A California millionaire built a massive ’13th-century Italian castle’ in the middle of wine country — take a look inside

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Napa Valley has been called the Disneyland of wine country, and with good reason. It’s essentially a boozy amusement park for adults, with elite wineries and resorts packed along a highway.

Another reason for the comparison: The region has a medieval castle.

Nestled in the rolling hills of Calistoga, California, Castello di Amorosa is a world-class winery based in a replica of a 13th-century Tuscan castle. The owner, Dario Sattui, is a fourth-generation winemaker and ardent Italophile who spent $40 million to bring a slice of the old country to Napa Valley. At 142,000 square feet, the castle took more than a decade to build.

We recently took a guided tour of Castello di Amorosa. Here’s what it was like.


Castello di Amorosa looks like a 13th-century castle in the Italian countryside.

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And it is — sort of. Owner Dario Sattui once wrote, “Castello di Amorosa appears to be an authentic castle for one reason only. It is an authentic castle, though fancified.”

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Banners marking the 10th anniversary of the completion of Castello di Amorosa hang on the exterior walls.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Castello di Amorosa


In the early 1990s, Sattui — already an established wine-maker — bought the land with plans to replant a vineyard on the property and build an 8,500-square-foot winery.

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His fascination with Old World Italian architecture took over and Sattui began to draw up plans for a more grandiose winery. He spent years visiting and studying medieval castles and wineries throughout Italy and Europe, as part of an exhaustive quest for authenticity. Sattui wanted every detail – from the drawbridge to the dungeon – to mimic 13th-century structures.

He hired master builders from five countries to bring his vision to life.


“I ended up spending everything I had, sold all my stock, had to borrow money from Wells Fargo. I just hope I don’t go broke,” Sattui said at the time of the castle’s opening in 2007.

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Castello di Amorosa became one of the most profitable operations in wine country.

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In addition to hosting wine tastings and tours, which start at $25 per person, the company sells more than 50,000 cases of wine direct-to-consumer each year, with no other distribution.

I joined a guided tour and premium wine tasting for $40 on a recent Friday afternoon.


One of the first details our tour guide, Thomas, pointed out was this crooked tower. During construction, county officials wanted 10 feet skimmed off the castle’s height to comply with building codes. Sattui asked his crew to do so in a haphazard manner so the tower would look battle-worn.

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Fermentation tanks sit outside, drawing a stark contrast to the brick castle walls. Castello di Amoroso contains nearly one million antique bricks from torn-down Austrian palaces.

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Source: Castillo di Amoroso


The castle includes 107 rooms in all — 90 are devoted to winemaking and wine storage.

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We found French oak barrels around every corner. The caves, located underground, offer an ideal environment for aging wine with cool, constant temperatures and high humidity.

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The barrels are so cumbersome to move around, it’s easier for winemakers to fill them in the caves. They pour wine through “very clean” hoses attached to holding tanks, Thomas said.

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This 13th-century locker room is where knights would dress in armor and prepare for battle.

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We passed a chamber where Sattui keeps hundred-year-old wine bottles from the family’s original winery. They’ve been passed down through four generations of winemakers.

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A popular stop on the guided tour is the torture room — a staple of medieval castles.

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There are two original artifacts in the torture room. Interrogators would strap their prisoners into this prickly chair and light a fire underneath, causing them to squirm.

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The Iron Maiden from the late Renaissance was one used to confine prisoners. It contained spikes and sharp nails that people would impale themselves on as they grew weary.

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At last we arrived in the grand barrel cellar, the crown jewel of Castello di Amorosa. The 12,000-square-foot room took two years to build, largely because of its vaulted ceilings.

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The precise level of detail was something to behold.

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Then came the best part of the tour — wine tasting! Thomas poured glasses of the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a wine bursting with aromas of cassis and mushroom.

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It tasted much more earthy than the Cabernet I tried at another winery in Napa earlier that day. I prefer my red wines fruity, but I appreciated this one for its differences.

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We walked past the gift shop, which is decorated with frescos painted by Italian artists.

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… And we entered a premium area for wine tasting.

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Each tour group is sequestered in a small cellar, where they enjoy a complimentary tasting of five current-release wines from Castello di Amorosa.

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Visitors could also buy a small box of pairing chocolates for about $5.

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Throughout the tasting, people scribbled notes on the menus provided, taking note of the Italian-style wines they wanted to pick up from the gift shop after the tour.

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Castello di Amorosa is one of the most unique experiences you can find in Napa Valley. It’s a tourist trap, but still worth a visit.

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“I never had the intention to build a tourist trap,” Sattui told the St. Helena Star. “What I [wanted] was to build something unique, something beautiful, something authentic, something I personally love, and I was hoping that other people [would] respond to it as well and they have.”

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