Medieval Architecture Comes to the North Bay

A few weeks ago my wife says, “Some guy built a castle in Calistoga and they’re giving tours…wanna go?”

(Context: Calistoga is a town at the north end of the Napa Valley, about half an hour from us.)

I just stammered: “Castle? Calistoga? Huh?”

“Yeah—they brought in artisans from Italy and everything. It’s a winery.”

I remained dubious. It sounded like a gimmick and completely arbitrary. I feared kitsch.

But Sheila was quite excited by the prospect, and there are certainly worse ways to spend a weekend than a visit to Calistoga. So we managed to book space on a tour this afternoon, and drove out there.

It took me about 3 minutes to completely change my mind. It was, in every way my feeble mind could perceive, a 12th-13th century Italian castello. Except in the Napa Valley. And brand spanking new. It has to be among the most remarkable buildings in all of the Bay Area. The stonework is amazing, the vaulted ceilings, the frescoes, the towers. And the part above ground is dwarfed by the labyrinth of caves and tunnels beneath (used to store the wine, of course), all with cross-vaulted brick ceilings.

All of this managed to get built in the regulatory environment of modern-day America. Northern California, no less. The cost was, of course, enormous, and building it was a 14-year ordeal that pays tribute to the sheer tenacity of the owner with this vision.

In the end, I guess it’s still rather arbitrary to have a Tuscan castle in California wine country, but I’m fully behind it now. Where, after all, would not be improved by being a little more Italian?

Information: Castello di Amorosa.

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