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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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.