Travels in Wine

Travels in Sicily: The home of some of our most popular wines

Sarah Knowles MW gets back on the road – and nearly off it! – visiting our key producers and learning more about their sustainability activities.

Travels in Sicily - hero
Map of Sicily

In May I was delighted to head back to Sicily after two years to catch up with the suppliers of some of our members’ most popular wines. Early May is a great time to visit Sicily as the weather isn’t too hot, and, as I experienced occasional thunderstorms keep the humidity at bay. I flew in and out of Palermo for a five-day visit, driving a loop around the island heading first to Etna, then to Vittoria, then on to Menfi, then Marsala and finally Trapani, before making my may way back to the airport, clocking up a good 1,000kms in my little hire car.

Roads in Sicily

The state of the roads in Sicily can be a little hit and miss, and this trip was no different. The thunderstorms led to some spectacular flash flooding and notably, en route to Planeta, the road ended abruptly when I hit a fairly tricky stream. Aside from this unscheduled detour, driving around the island was a great pleasure.

A Society Sicilian story

On this trip I prioritised visiting both Feudo Arancio and Cantine Rallo who make our Society Sicilian red and white wines respectively. Both wineries make bespoke wines for us every vintage, allowing me to be involved in the tastings to select the blend.

What struck me visiting both in quick succession was that the winemakers were passionate about similar topics: new viticultural techniques, organics, sustainability, picking dates, and achieving balance in their wines. Maurizio at Feudo Arancio showed me new machinery that he is trialling to see if UV lights can be used to combat the risk of oidium (powdery mildew) rather than having to use an organic spray.

He also spoke about the importance of timing when it comes to picking nero d’Avola grapes. While they hold their acidity well in the heat, they can develop riper, jammy flavours if not picked at the right time.

Andrea and Fabrizio at Cantine Rallo also talked about balance, telling me that harvest for them now starts as early as July to ensure precision in the fruit profile and good acid levels. Visiting their grillo vineyards that overlook the salt pans to the north of Marsala, it was clear that urbanisation and the impact of tourism are also putting pressure on these prime vineyard sites, as café’s, car parks and hotels vie for beach-side plots.

View from Fuedo Arancio
View from Feudo Arancio

The Society’s Sicilian Reserve Red is made from nero d’Avola grown in beautifully manicured vineyards that overlook the lake in Menfi. Standing in front of the winery there is a spectacular view of this beautiful region.

The nero d’Avola is often picked at night when cooler and fermented in temperature-controlled tanks before being transferred to barrel for ageing. Tasting from barrel you can really see how the wines develop great character and integration over the first year. The blend is then assembled and the wine reserved for members. It shows fantastic consistency vintage to vintage and has become a serial winner of our blind-tasting Wine Champion tastings.

The Society's Sicilian Organic White, made by Fabrizio, at family-owned Cantine Rallo, is predominantly grillo picked from two sites – an old-vine site in Alcamo which is further inland at elevation, and one right on the coast, overlooking Marsala’s salt pans with windmills turning in the distance.

Salt pans of Marsala
Salt pans of Marsala

There is also a small proportion of carricante in the blend which comes from the western vineyards of Trapani. This grape adds brighter acidity and a more subtle mineral note that balances the vibrant peach and apricot fruit profile of the grillo grapes.

Andrea in the vineyards
Andrea in the vineyards

Andrea Vesco is a champion of organics and low-intervention farming and winemaking in Sicily and enjoys experimenting with skin contact on his whites to enhance the texture of the wines he makes. Andrea’s has a traditional old seafront winery in the centre of Marsala and one of the highlights of this trip was an exceptional local seafood pasta lunch, perfectly accompanied by The Society’s Sicilian White. A strong espresso set me up for my afternoon visits.

SOStain Sicilia

Fondazione Sicilia logo

A deep commitment to sustainability amongst Sicilian winemakers was something that really stood out on this trip to the island. Many of the producers we work with are farming organically, conserving water and generating solar energy. Many more are also looking at sustainability from a broader perspective and a core group of influential winery owners have even established a specific sustainable accreditation system for wineries in Sicily, focused directly on the issues they face.

It’s called SOStain – look out for this logo which you can see on many of the bottles we ship.

The main goal of the program is to promote ethical and sustainable development in the Sicilian wine sector. Wineries are directed towards the constant measurement and reduction of the impact that agricultural practices have on the environment, while also caring for and improving the welfare of workers and becoming more actively involved in local communities and preserving local, natural resources.

Wild flowers in the vines in Vittoria
Wild flowers in the vines in Vittoria

To achieve certification wineries must meet 10 minimum requirements that range from the measurement of the water and carbon footprint to the control of bottle weight; the preservation of animal and plant biodiversity to the enhancement of human and territorial capital; from energy savings to consumer health.

Look out for the logo on wines from Planeta, Tasca d’Almerita, Santa Teresa, Paolini, Mandrarossa, Donnafugata, and Nicosia to name just a few.

Looking over to the Lake at Planeta in Menfi
Looking over to the Lake at Planeta in Menfi

Visiting Sicily is always going to be a joy and its wines just seem to go from strength – I will be holding on to the memory of that seafood lunch to sustain me through until the next time!

Discover all our Italian wines

Sarah Knowles MW

Society Buyer

Sarah Knowles MW

Sarah joined The Society in March 2014 and has taken over responsibility for Champagne, North America and Italy, as well as overseeing our portfolio of sparkling wines and spirits. Sarah passed her Masters of Wine qualification in 2015 and won a prize for submitting the best research paper.

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