A winery fit for a Hobbit

Castillo Hillside Shire

As you walk up to Castillo Hillside Shire Winery, the scenery seems almost unreal. Upon arrival you’re guided to park in front of an ornate stone mansion and then walk up a paved hill surrounded by greenery on either side. You’ll notice a large pond to your right, named Vivienne’s Lagoon, after the owners’ daughter. You’ll pass an old barn that’s been converted into a guest home and finally you’ll arrive at a quaint little house fit for a Hollywood hobbit—this is the tasting room.
Once you step inside, you’re likely to find Nate Castillo behind the bar, pouring his favorite blends and telling stories that will leave the small room—that is actually a kitchen—erupting in laughter. It may seem strange to walk into a winery and discover the head winemaker behind the bar is in his 20s, but once you talk to Nate about wine, it’s clear to see it is truly his passion (and that he probably knows more about it than you do).
Castillo Hillside Shire Winery is a family business where Dad (Jess), Mom (Ronni Jo), Son (Nate) and Daughter (Vivienne) all play their parts to keep the winery going.
Nate and Ronni Jo sat down and shared the story of Castillo. Not surprisingly, even before he developed an interest in wine, Nate had been involved in the winery you see today.
“Nate planted the grapes—good thing he was in football training at the time because he was running up and down the hills,” Ronni Jo said.
Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 2002 and in 2005 Petite Syrah vines were planted on the estate. (The story of why the grapes were originally planted on the estate had more to do with zoning issues than a lifelong desire to make wine, but it only makes you realize that fate has a funny way of stepping in sometimes to help you discover a talent you never knew you had.)
Several years after planting all those grapes, Nate had the chance to smell the fermenting fruit of his labor—and he began a love affair with wine.
“It was the first time my dad made wine—two barrels of Petite Syrah and Cab,” Nate said. “Before it was in barrels it was in vats. My dad had his friends over and they tasted it out of a ladle. They all thought the Cab was great but I smelled this Petite Syrah and the moment I smelled it, I was in love. That was the moment it all started, with that vat of Petite.”
So they opened a winery and Nate took over as head winemaker in 2009.
“We just released the 2010 vintage. Everything that is out now I officially grew and made,” Nate said.
It’s hard to imagine today but the grandiose scenery at Castillo Hillside Shire Winery came from humble beginnings. Much of what you see today didn’t exist when the Castillo family arrived. Vivienne’s lagoon was actually filled with garbage, a refrigerator and tires and the towering mansion was a far away dream.
“We’d been looking for a long time and Jess stumbled onto this piece,” Ronni Jo said about finding the property. “It was kind of a dump site.”
Once the property was officially theirs, Jess would spend most weekends trying to bring the land back to life. After some time, the family moved into the old house on the property so they could begin fixing it up full time.
“It was a six-year camping trip,” Ronni Jo said. “No insulation, windows falling out of sockets, no heat.”
Together, the family re-built the property to what it is today (but if your remodel doesn’t quite compare, don’t be too hard on yourself: Jess owns a construction company so he has a bit of an advantage).
And the grapes they didn’t plan on growing now keep the whole family busy, with Jess often out on his tractor, Nate crafting wine and running the tasting room, Ronni Jo handling all events and Vivienne creating all the artwork for the wine labels—and often impressing tasting room guests while singing and playing guitar.
On your visit to Castillo, be sure to try the winemaker’s favorite, the Petite Syrah—still the same favorite since the day Nate smelled his father’s first vat.
“It’s dark fruit, after that it goes into this herbal note of eucalyptus and menthol,” Nate said. “It’s got these forest floor notes of rosemary, sage, thyme and fennel. It’s semi-remarkable. You get so much from it. It’s always changing.”
For more information, visit 2215 Liberata Drive in Morgan Hill or call (408) 776-8200.

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