After more than 15 years of research, I was ready to build my castle in the Napa Valley.
And I had my first paying customers, Peter Thomas. They love the Napa Valley. Photo taken April 29, 2006.
I had accumulated a wealth of knowledge on medieval architecture, a huge library of books, photos, plans and detailed sketches. I couldn't wait to get started. The renovation of my historic Victorian at the bottom of the hill on the same property would have to wait. I was going to build my castle first.
Within a short time of acquiring property on which I would build, Lars Nimskov, the naval architect from Denmark, came from Italy and we began working on plans which were submitted and approved by Napa County a year later.
Lars Nimskov (in red jacket) oversees construction of Castello di Amorosa in 1998.
We would build the underground cave and cellars first. Then we would build the castle walls, towers, and all above ground structures. I had been saving my money for years. I was sure that with my savings coupled with current earnings I could manage financially if I were prudent in other areas. Construction I figured would take about five or six years. Boy, I was wrong on both accounts!
Dario Sattui, September 18, 2006. The Drawbridge is under construction. (Photo: Pat Daniels)
On January 5th, 1995, we began construction of 900 linear feet of caves. We hired a firm that used a Welsh mining bore which excavated horizontally into the hillside at a rate of 15 feet per day. In five and a half months, the caves were finished; the perfect environment for aging wine with cool, constant temperatures and high humidity. The problem was we now had a mountain of excavated, poor-quality soil we didn't know what to do with.
And the excavating was just starting. We had three more underground levels (originally one level until I expanded the building) of cellars to excavate and then build. The mountain of dirt became progressively higher.
Fritz Gruber, the master builder from Austria and one of the few persons in the world who knew medieval building techniques, agreed to come for three months with six men. They were to build the first two rooms and show us how it was done. Shortly thereafter, seven men arrived and moved into my house along with Lars. None of them, save Fritz, spoke any English. My home had been turned into a boarding house. But I knew I had to skimp monetarily to see this project to completion.
Master builder, Fritz Gruber pictured with one of his works of art in Europe.
Three months later, Fritz and his men left for Austria. I was really concerned we would not be able to do complex medieval ceiling vaulting ourselves and we would have to stop building or construct ceiling which were not authentic. But Lars was very capable and, by observing for three months, figured out how to do it.
Through rain, occasional snow, cold, heat, and heavy winds, we built Castello di Amorosa, working six days a week, usually ten or more hours a day. Over the years, we employed builders from eight different countries and materials from five.
I kept changing and enlarging the plan, carried away with this obsession to build ever better and ever more. When things weren't done absolutely authentically and correctly, we tore them down and started again. Along the way we kept referring back to source materials and photos, making sure that every minute detail was done properly.
As the years of building continued on, I divorced, lost my hair, became more wrinkled, was struck by a car crossing a San Francisco street, and endured a major flood and a slowdown of my energy. But I always kept building. The 5-6 year project expanded from the original 8,500 to 121,000 square feet and 107 rooms, all different. I went through my money- all of it. Then I sold all my stock to raise cash, often when the market indicated to do the contrary. When that money didn't suffice, I sold my castle in Tuscany. I fired my housekeeper, then the gardener in an effort to save money to use in construction. I skimped everywhere I could to keep building. And the years of construction kept slowly rolling by. Instead of semi-retiring to Italy in 1994 as I had envisioned doing, I was working harder than ever at both V. Sattui, my original winery, and on building Castello di Amorosa. But I loved it. I couldn't wait to get out of bed in the morning and hurry to the construction site.
Finally in 2005, I realized that I might not finish the project in my lifetime. I replaced Lars Nimskov, with whom I did not get along, but endured his bad temper because he understood what I wanted and was capable of doing it. I thought of hiring an American contractor, but those whom I had met lacked the knowledge of medieval construction and were intimidated by the project with no idea how to build it.
But through a friend, I found an Italian builder, Paolo Ardito from Bologna. We met at a freeway off ramp in Italy. We were wary of each other at first, but we both took a chance. He spoke virtually no English which complicated things, and out of necessity I communicated in my bad Italian. But somehow it worked. He brought over seven master masons whom I quickly sent back to Italy upon discovering that master builders they were not. I quadrupled the construction crew to 64 and we kept building.
Dario Sattui and Paolo Ardito reconnect on the Drawbridge (with Dario's dog, Lupo) in 2010. (Photo: Jim Sullivan 2010)
We worked over 10 years building underground, often seeing daylight only at lunchtime. We completed more than 80 rooms underground, each different, using all the ideas I had discovered after researching for many years in Europe. The square footage of the underground rooms alone, built on four separate levels, was nearly 80,000, or two acres. These rooms were to be barrel aging cellars and our wine tasting rooms.
Construction of the cellars under the Tasting Room in 1998.
In 2004, we finally finished the underground portion and began building above.
The Great Hall, entrance to Courtyard and North Tower under construction in 2005.
We constructed a dry moat, high defensive fortified walls, five towers, courtyards and loggias, a Tuscan farmhouse and other outbuildings. We erected archways, a big kitchen, a Great Hall that took one and a half years to completely fresco. We built stables, an apartment for the nobles, wine fermenting rooms, a church and chapel, secret passageways, and even a prison and torture chamber. I was bent on being totally authentic incorporating every element of a real 12th - 13th century Tuscan castle. I attempted to depict how castles evolved over time, by erecting doorways and niches and then bricking them up. We built a partially destroyed tower.
Entrance to the Courtyard from the Crush Pad in 2004.
Construction of the Drawbridge steps. The entrance to the Castello can be seen in the upper left. Photo taken in 2003.
View from the South Tower. Great Hall on the left, Upper Terrace on the right. Walkway to Great Hall in center. Photo taken in 2005.
Battle-damaged tower under construction in 2005. Farmhouse (far right) and fermentation rooms taking shape.
Castello di Amorosa appears to be an authentic castle for one reason only: it is an authentic castle, though fancified. We either used construction methods and materials that would have been used 1,000 years ago, or we used very old hand-made materials that had survived up to modern times. A fireplace predating Christopher Columbus adorns the Great Hall, and Iron Maiden from the late Renaissance dominates the torture chamber. A wrought iron dragon from the times of Napoleon hovers over the massive main door. More than 8,000 tons of stone were chiseled, not sawed, by hand to be absolutely authentic. Nearly 200 containers of old, hand made materials were shipped from Europe to lend authenticity.
We spent years sourcing old materials. Where we couldn't find authentic handmade materials, we created them by using the same methods and materials of long ago. Fritz Gruber supplied me with nearly one million handmade, antique bricks from torn-down Hapsburg palaces. Georgio Mariani of Assisi in Umbria, along with his father, brother and uncle, made all lamps, iron gates and decorative iron pieces by hand over an open forge. Every nail, every chain link, every hinge and lock was hand-done by the Marianis. Their friend, Lucio, made all the leaded glass windows by hand. The Nanni brothers hand-carved all the ceiling beams. Loris Vanni and his brother-in-law Marino hand carved most of the door and window surrounds and the well. Dario Ruffini hand-carved the stone crests depicting my family's coat of arms. There were many others, mostly from Italy, too numerous to name, who lent a hand to create the only real medieval castle in the United States. Even an Italian architect specializing in the restoration of medieval buildings, Frederico Franci, lent advice.
There were problems, from containers full of materials not arriving on time to the County making us re-grout virtually all the walkways and rebuild all the stairs, as they didn't quite comply with local codes.
I kept declaring larger dividends than I normally would have from V. Sattui to keep afloat. But finally, in late 2005, I ran out of money. Enter Wells Fargo Bank-- from which I secured a large loan. By mid-2006, I was nearly in a panic about going bankrupt and losing my entire property. I simply couldn't continue to expend large sums of money I had invested in the Castle, the winery equipment, the vineyards and the wine inventory. It had been nearly 14 years without one penny back. I started selling some of the Castle wine cheaply just to raise money. I borrowed from V. Sattui as well as the bank. I was desperate.
Just as with the Castle, I had endeavored to make no compromises with the wines. We planted vineyards in 1994 through 1996. Yet we waited to make the wines until we had older vines to produce the highest quality.
Today Castello di Amorosa produces some of the best wines in the world from its Diamond Mountain District vineyards surrounding the Castello. (Photo: Jim Sullivan 2010)
Ramparts, towers, the guard tower and a variety of Castle defensive positions overlook the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Primitivo vineyards. (Photo: Jim Sullivan 2010)
Finally, we were able to open on April 7, 2007. I had no idea if the project would be well-received or not. Would I be laughed at or would people respond positively? The first few days after opening gave me hope. The response to both the Castle and our wines was overwhelmingly positive.
The Chapel overlooks the Napa Valley, a perfect spot to pause and relax, a welcome sign that you're nearing the Castello di Amorosa. (Photo: Jim Sullivan 2010)
Peter Velleno Promoted to Associate Winemaker at Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa, Dario Sattui’s authentically-styled 13th century Tuscan castle and winery in Calistoga, is pleased to announce that Peter Velleno has been promoted to Associate Winemaker from Assistant Winemaker. He will have overall responsibility for crafting all wines in collaboration with Brooks Painter, Director of Winemaking.
”Pete has shown himself to be a skillful and creative Winemaker who excels in managing our wine quality and Production Team” said Painter. “His background in technical winemaking is matched both by his talents as an artistic blender and his determination as a manager to seek out the best wines we can possibly produce.”
Before joining Castello di Amorosa in 2008, Velleno worked at William Hill Winery as Assistant Winemaker.
“We are very pleased with the direction of our winemaking,” said Castello di Amorosa President, Georg Salzner. “Peter’s focus is on crafting wine of exceptional quality, balance and style that truly reflects the terrior of the Napa Valley.”
Velleno holds a B.S. in Fermentation Science from the University of California, Davis. He was born and raised in San Francisco where he and his two older brothers were the fifth generation of their family to the born in the city. Today, Velleno, his wife, Lauren and their daughter make their home in Napa where they enjoy playing tennis, biking, cooking and spending time in the Napa Valley.
Following fourteen years of construction, Sattui opened Castello di Amorosa on April 9, 2007. Situated in the hills above Calistoga, Castello di Amorosa- a family-owned business- produces world-class wines which are sold only at the winery direct to the consumer. The castle winery was made with brick, wood and iron imported from Europe and combined with over 8,000 tons of local, Napa Valley stone. Today, Castello di Amorosa, a popular Napa Valley destination, offers a variety of wine tasting and touring options in a unique Tuscan castle setting.
Castello di Amorosa Promotes Jim Sullivan to Vice President, Public Relations and Marketing
Jim Sullivan has been promoted to Vice President, Public Relations and Marketing at Castello di Amorosa, Dario Sattui’s authentically-styled 13th century Tuscan castle and winery. Sullivan will spearhead the Castello’s publicity and marketing initiatives. He will report directly to Georg Salzner, President of Castello di Amorosa.
“I’m proud to congratulate Jim on his promotion to this new position and look forward to his continued professional growth in the wine industry,” said Georg Salzner, president of Castello di Amorosa. “He is an asset to our winery, and I know he will continue to provide exemplary leadership for our organization.”
With over 20 years of marketing, public relations and business development experience with professional motorsports teams and in a variety of healthcare organizations in Southern California, Sullivan first joined Castello di Amorosa in 2008 as Public Relations and Marketing Manager.
Sullivan holds an MBA from the University of Redlands and a Bachelor of Science from Central Washington University.
He resides in St. Helena, Calif.
Castello di Amorosa and the Napa Echelon Gran Fondo
Castello di Amorosa invites you to join Team Castello di Amorosa for the Napa Echelon Gran Fondo on May 21. It's a European-style, mass start event -- benefiting local charity-- beginning in downtown Napa and then traversing up and down the legendary Napa Valley.
Join the team by visiting: https://ssl.charityweb.net/echelongranfondo/napa/castellodiamorosa.htm
The ride benefits local charities including St. Helena Hospital Martin-O'Neil Cancer Center, the Queen of the Valley Cancer Center and The Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition.
I can see it now, 30 riders dressed in yellow and blue on the start line in downtown Napa, ready to conquer either the 30, 60 or 100 mile course. You'll look sharp in a custom, Team Castello di Amorosa kit (custom pro jersey and bib shorts) designed by Dario Sattui. The yellow and blue signify his University of California colors (Go Bears!); the sleeves are adorned with the colors of the Italian flag- the right sleeve and chest is a perfect spot for the Sattui Family crest. We've deeply discounted the kit for those riding on Team Castello di Amorosa - $115 for both the jersey and bib shorts, but act fast as quantities and sizes are limited.
On the starting line, you'll feel like you're in the Tour de France as a helicopter hovers overhead taking photos of us all. And then comes the best part-- the Silverado Trail is closed to vehicular traffic for several miles and becomes the Napa Echelon Gran Fondo bike path!!
You are invited to have your photo taken, dressed in yellow and blue, on the steps of the Castello di Amorosa Drawbridge on Friday at 3:00 p.m. Don't miss this opportunity!
Follow the link below to register to ride for or donate funds on behalf of Team Castello di Amorosa:
Thank you for joining Team Castello di Amorosa!
Castello di Amorosa's 2007 Il Barone Tops in Blind Tasting
The St. Helena Star Napa Valley Vintners Association tasting panel assembled for a blind tasting of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the Napa Valley, priced $95 and up. Panelists, comprised of local winemakers and others in the wine trade, split into two groups, tasted 18 wines in three flights of six-- a total of 36 wines. Castello di Amorosa's 2007 Il Barone ($95) was in the top 6 best wines along with Joseph Phelps Vineyards 2007 Insignia ($225), Merryvale Vineyards 2007 Profle ($150), Barnett Vineyards 2008 Spring Mountain District ($125), Hall Wines 2007 Rutherford ($165), Groth Vineyard & Winery 2007 Oakville ($125). And in the final taste-off of these six great Napa Valley wines, Castello di Amorosa's Il Barone was third. Joseph Phelps and Merryvale tied for first.
We knew the Il Barone was great when Robert Parker praised it's quality and awarded it 94 points and now comes this great result from a prestigious blind tasting by local winemakers. This wine won't last long so get a bottle or case in your cellar today!
Il Barone Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, vintages 2003-2008 now available in the tasting room.
Large format bottles in the Tasting Room.
Reserve Wines Score with Robert Parker
Leading international wine critic, Robert Parker was back in the Napa Valley recently at the invitation of the Napa Valley Vintners Association to taste and rate Napa Valley wines. Castello di Amorosa wasted no time in sharing our best 2008 wines (not yet released in the tasting room), including a barrel sample of the 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The results, published in his influential, "Wine Advocate" journal, proved Mr. Parker continues to like our wines and reflected it in his scores, rating each wine 90 points or greater for the second consecutive year.
The comments, or tasting notes, that accompany the scores are very important, perhaps even more important than the score itself. "The written commentary that accompanies the ratings is a better source of information regarding the wine's style and personality, its relative quality vis-a-vis its peers, and its value and aging potential than any score could ever indicate," states Parker in the "Wine Advocate."
The results of his tasting of Napa Valley wines were published in Wine Advocate #192, December, 2010. Il Barone receive a rating of 92 points. In his written commentary, he noted, " The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Il Barone (91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot) is a selection of the estate's finest lots of Cabernet Sauvignon. Graphite, creme de cassis, black currant and spice box aromas jump from the glass of this opaque ruby/purple-colored 2008. Expansive, rich, authoritative and elegant, with impressive texture and length as well as sweet tannin, it will be even better in 3-4 years, and should last for 15+."
The 2008 La Castellana Super Tuscan Blend received a similar outstanding review and a 90 point score. He wrote, "The 2008 La Castellana (71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 14% Sangiovese) is a supple-textured, dense plum/ruby/purple-tinged wine offering notes of high class, unsmoked tobacco, sweet cherries, black currants, earth and spice. Medium to full-bodied, silky textured, complex and already delicious, it is ideal for drinking over the next 7-8 years."
Looking to the future, we submitted a barrel sample of 2009 Il Barone and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley knowing full well these wines would not be receiving a score. Nonetheless, we were interested in what Mr. Parker thought about some of our best barrels of wine as selected by Dario Sattui, Brooks Painter, Winemaker; Assistant Winemaker, Peter Velleno, and President, Georg Salzner. Knowing the importance of his recent commentary, we are extremely excited about wines that will be not released in for another 2-3 years. Parker stated,"Barrel samples of the 2009 Il Barone and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley revealed well-endowed, deeply colored wines with sweet tannins. They both possessed all the components needed to be as good as their 2008 and 2007 counterparts, but it's too early to pass judgment."
2007 La Castellana and Il Barone, available for purchase in the tasting room or on our website.
While the 2008 wines are not yet released, we are pleased to offer the 2007 Il Barone, 94 points, and La Castellana, 92 points in the Il Passito Room, our reserve wine tasting and wine club member room. Situated above the Courtyard, the Il Passito Room offers comfortable leather seating in which to enjoy our award-winning wines.
It was good times for friends and family at Castello di Amorosa as Amici del Barone Wine Club members and their invited guests enjoyed some good old fashioned Holiday Season cheer.
After traveling through the stunning Napa Valley, guests were greeted in the Castello's frescoe-adorned Great Hall with a glass of elegant Castello di Amorosa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Castello di Amorosa's, Thelma Garcia pours 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
The stars came out to play. This is 2006 Il Barone Cabernet Sauvignon, a great Castle wine; it's 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and Dario Sattui's favorite wine.
The Castello's very own, Lance Selmin, a former baker felt right at home at the Outdoor Oven cooking fresh flat bread for the guests. With garlic, rosemary and an olive oil produced from the Castello's 100 year old olive trees, this bread was a perfect pairing for the newly-released 2007 Sangiovese Napa Valley.
This is one hot oven!
The Royal Apartment was home to our finest reserve reds, La Castellana, the Super Tuscan Blend and Il Barone.
A vertical selection of Il Barone 2003 - 2008, a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
It was their first return visit to the Castello since recently joining the Wine Club.
From the top left, Sandra Witmer, Arlene Greener, Chrystal Acker, Kelly McDonald.
Next stop, the Il Passito Reserve and Club Room.
Rene Lawrence and Frank Mesta smiling for the camera in the Il Passito Room.
Mike Ochoa, Annette Hagen brought Randy and Kristy Gresh (originally from North Dakota) to the party.
Gailyn and Neil Riley came to Castello di Amorosa and heard we about our New Year's Eve Masquerade Ball so they asked, "How can we ring in the New Year here at the Castle?" They quickly joined the Wine Club and now they'll be here to help celebrate 2011.
Castello di Amorosa's 2008 Bien Nacido Vineyards Chardonnay Scores 92 Points with Wine Spectator
Utilizing grapes sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Barbara county, Castello di Amorosa Winemakers, Brooks Painter and Peter Velleno crafted an elegant Chardonnay worthy of 92 points in a recent edition of Wine Spectator.
American wine critic with particular expertise on California wines, Wine Spectator's, James Laube, commented, "A real treat in exotic Chardonnay. Firm, rich and creamy, with a mix of tropical fruit flavors built around guava, pineapple, fig and melon. Full-bodied, with spicy oak and a long, lingering finish. Drink now through 2017."
The 2007 vintage of this wine was Double Gold, Best of Class in Chardonnay at the 2010 American Fine Wine Competition in Florida and besting over 50 other Chardonnay's from around the country. Painter and Velleno will submit the 2008 vintage to Florida to defend it's well-earned title as one of the top Chardonnay's in America.
It's great paired with rich herb-roasted chicken and rich seafood dishes. Thinking of BBQing salmon? Aged in oak and full bodied this Chardonnay made at Napa Valley winery, Castello di Amorosa, is silky and mouth-filling and our recommended pairing for the bbq salmon all year round.
Calistoga's Winter in the Wineries:
A passport provides access to world-class Calistoga wineries and great Napa Valley wines
Castello di Amorosa joins world-class Calistoga wineries for the 2010 Winter in the Wineries passport weekend held December 3, 2010 through February 6, 2011. All you will need to participate is a Winter in the Wineries passport; they're only $50 and it will provide you access to participating wineries where you'll taste great Napa Valley wines this winter.
With a bountiful harvest now completed, our focus now turns to relaxing and enjoying the fruits of our efforts. Make Castello di Amorosa your first stop as you taste great wines from some great wineries including Chateau Montelena, Sterling Vineyards, Bennett Lane Winery, Clos Pegase, Envy Wines, Lava Vine Winery, Madrigal Vineyards, Rios Wine Company, Summers Estate Wines, T-Vine Cellars, Twomey Cellars, Vermeil Wines and Von Strasser Winery.
Here's how it works. Purchase your passport by calling 707-967-6274; it's one (1) passport per person required (no split tastings). Visit each winery once during the program period.
With a variety of wineries participating, we suggest you come back often. Enjoy the cool days of winter while you're wine tasting and treat yourself to world famous hot springs, shopping in downtown Calistoga or dining in one of the local restaurants. That's plenty for one day so bring your family and check out the many hotels and B&B's in Calistoga.
Calistoga's Winter in the Wineries- 12/3/10 -- 2/6/11
Passports are on sale now! Call 707-967-6274
The Amici Del Barone, Castello di Amorosa's Wine club gathered to celebrate the fruits of the harvest. It is common that celebrations at the Castello often take on a life of their own and last Saturday's Festa del 'Uva was no exception.
While the Grape Stomp Competition was the featured event of the evening, there was plenty more to see including demonstrations featuring cooperage, hand-waxing of Il Barone bottles and cork manufacturing demonstrations by Scott Webster of Portocork. The entire Castello was open and alive with celebration.
Wine club members came from as far away as Hawaii to the Festa to eat the great food, drink great wine and stomp the heck out of some real nice Napa Valley grapes. Teams were formed with names like, FOTY, Nutmeg Alohas, Grape Nuts, Janie's Jumpers, First Crush, Oceans 11, The Grapes of Wrath, Just Juicin', The Grape Ape, The Big Squeeze, Buffalo Warriors, Purple Grape, Grape Crush, Team Squeeze-a-lot, Grape Gatsby's and Polish Power.
A picture is worth a thousand words so please enjoy the photo montage below.
The Grape Stomp Competition
First, grab as many grapes as you can and put them in huge baskets!
And then dump the Napa Valley grapes into the destemmer... carefully.
Hey, watch your head. And turn that crank, fast.
For most it was all about stomping the grapes, and for others, well....
Stomp, stomp, stomp and keep stomping.
Smiling, stomping, laughing, smiling, stomping... I think you get it.
Some stomped so hard, they lost their shirt, so to speak.
When you're done stomping, pour the Napa Valley grape juice into a bottle.
And look out for this team; obviously, they've done this before! Look at those beautiful faces of experience and the power in them legs!
However, the team with the most juice- the Grape Nuts pictured with Castello di Amorosa owner, Dario Sattui.
Hungry? How about some pizza from the Outdoor Oven
Shannon Kelly of Knickerbockers' catering putting the finishing touches on the pizza. http://www.knickerbockerscatering.com
Making a French Oak Barrel by Nadalie Cooperage
It takes great skill to make a French Oak barrel. http://www.nadalie.com/
And the perfect amount of heat provides the toast necessary to make great Castello di Amorosa wines.
Scott Webster of Portocork demonstrating the origin of cork. http://www.portocork.com/
The Torture Chamber -- Il Barone 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and chocolate
Castello di Amorosa's Il Barone was poured in the Torture Chamber that featured chocolate- tons of it. It was affectionately know as "Death by Chocolate" although no one actually died.
You see, she survived "Death by Chocolate."
One of favorite comments on the Castello di Amorosa Facebook page summarized it best:
"It was the best thing you could do, with clothes on. My thanks to Dario and all the great staff at the castle."