Until 1960 when Fiumicino took over, Ciampino Airport was the main hub for travel to Rome in an age where aeroplanes were still fitted out with propellers. My widowed mother used to work at Ciampino Airport for Scandinavia’s SAS airline back when I was only a wee wee tot, and it was there that she met her second husband, my Scottish stepfather, who whisked us off to to live in Karachi in 1961, because that is where he worked at the time. So to me, on a personal level, Ciampino is imbued with trimmings of life’s destiny.
Ciampino was very glamorous in those pre jet-set days because, naturally, so few people flew in order to travel and passengers were treated as cherished clients. These days, Ciampino Airport has turned into yet another preferential Mr Ryanair Destination with all the drudgery of modern travel. But I would be a total liar if I said I hadn’t profited from this cattle-class mode of aerial transport, my surrenals always in anxious overdrive lest the suitcase or permitted cabin bag weigh an ounce more than permitted by this strictest of weight-conscious airlines. Many is the time favourite daughter and favourite son have boarded Ryanair flights from Rome to London (and back) and we know all of the tricks of the trade now. All this to say that these days Ciampino tends to be exclusively associated with cheap travel or with its train station, the town having mushroomed after the Second World War into a congeries of roads leading to no actual town centre (a bit like Los Angeles).
Picture my surprise then, mouth almost agape, when I spot the word “Ciampino” in a post on fine wines penned by Mr Charles Scicolone not so long ago (http://charlesscicolone.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/fiorano-a-visit-to-azienda-agricola-boncompagni-ludovisi/).
Oxymoron = Ciampino and Fine Wines. Or so I thought. It just goes to show that there is always something new to learn, thank goodness, and that as Fats Waller put it: One never knows, do one. I went on a googling spree amd discovered the existence of a wine estate that had belonged to a princely family (the Boncompagni Ludovisi) whose heirs are also directly related to Antinori now — truly a marriage in oenological heaven, one would think, with Ganymede eager beaver to fill up the chalices. Not so, however. The Prince who had planted the vines of this famed Fiorano Rosso wine, and who died in 2006, seemed to dislike the idea of ‘his’ wines being managed by anyone else other than he … and took the drastic decision to uproot most of vineyard. As Mr Scicolone wrote: “ The elderly prince has since passed away. There was much speculation about what would happen to the property. Luigi Veronelli, a well-known wine and food writer, who had interviewed the prince before his death quoted him as saying that he rather would pull up all the vines than see his son-in-law Piero Antinori get them. When he asked the prince about Piero’s daughters, his granddaughters, inheriting the property, he replied, “they follow their father and not me.” ….. All hope was lost – there was no more rosso to be found. In December of last year, Mr. Asimov wrote A Family Gets Back to Their Roots. In the article he wrote, “Now, though, the deed is done. The estate has been divided among various members of the Antinori family, and the 25 acres or so where the vineyard was planted is now in the hands of the three daughters of Piero and Francesca Antinori. They plan to replant the vineyard. Turns out that when the prince pulled up the vineyard he didn’t destroy it entirely. Some of the vines, which are by nature tenacious and tough, managed to survive. Using cuttings from the surviving vines, the three Antinoris, along with Renzo Cotarella, the Antinori wine director, hope to replant the original vineyard little by little beginning in 2011.”
This was all very interesting news to me but what really clinched the excitement was the fact that the estate is now also being launched as a farm and, for the time being at least, a place to visit and eat at during the weekends, with children being welcomed and joyfully instructed into the more attractive and rewarding aspects of pastoral and bucolic activities – such as picnics, grape picking and jumping about on bales of hay. As someone who is always on the look-out for quality products and food, I felt an impelling itch to visit the place as soon as I could. And I did. Such was my ardor and impetuousity that I left my camera at home. No matter, I returned some time later in the company of a good friend and the photographs that I am uploading are of last Friday. I have fallen in love with the place, which is already enchanting even though some work still remains to be finished (are beautiful places ever ‘finished’ ?) and I can’t wait to go and eat there, and taste all the goodies on offer — organic vegetables, fruits, cheeses, honey, olive oil and flour — goodies that the owner of famed Testaccio Restaurant Checchino dal 1887 is said to adore.
I was told of this information by the Fattoria’s chef, 29 year-old and soon bride-to-be Sara Bugiada, who hails from Sicily and who has worked at Rome’s Open Colonna and Grand Hotel restaurants (I refuse to call the latter by its new name Jumeirah, and pace the pleasure domes of Dubai, to me it will always be the Grand Hotel where Tyrone Power and Linda Christian honeymooned and where many of the Dolce Vita era notables stayed). I arrived unannounced the first time and she was gracious enough to show me around without the least being miffed that I was interrupting her work in the kitchen, and she welcomed me/us with open arms at our second meeting. Her enthusiasm and love for the undertaking that is “Fattoria di Fiorano” beam out from her person like a halo of stories and descriptions: the potential of this place is truly plenty.
Later still, we met Alessio who runs the farming side of the Fattoria – again, a pleasure to meet and speak with. We can see that the Fattoria is being looked after with watchful eye and loving hand, with lots of hard work shovelled in every nook and corner. I look forward to returning a third time, to eat there this time! (Opening hours are Friday to Sunday and reservations are recommended.)
The Italian word for flower is ‘fiore’, and when Italians want to boast of something to be justifiably pride about, such as a ’flagship’ or a ‘feather in the cap’, the idiomatic expression they use is ”fiore all’occhiello”; it stands for a button-hole flower, the kind that gentlemen of yore used to wear and that smart men only don at weddings now. In some respects, it’s early days yet for the Fattoria di Fiorano. But it can already boast of two button-hole flower power people: Sara and Alessio. I took lots and lots of photos – I do hope they will convey the sense of this very lovely place, just across from Ciampino Airport and cheek by jowl with one of the oldest roads in the world, the Via Appia Antica.
Follow me on the next post on Fiorano.