I’m continuing my Sattui story from yesterday. I’m fascinated with the life story of Dario Sattui, the grandson of Vittorio Sattui, the namesake for the huge Napa Valley winery. The winery was closed for 60 years because when prohibition was passed in 1919, Vittorio shut it down. It was a childhood dream of his grandson, Dario, to someday re-open his grandfather’s business.
I suppose my fascination of Dario has to do with the fact that we are about the same age, and even though we grew up 2500 miles apart, we still listened to the same music, read the same newspapers and were influenced by our generational pushes and pulls.
Dario received his MBA from Berkeley in 1969 and decided to visit Europe before settling down. He traveled around Europe for 2 years in an old Volkswagen bus (a popular thing to do at that time, but not usually for that long a period). He became fascinated with medieval architecture and made sketches and photographs of medieval castles, farm houses, wineries and cathedrals.
With $8000 in his life’s savings, he returned to the USA and opened up the old beat-up winery in St. Helena that had sat vacated for 60 years. He lived in his Volkswagen bus to save money. His MBA emphasis was in marketing and his unique marketing skills led the winery to make a profit in its first year of operation. The winery continued to realize outstanding profits and Dario Sattui started dreaming of realizing his other passion, medieval architecture. Dario wanted to build a castle.
In 1993 he purchased a 171 acre vineyard property in Calistoga, about 10 miles north of the Sattui winery. He had all of his renderings and photographs of his European travel days, plus he had never stopped studying the construction techniques and materials of the medieval builders. Dario started his castle, Castello di Amorosa, in 1994. He took the profits from his V. Sattui winery and poured them into his dream. He had over 200 containers of medieval hand-made materials shipped to his Calistoga location. Dario would not allow a saw to be used on the 8000 tons of stone; every piece was hand chiseled just as done in medieval times. He found a massive iron dragon, pre-dating Napoleon, to be hung over the main entrance. Over 1 million bricks were brought over from torn down Hapsburg palaces. Dario insisted that every nail, every hinge and lock, every chain link was to be made by hand. This was not to be a castle look-alike; no, this was to be an authentic castle. The only problem was, Dario ran out of money.
He drained the registers of V. Sattui’s enormous profits and even declared dividends that were larger than normal so he could obtain more funds to finish his castle. In 2005 Dario was broke. Wells Fargo saved him with a huge loan but in 2006, the money was again gone, and it looked as if Dario Sattui was going to have to declare bankruptcy. The year had given him many problems with containers not arriving on time plus the county building codes required him to re-grout all the walkways and rebuild many stairways. This castle had become a 121,000 square foot monster.
I need to take a quick break from my castle story to mention another important part of this story. When Dario had purchased his 171 acres in Calistoga in 1993, he spent the first 2 years planting his vineyards. He now had over 20 years of strong old roots producing aged wonderful grapes. He had not produced a drop of wine from them because he wanted no compromises with his wine, just like his castle. And now he was broke.
To make whatever money he could, he started producing wine and it was very good wine. He started selling it cheap to raise fast-needed money for his castle. He had spent over 14 years on his castle and vineyards with not a single penny back. Times were desperate.
Dario sold all his stock in V. Sattui, fired his gardener and housekeeper to save money, but lost his wife, his hair and almost his mind. Yet he couldn’t wait to get out of bed and rush to his building site every day for 15 years. The first 10 years were all building underground, never seeing daylight except lunchtime. They completed over 80 rooms underground using the techniques and drawings that Dario had gathered in his 70s trip in Europe. The 80 rooms covered 80,000 sq. feet( on 2 acres) and were to be used for his barrel aging rooms and wine tasting rooms.
Finally they started building above ground with a dry moat, high-defensive fortified walls, five towers, courtyards, loggias, and then started outbuildings with a Tuscan farmhouse and chapel.
It was time to start the interior and Dario built a huge kitchen, dungeon and torture chamber, an interior church, secret passageways and a Great Hall that took over 18 months to completely mural.
Here’s a picture of the Great Hall I took yesterday with my cell phone.
Finally in 2007 the castle was complete. The wine that was produced that year was award winning also. People have been flocking to the castle daily for 5 years and Dario Sattui has his dream AND his fortune back once again. I included a few more pictures that I snapped with my honey.
I think we all love stories about people who live their dreams, their passions and never give up.
Thanks for the inspiration Mr. Dario Sattui. Long live Castello di Amorosa!