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Castello di Amorosa

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Only in Napa could a guy spend fourteen years and countless millions building a 121,000 square-foot castle to a collective yawn.

Maybe it was the decade-plus of building. Maybe it was just another castle in a valley full of McMansions, chateaux and bombastic monuments. Maybe it was because you had to pay $15 bucks just to get past the moat.

Known by neighbors simply as Sattui Castle, the twelfth-century faux fortress dubbed Castello di Amorosa quietly opened outside of Calistoga in April 2007. But what few realized was that this was no Disney-esque facade.

With a reported price tag of more than $30 million (financed in part by owner Daryl Sattui’s populist Hwy. 29 winery) emptied his bank account employing dozens of local craftsmen to build his castle the old-fashioned way–using 850,000 bricks (many of which were imported from European ruins), stone quarried on-site, Italian terra cotta roof tiles, salvaged wooden doors and period-appropriate metal work. Inside would be a tricked-out torture chamber, labyrinthine cellars, family chapels, a great hall and crumbling towers.

Compared by some to grandeur of Hearst Castle, Castello di Amorosa is certainly a spectacle to behold. Sattui’s passion for medieval architecture demanded authenticity in the winding stone stairways, vaulted ceilings, secret underground rooms and soaring turrets. And though there have been no Rapunzel sightings yet, tour guides do admit to losing several visitors in the dungeons below. The courtyard is a mish-mash of styles, keeping with Sattui’s vision of the always-a-work-in-progress architecture of your average medieval castle. Downstairs, the torture chamber includes a spiked rack, 300-year-old iron maiden and a squirm-inducing chair called the Impaler. Even the bathrooms have carved stone sinks with spitting gargoyles as faucets (but thoroughly modern plumbing).

But beware invaders, boiling oil awaits all who lack reservations. Okay, not really, but you do have to call ahead or you may be waiting at the doors for a while. Daily tours cost $25 (including a tasting) and are by appointment only, though procrastinators can sometimes get in the same day. The well-guided tours are easily worth the extra dough, lasting about 90 minutes and taking visitors to private areas on all three levels, it’s a fun and educational romp through 800 years of history.

Greeters turn away would-be gawkers at the door, though you can pay a $10 for a walk-in tasting and glimpse some (but not much) of the castle on your own. Locals are offered half-price tastings Monday through Friday. Children ten and up are welcomed on the daily 10am tour for $15 if accompanied by an adult.

Tours conclude with a limited tasting of Sattui’s new Castello di Amorosa wines–designed to be a step up from the everyday wines available at his other Napa winery. Still in their infancy (2002 is the first vintage), the wines range from chardonnay and gewürztraminer to beefy Napa sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. Shell out the extra $10 for a reserve tasting where you’ll experience the winery’s better bets: ’03 Il Barone Napa Reserve Cab ($75), and the ’03 Super Tuscan La Castellana Reserve ($65). Neither of these youngsters stand up to their price tags but are certainly quaffable little upstarts. Dungeon-wandering does, afterall, work up a powerful thirst.

If you go: Castello di Amorosa is located near Calistoga at 4045 North Saint Helena Hwy. For reservations, call 707.967.6272. Weekend tours tend to fill up, so you’ll want to book early. Small children aren’t recommended in the castle and may be turned away from the tours. Allow at least two hours for the complete tour and tasting, and it’s worth shelling out the extra $10 for a reserve tasting.

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