Cristiana Capece Minutolo was just twenty-five years old when she realized that her destiny was to take care of the Cantalupi agricultural estate. The latter was acquired by her grandfather, Francesco Del Balzo, after World War II. It served both as a gift and as an investment to enrich the dowry of his daughter, Giovannella, Cristiana’s mother.


Naples is Cristiana’s hometown and, back in the 1980s, the city was on one side full of contradictions, yet on the other cultured, refined and with one of the most prolific cultural productions of all times. She descends from an illustrious and ancient Neapolitan noble family. Amongst her ancestors there were intellectuals, statesmen, and ecclesiastical figures, including a cardinal who elected three popes and participated in the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

Since childhood, she spent long summers in the family estates of Trani and Veglie, yet little did she know that one day she would have to take care of these estates herself. Her grandfather Francesco had invested effort and expertise in the development of the Apulian estates, where he had envisioned and built a modern approach to agricultural production in an economically backward region. When Cristiana realized that what her grandfather had built was threatened by external factors, she knew that the future of those estates was in her hands. Therefore, she left Naples and moved to Veglie, in Salento. It’s the 80’s, and it’s a very different world, especially for women, especially for her: she’s 25 years old, cultured, beautiful blue eyes and no knowledge of viticulture or oenology.

 

Short on experience but full of determination, she began wearing countryside boots and learning how to prune and to harvest. While her friends back in Naples drove Vespas, she learnt how to drive tractors and the rototillers across the Apulian countryside. “If you want to teach, you must first learn,” her grandfather always reminded her, and so she did. 

Cristiana Capece Minutolo was just twenty-five years old when she realized that her destiny was to take care of the Cantalupi agricultural estate. The latter was acquired by her grandfather, Francesco Del Balzo, after World War II. It served both as a gift and as an investment to enrich the dowry of his daughter, Giovannella, Cristiana’s mother.


Naples is Cristiana’s hometown and, back in the 1980s, the city was on one side full of contradictions, yet on the other cultured, refined and with one of the most prolific cultural productions of all times. She descends from an illustrious and ancient Neapolitan noble family. Amongst her ancestors there were intellectuals, statesmen, and ecclesiastical figures, including a cardinal who elected three popes and participated in the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

Since childhood, she spent long summers in the family estates of Trani and Veglie, yet little did she know that one day she would have to take care of these estates herself. Her grandfather Francesco had invested effort and expertise in the development of the Apulian estates, where he had envisioned and built a modern approach to agricultural production in an economically backward region. When Cristiana realized that what her grandfather had built was threatened by external factors, she knew that the future of those estates was in her hands. Therefore, she left Naples and moved to Veglie, in Salento. It’s the 80’s, and it’s a very different world, especially for women, especially for her: she’s 25 years old, cultured, beautiful blue eyes and no knowledge of viticulture or oenology.

 

Short on experience but full of determination, she began wearing countryside boots and learning how to prune and to harvest. While her friends back in Naples drove Vespas, she learnt how to drive tractors and the rototillers across the Apulian countryside. “If you want to teach, you must first learn,” her grandfather always reminded her, and so she did. 

On one hand, the local farmers were skeptical about her abilities to succeed in such an ambitious goal; they had never seen a woman, and a young one too, capable of successfully managing a large agricultural estate with a firm hand and a commanding presence. The women, on the other, were intrigued about her presence in town and spied on her while hiding behind the curtains, that protected house entrances from weather conditions but facilitates indiscreet glances and village gossip.

Despite all prejudices and forms of skepticism, Cristiana made it. She was able to personally take care of the Cantalupi estate, and through her perseverance she gradually won the trust of her collaborators, transforming the estate into a single, large, productive vineyard of Negroamaro. 

One of the keys to her success was following her grandfather’s vision, who always used to tell her: “Remember that you must plant only Negroamaro here.” An indigenous grape variety, which here and only here, in Salento, the last strip of land before Europe plunges into the Mediterranean sea, has found love and expresses itself in the best way possible, giving rise to extraordinary wines.

The Negroamaro variety wasn’t the only one to find love in Salento, as the same happened for Cristiana. After saving the family estate, she met and got married to Mario Zecca, whose vineyard was on the other side of the white country road that separated the two properties. Through that union, Masseria Cantalupi has become part of the Conti Zecca agricultural estate, which produces some of its most important wines from those grapes.