CALISTOGA — County officials have ordered Castello di Amorosa — the imposing “castle” winery south of Calistoga — to stop using the chapel on its property for weekly church services, saying it is not a permitted activity for the winery.
Planner Suzie Gambill said churches are allowed in all zoning districts, but they do require a special-use permit from the county. The operation, opened in 2007 in the unincorporated part of Napa County, is permitted as a winery, but its special-use permit says nothing about religious services.
Services were discontinued last month.
The winery, often known simply as “the Castle,” is a soaring recreation of a medieval Tuscan fortress, including an armory, a dungeon, banquet halls, and other typical features and amenities. Included in that design is a large chapel characteristic of the era.
For about three years, the Castle has invited Father Peter Talcott of St. Helena to celebrate a traditional Mass in Latin in the chapel, drawing a crowd of several dozen every Sunday.
The Mass is not a performance or promotional event; it is a regular religious service open to the public and the room is a consecrated Catholic chapel. It has not been used for weddings and other celebratory services, since those are tightly regulated under the county’s winery ordinance, which is designed to restrict commercial and other non-agricultural activities on the sprawling Agricultural Preserve, established in 1968.
Gambill said Castle owner Dario Sattui is free to apply for the additional permission to use the chapel as a church on Sundays, but he would need to subject the use to all the usual reviews by county agencies, including traffic and building code compliance.
Castle spokesman Jim Sullivan said the winery is still considering whether to apply for the new permit.
Meanwhile, the chapel remains open for tours and visitors, Sullivan said, and the faithful are still free to pray privately or to light votive candles.
Sullivan was low-key in his reaction to the closure, saying merely that the county’s move was “unfortunate” for the people who attend regularly.
Talcott, however, was more pointed, calling the county’s order “nonsense.”
“They approved building the Castle, they knew it had a chapel in it,” he said. “You don’t put a chapel in there just to look at; you use it.”
The Castle’s service was among just a handful of places in the area where Catholics could attend a traditional Mass celebrated in Latin. For almost 50 years, the church has discouraged the Latin Mass in favor of a newer version celebrated in local languages.
Talcott, who is an ordained priest but is not assigned to a parish, said he has courted the disapproval of church leaders by exclusively offering Masses in Latin for more than a decade. He continues to perform the service in Latin at various locations in Santa Rosa as well.
“I performed the new Mass (in English) for 18 years,” Talcott said. “To me, it just seemed really namby-pamby, watered-down Protestantism.”