Ηomer’s enchanting sorceress Circe still casts her intoxicating spell far and wide through award-winning wines and spirits harvested from reclaimed marshlands in Italy’s Lazio region by the venerable Cantina Sant’Andrea — a family of vintners that weathered a real-life odyssey to rival that of Ulysses.

In Homer’s Greek epic poem The Odyssey, following the Trojan War, Ulysses, the King of Ithaca, and his men set sail for home on a journey that would take ten years to complete. During their voyage, and desperately in need of provisions, they follow the winds up the Mare Tirrenia (Tyrrhenian Sea) along the Italian coast and reach what they believe is the island of Aeaea – not an island at all, but rather Capo di Circeo (Cape of Circeo), a small peninsular coastline nestled in the southwest corner of the Lazio region less than 60 mi. from Rome.

According to classical Roman writers, the island of Aeaea was identified as Monte Circeo (Mount Circeo) on Capo Circaeum (Cape Circeo). It may have been an island in Homer’s time (ca. 8-7 century BC), with marshes and sea surrounding its base; but, today, it’s a small peninsula with a long lido (sandy beach) that’s attached to the mainland. Archeologists have identified one grotto on Cape Circeo as La Grotta della Maga Circe (the Cave of the Sorceress Circe).

(Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus by John William Waterhouse, 1891 – This photographic reproduction is in the public domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

During Homer’s time, the “island” is the home of the beautiful sorceress Circe. Upon entering her palace in search of food and drink, Circe drugs a band of Ulysses’ men and turns them into swine and confines them to a pigsty. When Ulysses goes to rescue them, Hermes, the messenger of the gods, approaches him and tells Ulysses to eat the magical herb moly, which will protect him from Circe’s black magic. When offered, Ulysses accepts the cup from Circe, knowing that he is well protected from her magical spells. Circe, realizing she is now powerless over him, falls madly in love with Ulysses, returns his men to their human form, and welcomes them all into her palace for a year-long stay of leisure and luxury. Ulysses men finally grow homesick and beg their king to leave Aeaea and set sail, once again, for Ithaca. He agrees, and Circe provides them with plenty of provisions and advice on dealing with the dangers that still lie ahead for Ulysses and his crew.

LA FAMIGLIA PANDOLFO – Their Odyssey begins…

Aerial imagery of Italian coastline
(Public domain satellite imagery of the Italian coastlines courtesy of NASA)

Fast forward to mid 19th century Pantelleria — a tiny, 32 sq. mi. volcanic island in the Mediterranean Sea, 60 mi. southwest of the mother island of Sicily and just 36 mi. east of Tunisia and the African coast.  Here, Andrea Pandolfo I begins to hone his craft cultivating fine wines from the Zibbibo/Moscato (Muscat) grape on his small farm; and, the “legend” begins.

Pandolfo estate in mid 1800s

TUNISIA BECKONS

Not satisfied with the limited production on Pantelleria, the Pandolfo patriarch sold the Sicilian island vineyard in 1880, purchased 150 acres of virgin land in Khanguet Gare in the Cap Bon region and moved his family and his passion for wine making to Tunisia.   Highly successful blending wines in the family cellar, the Pandolfo brand was regular cargo at the Port of Tunis bound for the finest wine markets of France.

DOWN, BUT NOT OUT

Because this is a real-life odyssey, complete with satisfying peaks are arduous valleys, Mother Nature struck Pandolfo’s Tunisian vineyards in 1938 as the vine borer phylloxera laid waste to the entire crop. Andrea Pandolfo II, now in charge of the family business at the ripe old age of 16, kept his grandfather’s legacy alive. He burned the diseased crop, replacing the land with newly grafted plants brought in from France that were resistant to disease; and, soon, the red desolate earth began to green as the vines took root and grapes began to grow again.

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT COULDN’T GET ANY WORSE

Unfortunately, the Pandolfo odyssey grows much worse before it gets better. In May 1964, the Tunisian National Assembly decrees the expropriation of all land in foreign hands — owned primarily by Italian and French families — in order to create 300 state-run cooperative farms; so, Andrea II and the rest of his “crew” pack up their belongings and, like Ulysses, follow the winds up the Italian coast to start a new life in the shadows of Capo Circeo and the myth of Circe.

CANTINA SANT’ANDREA – THEIR PRIVATE ITHACA


Upon arrival in Italy, Andre II purchases a small estate in Borgo Vodice, in the Latina province of the Lazio near the center of the Agro Pontine (Pontine Plain) – a 310 sq. mi. area of malaria-infested marshlands that, under the direction of the Mussolini government of the 1930s, was drained, tamed, cultivated and brought back to life.  In honor of bisnonno (great-grandfather) Andrea Pondolfo I, the new winery was named Cantina Sant’Andrea. Led by Andrea II, the family tilled the bittersweet land and began enjoying the fruits of their labor with the birth of the estate’s first vintage in 1968.

With a handful of chestnut barrels and wine bottles identified by simple hand-written labels, the customers began to arrive and the family tradition began to flourish once again. Today, Cantina Sant’Andrea boasts an array of 29 different wines and spirits divided into two distinct lines: Linea Classica (Classic Line) and Selezione Acquerelli (Watercolor Selection).

Linea Classica

Comprised of 15 different DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata – Controlled Origin of Denomination) and IGT-rated (Indicazione Geografica Tipica – Typical Geographical Indication) blends, Linea Classica represents the historical soul of the Pandolfo estate, since its rebirth in the 1960s back on Italian soil, in each and every bottle produced. With their distinctive and original barrel-shaped labels, these blends are the ones that have made Cantina Sant’Andrea a well-respected and appreciated brand by connoisseurs, wine critics and loyal customers alike.

Selezione Acquerelli

Normally, higher quality lines of Italian wine are classified by their vintners with industry standard terminology, like Riserva (Reserve) or Superiore (Superior); but, in the case of Cantina Sant’Andrea, its showcase blends of 14 different DOC-only titles are marketed as Selezione Acquerelli, due to each blend’s distinctive watercolor print bottle label. According to Gabrielle Pandolfo, the current patriarch, “Selezione Acquerelli represents the maximum expression of the three key elements that every wine should have: nature, humanity and technology.” The Selezione Acquerelli is a limited production line destined for the very best restaurants, the most important domestic and international vintage wine stocks, and the most refined and demanding palates.


As Cantina Sant’Andrea’s website homepage attests, the link between the Pandolfo family, Ulysses and the sorceress Circe is alive and well. You could say the Pandolfos, after their more than 150-year personal odyssey, have finally and permanently returned home to their private Ithaca, just like Ulysses did so many centuries ago in Homer’s The Odyssey.

SEE FOR YOURSELF

Now that you know the saga of La Famiglia Pandolfo, come see for yourself. I’m sure father and son — Gabrielle and Andrea Pondolfo III — will be happy to show you around. Primary vineyards, production facility and outlet store located at Borgo Vodice on Via del Renibbio Podere in the Latina Province of the Lazio. Just follow the botte (barrel) signs along SR148 and you’ll be there. Additional stores in nearby Latina, Sabaudia and Terracina. Online at: cantinasantandrea.it.

©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images

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Written by The Palladian Traveler

Tom traded his hometown St. Louis Cardinals' baseball cap in the United States for a Borsalino and he now hangs his "capello" in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy. A veteran print and broadcast journalist, with well-worn passports that have got him into and out of 50 countries and counting, Tom fell in love with the "Bel Paese" years ago. As he notes, "I'm inspired by the beauty I find in all things that are very, very old, and reliving history, or at least meandering along cobblestone streets that were laid down over a thousand years ago and just looking up and marveling at what occupies the space still today, really gets my 'Vespa' running." Tom has a good eye behind the lens and is a graphic storyteller, but he'll let you decide as he keeps his camera batteries fully charged and the posts flowing from his creative hideaway in the hills overlooking Ostuni. You can also follow his dispatches along the cobblestone via TravelingBoy.com.

19 comments

  1. So, it begins. I look forward to many good reads. I hope we read more about your observations and see your photography with a hint of history.

      1. Good info on how to buy the wines you blog of in the U.S. What about having some wine drop shipped to spots in France and England?.

  2. Well done, Tom. This made me feel like I’ve already been there. Well researched and helpful tips. Congratulations!

  3. As refreshing as a “Bud Light”. I enjoyed the geographical tour and history of a strong vintner family. You journalistic description is pleasantly Bella. Keep up the good eork nd now you have me hooked.

    1. Fred,

      I don’t believe CSA has a problem selling its wines around Europe. As a matter of fact, they have a long tradition of supplying their wines to France dating back to the days when the family was in Tunisia.

    1. Gmike – Thanks for being one of the first to sample The Palladian Traveler. You’ll be notified when I post again. In the meantime, tell your friends, family and colleagues, especially those interested in traveling to Bella Italia.

      Ciao for now.

      TPT

    1. Steve – Thanks for the Navy 10-4 on the article. JK Imports in the US imports for Cantina Sant’Andrea. If you decide to order a few sample bottles for a test drive, be sure and sample the Oppidum Moscato di Terracina, an unbelievably dry white made from the sweet Muscat grape. You won’t be disappointed. I drank a few bottles down in the Circei, along with Riflessi (also a good choice), and brought a couple of cases for the ride back north. Here’s the importer’s link: http://wineday.com/oppidum/

      Salute!

  4. Tom, Thanks for tracing the history of this exceptional family and the evolution of a line of classic wines. Doubt if I could find any of them here on Florida’s First coast but I’ll try. Cheers!

    Herb Glover

    1. Thanks for the favorable review. About the CSA line of wines, the US importer is in Pasadena, but it appears that they wholesale their stock to high-end restaurants. Will let you know if they sell to John Q Public. I hope you’ll take a peek inside The Palladian Traveler from time-2-time. Perhaps I can find a spot for you as a guest contributor. I do have a GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY category and would love to showcase some of your best efforts with full credit going to you, of course. Let me know.

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