The view from the parapet of the neat lines of grape-festooned vines under a pale blue sky could easily fool you into thinking you were in Tuscany. If you look closer though, there were tell-tale touches to remind you that you were in the Napa Valley of California. Perhaps I noted that the lines of the vines were just too precise or the cypress trees were too well-clipped. Most tellingly, the castle and the grounds were lacking a certain amount of benign grime and neglect that rural Tuscany has never managed to shed. Although we were visiting Northern California with kids, we had a fabulous wine tour primarily because we chose to tour Castello di Amorosa, a family friendly vineyard in Napa Valley.
The History of the Castello di Amorosa
From your very first glance, you can tell the Castello di Amorosa is a labor of love. Let’s face it, you have to be very rich and very committed to build a medieval Tuscan castle in California. Luckily for us, Dario Sattui, the owner of the Castello di Amorosa, is both.
Dario Sattui is a fourth generation vintner and also the owner V.Sattui Winery. His great-grandfather, Vittorio Sattui was an Italian immigrant who set up the winery in San Francisco in the late 19th century. The Sattui vineyard moved to the Napa Valley in the 1970s.
When Sattui bought the land on which he would build the Castello di Amorosa, it held a charming Victorian home on 170 acres. He kept the Victorian home as one of his homes and you can see it by the entrance up the hill to the Castello. Although he had originally meant to use the land to replant the vineyards that had once been there, he was also a lover of medieval architecture.
After about 15 years of planning, Sattui had assembled a team of people he was happy could build him his medieval castle in California. He imported Austrian and Italian builders to California so that he could get the authenticity of building materials and workmanship he wanted. The work started first with the underground aspects in 1995. Along the way, Sattui ran through many builders and even more money in order to achieve his dream castle.
Sattui also wanted to show how medieval architecture had evolved from the 11th to the 13th century. So, for example, he built arches and doorways and then bricked them up.
My kids are fans of visiting castles in general. They were also on board with the whole vineyard in California thing because they had seen the 1998 movie The Parent Trap a zillion times. One of the twins that Lindsay Lohan plays, Hallie, lives with her father in a vineyard in the Napa Valley. I think the incongruity of a European castle in California passed my children by.
A Family Friendly Vineyard in Napa
The Castello di Amorosa was opened to the public in 2007. The pain-staking care that went into the work is obvious. Having seen a fair few European castles ourselves, there is nothing plasticky or Disney about this Castle.
The builders used either actual remnants of European castles or built new parts using the techniques used by medieval craftsmen. There were 200 shipping containers sent to California filled with bits and pieces from French and Italian castles dating from the 11-3th centuries.
The 107 room 121,000 s.f. Castello di Amorosa is set on 8 floors (4 floors above and 4 floors below ground). Obviously the below ground floors are wine cellars and tasting rooms. The underground rooms alone run about 80,000 s.f. (or 2 acres).
Some of the cool medieval touches of the Castle include a drawbridge, a moat, an interior courtyard, 5 towers, a chapel and a torture chamber. Needless to say, my kids loved the torture chamber and instruments. There were some very cool things on display including an Iron Maiden dating from the Renaissance and an Etruscan helmet from before the Roman Empire.
The Great Hall took 1.5 years to complete and was created by 2 Italian painters! The tour guide was not precious about how the children behaved which I appreciated. They clearly had more faith in my children’s ability to not wreak havoc than I did.
A Photo Tour of Castello di Amorosa
The Wine Tasting at Castello di Amorosa
You can’t go to a vineyard in Napa Valley without taking a winery tour! The Castello di Amorosa appreciates this fact which is what makes it one of the most family friendly wineries in Napa Valley.
Our tour group contained several children. When we went for the wine tasting, the children had their own separate table with snacks and colouring to keep them entertained. My children set upon the breadsticks like the ravenous zombies of Z Nation. On the plus side, there seemed to be a never-ending supply of grape juice and breadsticks.
My husband likes to think of himself as a wine connoisseur. He thought the Il Barone Reserve was superb. I know nothing about wine except if I like it. Yes, reader, I liked it. A lot.
Tips For Visiting Castello di Amorosa
The Castello di Amorosa is located at 4045 Saint Helena Highway, Calistoga California 94515. A very popular destination in Napa Valley, you should book tickets for the tour and the wine tasting well ahead of time.
Children under the age of 20 are permitted on the tours when accompanying an adult over the age of 21. There is a reduced price admission for children five years old and above. Thanks to the medieval nature of the rooms, strollers are not allowed on the premises.
Practical Info To Know Before You Go
We stayed at the Villaggio Inn and Spa in nearby Yountville. We rented our car from Hertz as per usual. You will need a car to get around in Napa Valley. Napa Valley have an excellent website geared towards making your visit easy to plan and enjoyable. (You would think all tourist bureaus would do the same!!).
Castello di Amorosa: A Labor of Love by Dario Sattui, Francis Ford Coppola (foreword)
Murder and Mayhem in the Napa Valley by Todd L. Schulman
Blood on the Vine (Murder, She Wrote Mysteries) by Jessica Fletcher
Matt Kramer’s New California Wine by Matt Kramer
Disclosure – We did not receive any form of compensation from Castello di Amorosa for our visit or this review. This article does, however, contain affiliate links about which more information may be found on the disclosure page.