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).
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…
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.
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).
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.
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