Consorzio Collio 2024 (175x100)

In Sicily “less is more”: drop in production in 2023, but “cleaner” wines

The Island’s resilience to climate change and the wine producers’ work have brought out the best of the vines and territories, in WineNews’ tastings

Last year, 2023, was a challenging year for all vineyards, including Sicily. There was drop in production, down 34.48% compared to 2022 (and 40% in the last 13 years), due to an elevated pathogenic pressure on the vines between May and June. The drop meant 50% less on the liter/hectare yield in 2023 of the National average over the last 13 years (the average was less in Piedmont and Tuscany as well, where the"quality factor" influences). However, the Region is more resilient compared to the general global situation subject to ongoing global warming. This of course does not mean that Sicily is not facing the same challenges as the rest of Italy, and the world, i.e., climatic abnormalities (concentrated and excessive rainfall, alternating with long periods of drought), and also the above average temperatures that we are all experiencing. But, Sicily has geographical, geological and biodiverse characteristics that surprisingly allow it to resist better. The drop in production was also because producers are more and more aware of how to and where to grow the grape varieties found in Sicily. Therefore, many vines are no longer grown indiscriminately throughout the Region, but rather in an attentive and more precise manner, concentrating them in the territories where they will grow the best. Resilience and cleanliness, therefore, were highlighted in the climate analysis (sources: SIAS, ISAC and ISPRA), regional harvest and its context presented at “Sicilia en Primeur” 2024 in Pollina - Cefalù (celebrating 25 years of Assovini Sicilia and 20 years of this traveling preview), recently by Mattia Filippi, expert oenologist of Uva Sapiens, on the day dedicated to tasting the new vintages in preview and on the market.
Starting from the macro climate analysis, which helps to understand the context, Mattia Filippi recalled that - considering data starting from the 1800s onwards - world temperatures began to rise more rapidly beginning in 1980, and there was a further increase in 2015. From 2015 on, the year 2023 registered a record increase, as all 365 days of the year, temperatures had registered 1 degree centigrade more (on the pre-industrial average 1850-1900). Almost 50% of the days in 2023 registered temperatures above 1.5 degrees centigrade, while 80% registered temperatures above 1.25 degrees centigrade. Overheating is generally concentrated more near the poles, and has strongly affected Europe, mainly in autumn and winter. And, of course it affected Italy, where spring temperatures, instead, were in line with the average in the last 30 years, and that is, relatively cool (even in August). Furthermore, spring and summer in Italy were full of rainfall events while the low temperatures in May and June influenced an outbreak of phytopathological diseases.
As far as the regional climate analysis is concerned, Sicily registered temperatures in line with or lower than the average in the previous 30 years, while temperature in summer were 1.2 degrees higher than the average. This increase is lower, though, than the worldwide trend that covered July, September and October. On the whole, average minimum and maximum temperatures increased compared to the last 21 years, but maximum temperatures were the highest (second only to 2022), while minimum temperatures were not. At the same time, the months of May and June registered the highest minimum humidity levels compared to the last 21 years, which affects phyto-pathologies and, consequently, regional production (in line with all of the years so far that have registered high levels of humidity in the Region: 2011, 2014, 2019, 2020 and 2023). Rainfall, instead, has been more and more irregular than what was typical on the Island in spring and autumn, and quantity has been less endless, to reach a record drop in the last two years (compared to the previous 21 years). Between March and October, in Sicily, there was rainfall 245 days, of which 27% in the North-East, 24% in the North-West, 19% in the South and 13% in the South-East. The winds were mostly northern (from the North the “Tramontana” in the West of the Region, from the North-West the “Mistral” in the North-East of the Region, from the West, the “Ponente” and from the North-East the “Grecale” in the South-East of the Region), while the south-easterly wind, “Scirocco” wind was almost completely absent.
Regarding production, some characteristics need to be added. For instance, Sicily is the number one Region in Italy in hillside viticulture (65% of the total, followed by Tuscany and Piedmont) and the second in mountain viticulture (following Trentino Alto Adige). And, boasting 37.650 hectares, it represents 28% of the organic viticultural surface in Italy. In comparison to Spain and France (that together with Italy hold almost 80% of the world’s organic viticultural surface), Sicily alone represents 8% of the world’s organic wine-growing surface. It is the third Region in the world, following Castilla-La Mancha in Spain and Occitania in France (that together with Sicily account for 32.2% of the global organic wine-growing surface). Further, regarding the density of organic wine-growing surface compared to the total regional wine-growing surface, it is number one in the world at 38% (compared to 22% in Occitania and 14% in Castilla - La Mancha). Sicily has achieved these numbers thanks to Regional and National programs, such as SOStain, V.I.V.A, Equalitas, SQNPI and Biodiversity Friend, which have saved, on the 37.650 hectares of organic farming in Sicily, an estimate of more than 143.000 liters of glyphosate and 1.250 tons of copper metal per year (a fact that should be seriously considered). It is a wine-growing Region that has put environmental and energy sustainability first and foremost, and is thereby able to face adversity using different tools, thanks to the resilience of the different local varieties that have adapted very well to the characteristics of the Island where they have been cultivated for centuries.
The seasonal trend, as mentioned above, brought high levels of humidity in May and June throughout the Region, including Pantelleria, but there was less rain everywhere in the last months of 2023. Plus, July also registered above average temperatures. In April, May and June, all 4 of the major areas in Sicily (North-West, South, South-East and North-East) registered below average temperatures, while autumn was warmer everywhere, except in the North -East, including Etna. We will definitely drink fewer wines from this 2023 vintage, but the “red wines have a strong identity, whites a complex aromatic profile, International wines a new and interesting profile, and native vines are more and more faithful to the territory”, Mattia Filippi concluded, “and Grillo, a high-performance vine in reduced quantities, which in this harvest revealed wines with a broad aromatic spectrum and more pronounced tropical notes, like the large native Catarratto, which meets the characteristics of International taste; Nero d’Avola, Frappato, Nerello Mascalese and Perricone, which are establishing as wines of the future by focusing on a style that combines elegance, versatility and freshness and finally the Syrah, whose grapes have demonstrated resistance to weather and climate conditions and a result that post-harvest has translated into wines that have an acid-sugar balance and excellent maturation”.

304 wines from 62 companies were tasted in the 20th edition of “Sicilia en Primeur”, held in Pollara and Cefalù, and organized by Assovini Sicilia celebrating 25 years since its foundation, including whites, reds, rosés, still wines, dry wines, sparkling wines and dessert wines.

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