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California Questionnaire: Dario Sattui

The head of V. Sattui Wines and owner of Napa’s Castello di Amorosa can’t get enough of his home state

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In the Napa Valley, the name Sattui is recognized as one of the regal monikers of winemaking. So it’s fitting that Dario Hibbard Sattui, great-grandson of one of the valley’s first winemakers and now president of V. Sattui Winery, has built a castle fit for a king near Calistoga. On tours of the 107-room medieval-style Castello di Amorosa (“castle of love”), visitors can check out precise 13th-century details like vaulted stone ceilings, frescoes, a moat, and hand-forged nails. But ask Dario about his favorite place, and the fourth-generation Californian—and serious nature lover—goes far beyond his castle walls.

Where do you live? I live about three miles south of Calistoga, on the castle property.

Why there? Originally I got this 171-acre piece of land because it had all this history. It has a three-story Victorian house with a wraparound porch, and the 1850 Nash House, built by Colonel William Nash who came west from Tennessee in 1846. It’s a Kentucky-style farmhouse—one of first houses built in Napa County. Colonel Nash planted some of California’s first vines here, and built the first schoolhouse in Napa on the property. 

Who or what is your greatest California love? I’d have to say Irina Yartseva, my fiancée. She’s a Russian immigrant. She totally loves it here. She’d never go back to Russia.

What is the biggest misperception about Californians? That we all live by the ocean and go to the beach all the time. But California is a very, very diverse state—not just ethnically but also geographically. I can go to the coast to Mendocino, to the Gold Country, to the Sierras—you name it. It really has everything. If you don’t like one area, just go to another.

What is the stereotype that most holds true? That people who move to the state love it here—because of the nature, the climate, the food, the innovations. There are so many reasons that this is such a great state.

What is your favorite Golden State splurge? Maybe go to the opera or ballet in San Francisco, then have dinner at Great Eastern Restaurant in Chinatown. They know us there.

Time for a road trip: Where are you going? Sometimes we go up to Nevada City in the Gold Country, then we go to Volcano and Jackson, towns that still look like they did a century ago—really well preserved. We recently drove down the coast to San Simeon and saw the elephant seals—20,000 of them. Where else can you see that?

If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? I have to be honest, the first thing would be eating at home, because Irina is such a great cook. We have an organic farm here and raise our own pigs; and water buffalo, which make great meat—we even make water-buffalo ice cream. Otherwise, Napa Valley is so packed with Michelin stars that it’s hard to pick where we’re going to eat. Thirty years ago you couldn’t get good bread here, and the cheeses were the same old boring Jack and cheddar. Now we’ve got amazing bakeries and triple-cream cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery.

Best California song? “California Dreamin’,” by the Mamas and the Papas. I really like that one.

How would your California dream day unfold? I'd start with a drive along the Russian River, to Jenner, and have a picnic of Dungeness crab with a bottle of wine (probably mine). Then we'd watch the seals on the beach where the river meets the ocean. Later, we’d take a hike to see wildflowers near the lakes on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. There’s so much nature here. We were in Lake County recently, and we saw a lot of elk. Boy was that a surprise! People think it’s all urban and big cities here, but it depends on where you are.

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