Before heading down to Disneyland in Anaheim from San Francisco this August our group took a 1-day detour up to Napa and stayed in Calistoga. Keeping with the family-friendly theme of our trip, we visited a winery where children are welcome and even get their very own local drink (non-alcoholic of course) to swirl, sip, and savour.
Castello di Amorosa is located at 4045 Saint Helena Hwy, just north of the Culinary Institute of America, and south of Calistoga. Their wines are only sold on-site (and online), meaning you won’t find them in any liquor stores north or south of the border. After spending over a decade on building the winery’s authentic-style 13th century castle, you’ll see why they want to get feet in the door to show off this stone marvel.
Keep heading north and you’ll reach the Castello in about 10 minutes as you wind through the countryside, hugged by the valley’s walls and surrounded by vineyards, orchards, and fields. On a hot summer day the crisp air flowing up from the bay pours into the warm valley providing ideal growing conditions for grapes. The day we visited it was rather muggy and after a hot summer the ground was brown but the trees and vines were glowing green.
I didn’t spot the Tuscan-style castle from the road but once you start climbing up the paved driveway — flanked by vines, olive trees, and wandering fluffed-up brahma chickens — it will majestically appear.
Chickens, geese, peafowl, and an emu or two share the lawn and garden space and you might spot a few feathers flying between the rows of vines that gently grade back down toward the highway. However, walking around the outside of a castle is not nearly as fun as exploring one on the inside.
You can check out the castle on your own for a fee (with limited access) or do tours and tastings for just a few dollars more, which is the much better deal since you get full access, a tour guide, and various tasting options.
We turned again and glance up to another corner above the courtyard as Jim explained, “Back here is 9th and 10th century, still Romanesque, when they found out how to use cement, sand and limestone.” He added that it would be typical for castles to start something and stop then go to war then come back and finish it, or not finish it, explaining how pieced together the Castello is so that it looks authentic – from the 8th century to the 14th century and beyond.
In the mid 1990s, Dario enlisted Fritz Gruber from Austria to teach medieval building techniques along with a small team of others when he was finally ready to start building his own castle in Napa (after owning a 12-century castle in the Italy’s Florentine Hills). After 30 years of history and 15 years of building, the underground portion was completed in 2004 and by 2007 Castello di Amorosa opened.
Currently ranked as the #1 attraction in Calistoga per Trip Advisor, Castello di Amorosa is a thoroughly entertaining stop for any wine country adventure – with or without the kids. You can completely geek-out on wine with their wine club, special events, and tours or grab a bottle to-go while the family takes photos of the animals on the front lawn and explores the stone corners of the castle.