by Gretchen Bloom (for Italian Notebook)
Sant’Agata dei Goti, founded by the Goths in the 6th century, boasts some of the deepest cantine (basements) in Italy. Its location on a rock spur between two streams made the old town virtually impregnable…and thanks to the cantine, villagers could store supplies for quite a while. One story speaks of a nine-year siege, in 1038, survived by all!
To understand these cantine dug into the volcanic stone (tuff), one can visit the Mustilli wine cellar, 15 meters deep (45 ft.) and 13 degrees C (57 F) at its deepest point. When the Mustilli purchased the property in the 18th century the cantina was not lit nor was there any proper flooring. Then before the electrical lighting added in the ‘60s, Leonardo Mustilli (pictured below) removed layers of debris with the light from a gas lamp… and found nine deeper holes, presumably for grain storage. He has left one untouched for further archaeological research.
In the old days, the wine was brought up to the neighboring hosteria through an underground tunnel… cleverly avoiding the road tax! During WWII, when the town was bombed, villagers also took refuge in the cantine. Fortunately, the Mustilli daughters Paola and Anna Chiara now use them once again for their original and ideal purpose, storing and aging wine.