In the Heel of Italy                                                                                                          Back


There’s an intersection where the events not only cross but occur. It’s the time lag in which the dust of daily life becomes history as it settles. This tells of four generations of Calitro, and the history is written in the silhouette of a bottle of Negroamaro or Primitivo. Colonel Aureliano Buendia would certainly like it although it doesn’t tell of either soldiers or revolutions.Instead, it tells of soil, wine, and the fragile temporary architecture that illuminates village festivals – and it certainly tells of love and blood. We won’t drag it out but you really need to sit down to listen to it, pin your ears back and, perhaps, sip a glass of our red wine slowly so that it can unfold right to the end. We’re in San Marzano di Taranto, Puglia, where arbëreshe, the linguistic transplant of the community of Albanian exiles fleeing from the tyranny of the Ottoman invader, more or less 600 years ago, still survives today in the language of the elderly people of the village. There are less than 10,000 people in this southern village where everybody knows everybody else and a miraculous feeling of community, of belonging resists magnificent, progressive fortune.

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This story starts from Egidio Lonoce, founder of the Calitros, a man who had two virtues (he certainly had some defects but they don’t count in this story) – the down to earth nature of a man whose shoes are covered in soil, from the Primitivo and Negroamaro vineyards which he cared for as though they were the family jewels, and a pragmatism that was the envy of the noble families of the time, who didn’t know how to manage theirs. One of the squires of the village realised this and engaged him to save a farm in pieces from utter ruin. Egidio performed a miracle, regenerating the lands of the master parched by negligence and polishing the balance sheets. That was probably the enterprise which earned the Lonoce family the nickname of Calitro, a term “certainly of arbëreshe-Turkish origin which indicates something or someone of quality and temperament”, according to the research carried out by the historian Vincenza Musardo Talò. However, it could also be that this nickname, better known than the family name, was simply the measurement unit (decalitre) of the oil that the grandfather traded in. Who knows?

The soil and the festivities

Time has passed with name-day dilemmas and terrestrial affairs and so have the generations, with the baton of the care for the fields and the vines passing from hand to hand. Egidio passed it to Francesco known as Ciccillo (you have to accept it – it’s the second baptism of the community that decides), who passed it to his son Egidio who, naturally, called his first-born son with his father’s name. “He took me into the countryside with him, he got me to taste a different fruit each time, a new one with each season. Like the quince, different from all the others, although I probably wouldn’t have found it in the supermarket,” says Francesco Calitro Jr, who spent his summers and afternoons free of homework and books with grandparents, soil and local festivities. These were the business of Nicola, his maternal grandfather, devotee of St Joseph, patron saint of San Marzano. He turned the whole village upside-down to pull patterns of illuminations up to the sky and fireworks which enchanted this and the other world.


At 87, grandfather Ciccillo called the family together, “I’ve had enough so either we sell or you decide what you want to do with it,” he said, drying his voice. He gave the freedom to decide what to do with the land full of fruit between Manduria, Sava, Lizzano and San Marzano in a tone cleaned by hope and emotion. This is where the stories cross and destinies happen. Two years later, the Calitro farm company was set up and a bottle bearing the weight of tradition in an urban, contemporary dress created. A happy rebirth, viral contagion, which shook off the dust of time with a bang. It’s certainly not the story of the Buendias but the domestic saga of a southern family which has found itself in this bottle – the name, the pattern of the illuminations, the vineyards, the wine, the blood and the love.

The grape harvest

The other festival was the wine festival, at the time of the grape harvest. Wine was made for the family and a bit extra to give to friends. Grandfather Ciccillo, enamoured of his immediate, easy to drink Primitivo, understood by everyone, asserted…“You can’t go wrong with the Primitivo. I harvest it in August, it’s not affected by disease or rain. But be careful, you mustn’t be greedy, don’t weigh down the branches with bunches. The lower the quantity, the better the wine.” He like to challenge those who passed themselves off as connoisseurs with the Negroamaro. The vine with a more complex personality, more proudly from Salento, also had a wild, bestial side. An intriguing mix of small red fruit, but also of spices, leather and the barn.