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Black Tie International Travel  1
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Black Tie International Magazine - Travel-Castello di Amarosa

 

Medieval Castello di Amarosa
Makes Adam Sandler's
"Bedtime Stories" Come True
by Susan Granger
Photos courtesy of Disney

 Adam Sandler, Bedtime Stories, Disney   

 

 Nestled in the verdant hills of California’s Napa Valley, there’s a 12th century Tuscan-style castle-winery, called Castello Di Amorosa, that so perfectly authentic - with its own drawbridge, dry moat, guardhouse and defensive towers - that Walt Disney’s location scouts chose it as the site for Adam Sandler’s medieval fantasy in the family-friendly adventure comedy "Bedtime Stories."

Completed in 2007, the 121,000-square-foot Castello di Amarosa ("Castle of Love") is the lifelong dream of Dario Sattui, an entrepreneur whose great-grandfather began a family tradition of elegant, Italian-style wine-making.

Sattui’s great-grandfather was born in Genoa, Italy, which is also the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. Vittorio Sattui was a baker who emigrated to the United States in 1882 with his wife, Kattarina, settling in San Francisco. When he wasn’t tending his bakery, Vittorio practiced the art of wine-making in the boarding house he owned in the Italian section of town, known as North Beach.

 Within three years, winemaking had taken over Vittorio Sattui’s life. He painstakingly chose grapes during the harvest in St. Helena, a tiny town in the Napa Valley, and ferried them to his original winery located at 722 Montgomery Street (now Columbus Avenue) in San Francisco. The horse-drawn wagons of the V. Sattui Wine Company soon became a familiar sight, delivering prized barrels to patrons’ homes all around the Bay Area - until the Prohibition laws during the 1920s forced the family business to close.

 As a child, I hoped my family would reopen the winery, so I could learn how to do it, and then someday take over,” recalls Dario Sattui, who recently reclaimed his proper name of Dario after being known as Daryl for many years. But that never happened. So during the 1970s, he traveled around Europe for two years, listening and learning about the wine business. When he returned, he apprenticed at several Napa Valley wineries to gain experience.

But while he was in Italy, Sattui became obsessed with medieval architecture.

Back then, there were a lot of abandoned palaces and
castles that people could not afford to keep up, He recalls. I had a motorcycle and a car and I would drive around. I would go down every road. I would get up and dawn and come back after dark. Sometimes I would go all day and find nothing, but
if you did it  day after day eventually you would find
something great.

That quest for ‘something great’ turned out to be two medieval castles: a 10th century Augustinian monastery, 23 miles east of Sienna, which he is restoring, and a Medici palace in southern Tuscany, near the border of Lazio. Built in 1587 by Fernando I of Medici, the palace, once known as a hotel called La Posta de Medici, has had thousands of visitors, including emperors and two popes.

"My idea is to make it a language school, cooking school, wine school, or maybe a history school with excursions into the countryside in the afternoon," Sattui muses.

His most recent acquisition is a 20% interest in an 11th century castle, Castello delle Serre, which functions as a small hotel in the medieval town of Serre di Rapolano, located 20 minutes from Sienna and 25 minutes from his monastery.

 "I just love old architecture, he marvels. If I had the money, I would buy them all just to fix them up for posterity."

Suttui’s passion for exploring old European castles eventually led him to Fritz Gruber, an Austrian master builder who had constructed a labyrinth of medieval cellars underneath his own home. The two men quickly discovered that they shared a similar passion and, several months later, six Austrian builders arrived in Napa Valley to construct the first two rooms of Castello di Amorosa and train a California crew, consisting primarily of Mexicans.

 "For three months, the European craftsmen lived at my house at the bottom of the hill, Dario Sattui remembers. None of them spoke English, so I could not even communicate with them. But we studied what they were doing, and we learned how to do it."

That involved rugged building techniques like cross-vaulting bricks and hand-squaring stones  8,000 of them. Sattui imported 200 year-old roof tiles from an Italian farmhouse, along with iron nails, sconces and chandeliers  all hand-forged in Italy over an open flame.

Of special interest is the collection of 200 year-old bricks from Austria, bearing the Royal Hapsburg seal. Most of these were made by the royal brick maker to the Hapsburgs. Clearly visible is the ‘H’ for Hapsburg, the ‘W’ for ‘Wien’ or Vienna, the ‘D’ for Deus or God, and the double eagle, the traditional symbol for the Hapsburgs.

Castle construction took 14 years. During the first ten, from
1993 to 2003, the two acres of underground cellars and chambers were built. The above-ground structure took
 another four years. An estimated 8,000 tons of stone was hauled from two local quarries. Authenticity was always a paramount consideration.

 "We did not use any cement," Sattui declares. "We used lime, sand and water. They did not have cement (in the Middle Ages). We did not use modern tools. We did almost everything by hand."

Historically, castles were always built in ages and stages, evolving over time with sealed off doorways and windows and reinforced arches. Sattui has duplicated this look with a Romanesque building from the 9th to 13th centuries, adjacent to the rubbled look characteristic of the 13th to 16th centuries.

There are eight levels to Castello di Amarosa, including the 15,000 square-foot Grand Barrel Center, the Hall of the Knights, 900 linear feet of caves, secret passageways and a dungeon with an adjoining torture chamber - with devices for agony - and, of course, an escape tunnel. The 1,000-pound hand-hewn wooden doors are imported from Italy and the high towers are crenellated with narrow slits so archers could shoot arrows from within. One of the towers has a hole from which to pour boiling oil on attackers.

The great hall, which is available for rent and used by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for a luncheon shortly after the castle was completed, features a huge 500 year-old fireplace from a Tuscan village. The 22-foot high ceiling is hand-carved and hand-painted and the walls are adorned with colorful frescoes that took two Florentine brothers two years to create. In the center of the room are immense handmade Italian monks tables with matching chairs that were designed by Dario Sattui.

In the Hall of the Knights, intrigue was always seething and gossip rampant from unseen inhabitants. So -  with the vaulted ceiling - it’s possible to stand in one corner and speak softly - and have a companion stand in another corner listening to every whisper.

Hidden deep beneath, there’s even a tiny room dedicated to the memory of Vittorio Sattui, containing 125 year-old wines that were made by him - many with his original label.

Although Napa Valley prohibits marriage ceremonies at local wineries, V. Sattui’s medieval church, adorned with a fresco of the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth painted above the hand-carved altar, was grandfathered in when the Wine Definition Ordinance was passed in 1990. The daughter of best-selling author Danielle Steele held her wedding reception in an interior courtyard, facing the church, stables and southwest tower.

Another courtyard is where Disney director Adam Shankman filmed several sequences for "Bedtime Stories," in which Adam Sandler played Skeeter, a hotel handyman who spins tall tales for his niece and nephew. 

Other prestigious visitors include Jon Bon Jovi, Joe Montana, Clint Black, Sir James Galway, Frederica von Stade, Joshua Bell, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Gordon Getty Jr., Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, New York’s Governor George Pataki and former New York City \Mayor Rudy Giulani.
   
    "We built this castle just like it would have been done in the 12th century," Sattui says proudly. "It’s a fitting honor to my Italian forbearers and provides one of the world’s most unique backdrops for our fine Italian-style wines."

Of its 107 rooms (no two alike), more than 90 are dedicated to winemaking, and Castello di Amorosa offers daily tastings and/or a  50-minute guided tour, followed by sampling wines in a special tasting room. Reservations are recommended and well-behaved children are welcome. A VIP tour adds a tasting of reserve wines and food pairings. "There are never more than 12 people (on a tour), because we want it to be an intimate, memorable experience for everybody," Sattui says.

Three varieties of grapes - Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon - are grown on the property’s 30 acres of volcanic soils, which are deficit-irrigated to yield the best, not the most, grapes. The winery also grows grapes on about 17 acres in Anderson Valley. Now internationally acclaimed, the Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco and Super Tuscan Blends are made to pair superbly with food.

 "One thing we do that’s different from other wineries is we try to give our red wines - except sangiovese, which is meant to be younger - at least two years in the bottle before we well it,"explains the winery’s spokesman James Sullivan, adding that Castello di Amorosa produces only 15,000 cases a year, available only at the winery, through its wine club, or online at   www.castellodiamorosa.com

 Located at 4045 Highway 29, just 5.5 miles north of St. Helena in Calistoga, California, 94515 - the telephone number is
 
707-967-6272
 

 
 

 
 

 

 
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