In the province of Palermo, on the north-west side of the Madonie Park, near Castelbuono, lies a vast estate with an ancient abbey of stone buildings that belonged for centuries to the Benedictine monks, now renovated in an impressive 5-star relais.
The Abbazia Santa Anastasia, a cellar of organic and biodynamic wines and a small relais de charme, appreciated by Italian and foreign winelovers, is full of charm and history. Built in the twelfth century by Count Ruggero D’Altavilla, the monks produced wine over the centuries that was appreciated by the local nobility and clergy. Wine production is still present at the estate where native and international varieties give life to unique wines that fully express the terroir and organic qualities of the grapes.
Winery Tasting Sicily was warmly welcomed to the estate by the Lena family and General manager Mario Meli. Staying in one of the 29 rooms of the Relais, classically furnished by architect Paola Moriconi, was like taking a dip in the past; even if, on a hot July day, we preferred to take a dip in the large swimming pool overlooking the valley, with a view of the vineyards and sea. But the consecrated chapel of the Abbey, a real gem, conquers sight and heart as soon as you enter the charming medieval courtyard! The reception and the restaurant “La Corte dell’Abate” are located in the same courtyard.
The cuisine of chef Alessandro Battaglia is refined yet genuine and in perfect harmony with the estates wines. Attentive and prepared sommeliers respond to all curiosities, recommending the best food & wine combinations. If you decide to stroll through the vineyards and to visit the cellar, you’ll have a broader view of the winery’s reality. We did both and we were lucky enough to chat with winemaker Stefania Lena.
Stefania told us how the intention to create an environmentally friendly winery, that we appreciate today, always existed. In 1982, her father Francesco, from Palermo, bought the estate of vineyards, olive groves, woods and Mediterranean scrub which extends from 100 to 500 meters high. He decided to keep the awning vineyards of Insolia and plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, but also the native Nero d’Avola, Grillo, Zibibbo and Grecanico. The 90s were important for the winery and for Stefania’s training under the precious collaboration of Giacomo Tachis. Tachis and Riccardo Cotarella have been, the mentors of the young winemaker. “Giacomo Tachis was the one who identified the potential of the estate, fell in love with the winery and with great intuition started the production of Litra.
Official consultant of the Vite and Wine Institute of Palermo, he followed all the wines of the small companies that brought their products to be analyzed at the Institute; one day he happened to taste a Cabernet Sauvignon in purity that intrigued him a lot, so he asked to know the producer. Which happened – Stefania tells us – on the occasion of Vinitaly where Tachis, in a provocative but nice way, told Francesco Lena: it is a good vine if you want it to become wine! ” Thus was born Litra, the name chosen because it recalled the Tuscany of mescolavin (as the famous winemaker liked to describe himself with irony), a powerful, seductive and classic wine. Stefania wins us over with their history but also with her reflections on the present, when she says: “While loving native vines, not cultivating international vines in Sicily, means missing the opportunity of a journey in the glass.”
“Traveling for me means going to discover how the so-called internationals are different in Sicily, in France, in Australia. The beauty is to feel the difference of the territory in them. Grapes grow in different soils, microclimates and with different people. They are affected by the hand of those who cultivate them and those who produce wine. Traveling in the world of wine means feeling these differences and discovering the unique relationship, the “magic” that can exist between the vine, even internationally, and the territory. The magic of viticulture and enology is precisely this: however much we may try to make a science of it, it will never be, because it is also a soul! When they ask me – continues Stefania – why produce a Cabernet Sauvignon in Sicily? I always say: if it’s good why miss it! And the Litra lives its magic in a small area called Bernarda where a few meters away it already vanishes; this is the reason why no more than 6000 bottles of this Cru are produced ”. Logically, the company’s total production is much richer. It is around 400/450 thousand bottles per year with distribution for 50 percent in Italy and the rest in Europe, especially Switzerland and Germany. An organic production, since the 80s and biodynamic, Demeter certified since 2015, in the Senso Inverso Nero d’Avola line, Syrah Chardonnay. The company obtains about 80% of its electricity from renewable energy plants and maintains its green commitment with various environmental sustainability projects. Of the 450 hectares of property: 70 hectares are planted with vines, 55 are olive groves, 2/3 hectares orchard and vegetable garden for use by the restaurant. Among the natives present, Nero D’Avola deserves a mention, which in this area is characterized by its remarkable longevity, well expressed in the biodynamic Senso Inverso. With a nice acidity and a good alcohol content, this wine maintains its structure in the bottle; therefore, it can age for a long time, and be able to show itself better and better. The estate also produces olive oil, with biodynamic certification, from Nocellara del Belice, Biancolilla and Crasta cultivars.
In total the wines of Abbazia Santa Anastasia are twenty-one; to be precise, seventeen labels are wine, two are classic method, one passito and one olive oil. The marketing of the sales network is managed by brand manager Gianfranco Lena. The abbey is also a beautiful and popular enotourist reality that aims to create a greater link between the relais and the cellar, wishing to make wine live as a rich experience and not just as a food and wine journey. Walks in the vineyard, knowledge of biodynamic procedures, wine tasting courses, food pairing, are all extremely interesting cultural proposals for guests. In these new projects, in the passion and care for their work, the Abbey of Santa Anastasia finds new and growing strength. It and all its landscape deserves to be known. If you are in the area and love Sicily, we recommend a visit; you will enjoy the culture, relaxation, interesting food and wine experiences and a warm welcome.
Useful information for wine tourists.
Discover Sicilian wines on a cellar tour of the Abbey of Santa Anastasia near the picturesque town of Castelbuono, in the Madonie.
Litra red wine is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Santa Anastasia Abbey is a place where magic and the wise harmony that is created between man and nature.
Discovering Cefalù and Castelbuono.