No, I promise that is not the name of a Hallmark movie (though it could well be) – if you saw this photo, where in the world would you think we are?
You might be surprised to find out this castle isn’t found in Italy – in actual fact, it’s found in California’s wine country, near the town of Castiloga.
Castello di Amorosa is the passion project of fourth-generation winemaker Dario Sattui: it took nearly 15 years to build, and is not only designed to be a 13th century Tuscan castle, but is authentic in style.
It was made only using historic materials and methods, the same ones used in the actual Medieval period.
I was absolutely mesmerised by the idea of a castle in the middle of California (and the fact it is a winery, and wine tasting is one of my favourite activities!) so I had to make sure that we visited, and I’ve been desperate to write about it, and its history, ever since.
Because – and I know this sounds a little crazy – visiting the castle is a bit of a wild experience.
You genuinely feel like you’ve been transported to another time, and another place, surrounded by painstaking detail (and that’s before you’ve even started tasting the wine and got tipsy on the sunshine!).
Maybe it’s because this kind of building and style of architecture is so unexpected in this place – or maybe it was because I was longing for some European medieval architecture (my hometown has a castle, though not a patch on the majesty of Castello di Amorosa, or its medieval inspiration in the countryside of Italy!) – but it is very special.
Sattui has loved medieval architecture ever since he first travelled to Europe when he finished university.
He sketched, photographed and explored extensively buildings all over, obsessively soaking up all the information he could. His first trip to Italy was in 1965, and ten years later, he re-established his family’s wine business, located in St Helena and known as V. Sattui Winery.
The Sattui family – of Italian heritage – originally established their business in 1885, but it was closed in 1920 because of – you guessed it! – prohibition.
In 1993, Sattui bought the vineyard that is where Castello di Amorosa now stands near Castiloga.
The vineyard began its life in 1846 when it was first planted by Colonel William Nash, and was one of California’s first vineyards. So, the vineyard itself has quite a history already, before you even start to think about the castle that was coming for the land!
In conjunction with Danish architect Lars Nimskov, whom Sattui met in Italy and who was later replaced by Italian Paolo Ardito, and Austrian master builder Fritz Gruber (who specialised in old world materials and techniques), Sattui began the project in 1994.
Sattui had launched into building the castle here after having previously bought a monastery outside of Siena, which he began restoring and using as a base to get out and do more research of surrounding properties, and he even consulted plans of buildings from the period which he loved.
It was, and is, a huge passion project that of course evolved, had chops and changes to it, included a fair share of financial and people drama (Sattui has written three fascinating blogs on the building of the castle, as well as a book, that you can find here).
Castello di Amorosa finally opened in 2007, and includes the following things, all of which you would of course expect from any good medieval castle in the twenty-first century: a dry moat, defenses, five towers, courtyards, chapels, stables and an armoury, amongst many other things.
It contains 107 rooms in four floors below ground level and four floors above ground, made of over 8000 tons of local stone (all hand-chiselled, of course) and one million (ONE MILLION!) bricks that came from demolished Hapsburg palaces in Europe.
Sattui also imported more than two hundred containers of materials and furniture for the castle.
The commitment and attention to detail astonished me, and I just found it fascinating. It didn’t hurt that the wine was lovely, too!
But seriously – as an historian primarily of historic houses, passion projects like this fascinate me so much. It’s a crazy achievement, and one that clearly was a true labour of love.