CALISTOGA — The talk of the town is Solage, but the king of the hill is, unquestionably, The Castle.
Daryl Sattui’s Castello di Amorosa, destined to become known as The Castle, dwarfs everything that one might use for comparisons, except perhaps William Randolph Hearst’s monument to money and excess on the Central Coast. And The Castle seems oddly out of place with a Calistoga address, given this town’s almost-religious allegiance to simplicity.
But there it stands, rearing up like a rock-walled medieval fortress as you drive up the winding approach to the site above Highway 29. The travel writers and the transfixed tourists seem to have run out of superlatives to describe this astonishing place just south of town that features 107 rooms on eight levels, five guard towers with battlements, a drawbridge and moat, a church, a dungeon with torture equipment, a 72-foot-long grand hall adorned with colorful frescoes and . . . you name it — if it represents medieval castle architecture, it’s probably here.
Sattui spent some $30 million and more than a dozen years in building a stone behemoth that satisfies his obsession with Italy’s 13th-century mores and architecture.
“I’m Italian, I speak Italian, and I love all things Italian,” he declared.
To capture the detail and authenticity that he wanted, he bought 200-year-old bricks and employed 17 stone cutters who squared the rock by hand as they would have done 800 years ago.
But, to hear Sattui tell it, the castle isn’t what matters. It’s the wine that he produces in a state-of-the-art winery hidden deep inside the caverns and tunnels of the 121,000-square-foot structure.
“It’s all about the wine,” Sattui insisted during a recent tour of the place. “The castle will bring them in and the wine will bring them back.”
He acknowledges that the castle is what will draw people by the thousands to this sun-bleached Napa Valley hillside — with inevitable overflow into Calistoga proper — but he believes that once they discover his wine, he’ll have them hooked long-term. The wines, ranging from a zesty pinot grigio to a dark and chocolate-rich cabernet, are sold only directly to consumers. Sattui charges $10 per person for wine tasting, $20 for reserve and special wine tasting, and $25 for a tasting and tour.
Call it over the top, call it Disneyland North, call it awe-inspiring, call it whatever you can find around the outer limits of your vocabulary — there’s probably some truth in all the terms and expressions.
The definite truth is that more people will be coming to the upper end of the Napa Valley to see what all the fuss is about at The Castle, at Solage, and at the dozens of other attractions in and around Calistoga.