-bodied and gave off a strong boquet of toasty oak. On the palate were tropical fruits and a strong buttery taste. Up next was the 2005 Pinot Bianco ($24) from the Carneros region of the Napa Valley. Pinot Bianco is a dry white wine originally from France’s Burgundy region–we found it very fruity (banana, apricot) and sweet. The third wine was the 2005 Gewurztraminer “Dry” ($21). Grown in Mendocino County, this wine had citrus and rose on the nose and was surprisingly spicy on the palate.

We then moved onto the reds, starting with Castello di Amorosa’s house red–the 2004 ‘Il Brigante’ ($20). The 2003 La Castellana Super Tuscan ($48) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Merlot grapes. We enjoyed the hints of black pepper and black cherry on the nose and the long, lingering finish. The final tasting was a 2003 Il Barone Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($68) from Napa Valley. Grown on Diamond Mountain (the vineyard on the left as you come up the driveway to the castle), the Il Barone was aged in French oak for two years and is big and bold. With an interesting combination of black olives, herbs and plenty of tannins, this wine was our favorite of the six.

The Cork Board rating: 3 corks (out of 5 possible). If you’re looking for a great way to spend a few hours being entertained and educated while sipping a little wine, then a visit to the “castle of love” will be right up your alley. Castello di Amorosa will undoubtedly be a big hit with tourists and anyone looking for a unique place to host an event.

If you’re one who visits the Napa Valley with a thirst for wine and wine-alone, then you should have a specific strategy for Castello di Amorosa. With the massive, gorgeous castle staring us in the face at all times, we found it difficult to concentrate on much else (like the wine). While on the tour we heard others mutter the word “Disneyland” at least three times, indicating to us they no longer felt as though they were in the Napa Valley. Personally, we enjoy a quieter place where we can talk to the winemaker, walk the vineyards and focus on the wine. For the wine enthusiast, we might suggest skipping the tour altogether and heading straight for the tasting room to give the wines a try.

The bottom line is the castle is a must-see if for nothing other than the sheer amazement of it.

[techtags: Napa, Napa Valley, Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga, castle winery, wine, winery, Sattui, 94515]

About the Author

has written 716 posts on The Cork Board. He was born and aged in the Napa Valley and has a passion for wine, writing and social media, which led him to co-found this blog in early 2007. Follow him on Twitter @TrevR.

  • Cindy

    Thanks for this review. Would you say that the tour required lots of walking? I’m considering bringing my mom but she had hip surgery a few weeks ago, and I’m worried that this might be a bit too much for her. Thanks!

  • Cindy

    Thanks for this review. Would you say that the tour required lots of walking? I’m considering bringing my mom but she had hip surgery a few weeks ago, and I’m worried that this might be a bit too much for her. Thanks!

  • http://www.uncork29.com/ TrevR

    Cindy–not only does the tour include lots of walking, but it includes lots of stair climbing as you traverse the multiple levels. My wife is nearly six months pregnant and it was nearly too much for her. I’d suggest NOT doing the tour if your mom just had hip surgery. If you do wind up going to the castle, stop back by and let us know what you thought!

  • http://www.uncork29.com TrevR

    Cindy–not only does the tour include lots of walking, but it includes lots of stair climbing as you traverse the multiple levels. My wife is nearly six months pregnant and it was nearly too much for her. I’d suggest NOT doing the tour if your mom just had hip surgery. If you do wind up going to the castle, stop back by and let us know what you thought!

  • Cindy

    Thanks for the feedback! We’ll save this for next year, when she’s up to the walking. Thanks again!

  • Cindy

    Thanks for the feedback! We’ll save this for next year, when she’s up to the walking. Thanks again!

  • Peter

    I visited the Castello di Amorosa in July, 2007. I felt I was at a Disneyland winery — and that isn’t a good thing. Serious and semi-serious wine drinkers should avoid the winery. The wines were good enough, but not at the prices they charged. Although the castle was impressive, I felt it was out-of-place and a monument to someone’s ego. I’d describe myself as a semi-serious wine drinker willing to give nearly anything a go. I have visited dozens of wineries in Napa and Sonoma. A few have disappointed me. This was the biggest disappointment.

  • Peter

    I visited the Castello di Amorosa in July, 2007. I felt I was at a Disneyland winery — and that isn’t a good thing. Serious and semi-serious wine drinkers should avoid the winery. The wines were good enough, but not at the prices they charged. Although the castle was impressive, I felt it was out-of-place and a monument to someone’s ego. I’d describe myself as a semi-serious wine drinker willing to give nearly anything a go. I have visited dozens of wineries in Napa and Sonoma. A few have disappointed me. This was the biggest disappointment.

  • Ken

    Peter, I do agree with you also, to an extent. My wife and I were in Napa the first week of August, and went to the Castle too. Being from Canada, we didn’t have a reservation, nor had the time to come back for one at a later time. So we did the tastings only. The castle is outstanding from a structural standpoint – more than worthy of a Disney attraction! I’d recommend seeing it, to anyone who hasn’t yet. And we didn’t get to do the ‘full-meal-deal’ tour. However, that’s where our excitement ended. We pride ourselves in our wine collection at home, and recognize outstanding wines readily. We found the Castle’s wines very, very average, specially for Napa, where there are spectacular wines. I’m hoping it’s because they’re still a ‘young’ winery. I wish them luck…

  • Ken

    Peter, I do agree with you also, to an extent. My wife and I were in Napa the first week of August, and went to the Castle too. Being from Canada, we didn’t have a reservation, nor had the time to come back for one at a later time. So we did the tastings only. The castle is outstanding from a structural standpoint – more than worthy of a Disney attraction! I’d recommend seeing it, to anyone who hasn’t yet. And we didn’t get to do the ‘full-meal-deal’ tour. However, that’s where our excitement ended. We pride ourselves in our wine collection at home, and recognize outstanding wines readily. We found the Castle’s wines very, very average, specially for Napa, where there are spectacular wines. I’m hoping it’s because they’re still a ‘young’ winery. I wish them luck…

  • http://www.kimberlyarmstrong.com/ Irene & Joni

    Our Bunco group from Grass Valley visited the castle in July of 2007. We enjoyed the concert immensely and very much enjoyed dinner in the turret. We had so much fun meeting Darrell and listening to his stories about his amazing castle. Thank God there weren’t any railroad tracks (remember the story you told us about Reno when you were 17?)!

    Love from the Grass Valley Bunco Group!

  • http://www.kimberlyarmstrong.com Irene & Joni

    Our Bunco group from Grass Valley visited the castle in July of 2007. We enjoyed the concert immensely and very much enjoyed dinner in the turret. We had so much fun meeting Darrell and listening to his stories about his amazing castle. Thank God there weren’t any railroad tracks (remember the story you told us about Reno when you were 17?)!

    Love from the Grass Valley Bunco Group!

  • Roger

    I went there with my girlfriend for her birthday sept. 5. We stood at the wine bar for 10 minutes without a word spoken to us while more than one group who entered after us were served. I didn’t want to think that it might be because my girlfriend is black, this is 2007, but as we went on being ignored, my suspicions grew. We asked for our money back and told them why, we were informed that the fee was an unrefundable entrance fee, not a wine tasting fee. Who woulda thought?

  • Roger

    I went there with my girlfriend for her birthday sept. 5. We stood at the wine bar for 10 minutes without a word spoken to us while more than one group who entered after us were served. I didn’t want to think that it might be because my girlfriend is black, this is 2007, but as we went on being ignored, my suspicions grew. We asked for our money back and told them why, we were informed that the fee was an unrefundable entrance fee, not a wine tasting fee. Who woulda thought?

  • http://www.uncork29.com/ TrevR

    Roger, that’s absolutely awful…sorry to hear it!

  • http://www.uncork29.com TrevR

    Roger, that’s absolutely awful…sorry to hear it!

  • Art

    We were very unimpressed by Castello di Amorosa when we visited in September. We also had to wait to be served, but in our case, at least, I think out of disregard for potential customers rather than prejudice. We did not care for the wine. Leaving that to each individual as a matter of taste, the most shocking thing we encountered was the advice we received in the wine tasting room. My sister-in-law declined a glass of Gewurztraminer because she does not care for dry wine. The wine tasting guide said, “That’s OK. Some people think this wine is too dry and others think our ___ is too sweet, so mix them together!” I doubt that’s what Sattui had in mind when he opened a winery. For all the work, the castle itself did not seem authentic close up. Perhaps it will once the landscaping is completed. For now it looks better from the patio at the Sterling winery across the way.

  • Art

    We were very unimpressed by Castello di Amorosa when we visited in September. We also had to wait to be served, but in our case, at least, I think out of disregard for potential customers rather than prejudice. We did not care for the wine. Leaving that to each individual as a matter of taste, the most shocking thing we encountered was the advice we received in the wine tasting room. My sister-in-law declined a glass of Gewurztraminer because she does not care for dry wine. The wine tasting guide said, “That’s OK. Some people think this wine is too dry and others think our ___ is too sweet, so mix them together!” I doubt that’s what Sattui had in mind when he opened a winery. For all the work, the castle itself did not seem authentic close up. Perhaps it will once the landscaping is completed. For now it looks better from the patio at the Sterling winery across the way.

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  • JMAZ

    Just returned from Napa and had a chance to visit Castello di Amorosa today. We couldn’t get in to the grand tour, but were able to do the wine tasting. My wife and I are relatively new to wines but we found some of their selections to be very good. We had visited many other wineries in the last few days and the chardonnay was among the best–especially for less than $30. The staff was courteous and prompt. I guess the beautiful thing about wine tasting is that its so personal and one person’s likes could be someone else’s dislikes.

  • JMAZ

    Just returned from Napa and had a chance to visit Castello di Amorosa today. We couldn’t get in to the grand tour, but were able to do the wine tasting. My wife and I are relatively new to wines but we found some of their selections to be very good. We had visited many other wineries in the last few days and the chardonnay was among the best–especially for less than $30. The staff was courteous and prompt. I guess the beautiful thing about wine tasting is that its so personal and one person’s likes could be someone else’s dislikes.

  • Cakayak

    Whatever you do, do NOT join their wine club. We joined upon the promise of being invited to several, exclusive “members only” events. After 2 months and several unreturned phone calls to find out the status of membership, my Visa was charged for a shipment that still has yet to arrive. I had to call UPS to find out the winery charged me but still hadn’t supplied UPS the shipment! Add to that the fact that the winery admitted that they don’t have their wine club staffed, and well….why exactly are they promoting something that they can’t fulfill on? I’m a member of several wine clubs and this one is by far, the worst! No customer service and a lot of unfulfilled promises that by most, would be considered “false advertising”!

  • Cakayak

    Whatever you do, do NOT join their wine club. We joined upon the promise of being invited to several, exclusive “members only” events. After 2 months and several unreturned phone calls to find out the status of membership, my Visa was charged for a shipment that still has yet to arrive. I had to call UPS to find out the winery charged me but still hadn’t supplied UPS the shipment! Add to that the fact that the winery admitted that they don’t have their wine club staffed, and well….why exactly are they promoting something that they can’t fulfill on? I’m a member of several wine clubs and this one is by far, the worst! No customer service and a lot of unfulfilled promises that by most, would be considered “false advertising”!

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