Allegrini 2018

Sustainable, united, and ever more popular around the world, Sicilian wine looks to the future

Webinar messages from the 17th edition of “Sicilia en Primeur”. The Region that is united in its diversity and has resisted the Coronavirus

Sustainability is of primary importance because it is in the nature of Sicilian wine (the largest organic vineyard in Italy), to look to the future. The present, instead, is all about the exponential growth of the Sicily brand, today the seventh most famous denomination in the world on a strategic market like, for example, the USA, as well as its territorial denominations, which more and more often also put “Sicily on the label”. In the meantime, Sicilian wineries (boasting 4.3 million hectoliters and excellent quality in the 2019 vintage), are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis as well as the lockdown of the on trade market in Italy and all over the world. Sicily can feel somewhat encouraged, though, as it is waiting to reopen, because the drop in wine sales was not nearly as bad, at -11%, as the rest of Italy which was -40%. These data come from the survey of the wineries association, Assovini webinar during the 17th edition of “Sicilia en Primeur”. Alessio Planeta, president of Assovini, said, “we immediately decided to transform this edition into an online meeting, given the current situation, waiting for the moment when we can host you again, as soon as possible, in Sicily, amongst our colors, our perfumes, our cuisine and our beautiful territories.
“Right now”, added Alessio Planeta, “we feel like we’re living in a poem written by Luigi Pirandello, entitled “L’approdo”; that is, “exhausted, but safe. Plus, we also feel like farmers when they see their crops have been destroyed by a frost, a hailstorm or a fire, thoroughly aware that we can only restart from scratch, looking to the future”. The future that Planeta has mentioned is “sustainability, for which a Foundation will be created, together with the Consorzio della DOC Sicilia. We have the biggest organic vineyard in Italy, and our climate is more suited to production sustainability than any other Italian territory. So, we must narrate it to an ever-larger audience, as we do on Assovini, a small miracle, which today brings together more than 90 producers, while 9 bottles out of 10 of the wine is produced in Sicily. We have to place the “sustainability bell tower in the center of the village”, because it is one of our distinguishing characteristics, and it will become a more and more competitive advantage on the markets”. Competitiveness on the markets also originates from the union of the Sicily brand, increasingly united to the individual regional names, expressions of diversity and uniqueness (Sicily, even though it is an island, is the second Italian region for “mountain viticulture”, as the president of DOC Sicilia Antonio Rallo pointed out).
“Our denomination today boasts 25.000 hectares compared to just 9.300 in 2013, brings together 460 wineries, 8.354 winemakers, and its mission is to narrate Sicily to the whole world. Data is comforting, because according to Wine Intelligence data, for instance, we are in position number 7 among the most famous territories in the USA, and in the world, while in Italy only Tuscany is ahead of us. In Germany, on the other hand, where we have invested much less, we hold position number 11 in purchases. Furthermore, we have monitored the trend during the first 4 months of 2020, and in general it seems that Sicily has suffered less than the rest of Italy. To date, our wineries have reported losses of 11% compared to the same period in 2019, against -35 / -40% on average for Italy”.
“These data do not mean we are not concerned, but they do give us confidence for the future, which is the fruit of Sicily’s wine planning that has been very active, even during the Covid-19 emergency”, Alberto Tasca of Tasca d’Almerita pointed out.
“There are two very significant facts, however,” added Antonio Rallo, “which are, the growth of bottled DOC Sicilia wines, that reached +19% in 2019, and 95 million bottles, and more importantly, the number of bottles of all the territorial denominations (DOCG Cerasuolo di Vittoria and the DOC County of Sclafani, Contessa Entellina, Eloro, Menfi, Noto and Vittoria) that put Sicily on their labels, has grown +11% compared to 2018. This is a very comforting figure for us and we are also encouraged by the fact that the web analysis revealed the majority of Sicilian wine consumers is younger than the average, which is a great sign for the future”.

Nonetheless, even Sicilian wine, which for years has focused on quality - and as Francesco Ferreri, producer and president of Coldiretti Sicilia, said, “to the point that 20 years ago we produced 12 million hectoliters per year, while today we produce only around 4.5 million hectoliters per year, the lowest yield per hectare in Italy, around 50 hectoliters per hectare” - sees many of its wineries in distress because the on trade market is on lockdown, which for many of them yields 90% of their turnover. Furthermore, there are those waiting for tourism to start up again, “which could start in the wineries and the wine shops”, as Josè Rallo (Donnafugata) pointed out, “but there must be a complete 360 degree turn around for hotels and restaurants, too”, said Mariangela Cambria, at the helm of Cottanera on Etna.
“Working, but not doing our jobs makes no sense”, Alessio Planeta said, directed to Pino Cuttaia, the two Michelin star restaurateur of “La Madia” in Licata and president of “Le Soste di Ulisse”. “It is obvious that catering is going through an enormously challenging period, and we still don't know how to start up again. However, wine, which succeeded very well in starting over again after the methanol scandal”, said Cuttaia, “can teach us how to recover, and resume our role as chefs, the “ambassadors” to territories and a large supply chain that often has no face”. The Sicilian wine supply chain, instead, has a great many faces, such as the numerous ancient vines, native and international varieties, the various territories on the Island that have learned to narrate their wines to the world (where now one bottle out of two is Sicilian wine) together as one voice. In addition to these, there is the face of an ancient island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, “whose work on producing quality was started by the generation previous to ours, and must continue its path towards the future”, concluded Alessio Planeta.
Focus - The 2019 vintage in Sicily according to Mattia Filippi (Uva Sapiens)
Production in 2019 in Sicily was around 4.3 million hectoliters, within the average over the past 5 years. The 2019 harvest, together with the 2014 and 2011 vintages, was the third most scarce harvest in the last 10 years. One of the key words that guide the spirit and the strategies of Sicilian wine producers is sustainability, which is also confirmed by the growing number of wineries that have adhered to voluntary protocols or certifications related to sustainability, such as SOSTAIN as well as other Italian and European certifications.
Organic is naturally closely linked to the concept of sustainability. Sicily today represents 34% of the entire Italian organic area, followed by Apulia, which covers 16-17%. There are a total of 80.000 hectares of organic vineyards grown in Italy, which are certainly going to increase.
There are a number of factors that combined have permitted Sicily to easily approach sustainability and organic farming. First of all, the Mediterranean climate, which, among other factors, is not particularly affected by the rise in average temperatures due to climate change. Additionally, we can see from the data analyzed that at the end of June, temperatures in Sicily were very similar to the typical temperatures of the mountainous areas, although lower than the European average. Not only, Sicily in 2019 did not experience temperature rises compared to average temperatures over the last 30 years.
Looking in detail at the trend of temperatures during the period involving vine cultivation, and that is, from March to October, temperatures were significantly lower than the average over the last 15 years. Rainfall, on the other hand, was higher than average compared to the last few years, though not as high as in 2018. This obviously led to a great delay in budding and above all flowering with a poor fruit set, which then resulted in very low average production.
Analyzing the various Sicilian areas, in reference to the 2019 vintage, it will be possible to briefly review the different native varieties that were intelligently adapted in the various territories, and therefore able to make the most of what the vintage gave them.
Starting from western Sicily, where we find the provinces of Trapani, Palermo and Agrigento, 2019 was a year characterized by a significant vegetative-productive balance, mainly due to the fact that there were no disturbances from the very hot African winds, like the Sirocco, but on the contrary the presence of cool temperatures allowed a delay in harvesting. This factor was essential and had a positive influence on the varieties grown in that area. Therefore, Catarratto (or Lucido) has developed wines of great acidity and low pH, which have enhanced the varietal aromas and created wines that will be long-lived.
Even though the averages per hectare this year have been much lower, Grillo has enjoyed the same vegetative-productive balance as Cataratto. This means that the levels of malic acid have been above average and have favored the development of many thiol aromas with a tropical profile during the fermentation phase and the results translate into non-alcoholic but very rich wines.
Similarly, Insolia benefited from the same vegetative-productive balance, generating good aromatic expressions and a surprisingly higher acidity than average.
Production of Nero D’Avola per hectare is very low (only around 7 tons per hectare on average) but has well-developed polyphenols, which have led to a very rich bodied wine.
Continuing on to South-eastern Sicily, where we find the provinces of Ragusa, Siracusa and a part of the Caltanissetta area, the autumn rains delayed the harvest season, especially for the Nero d’Avola and Frappato varieties.
Specifically, Nero d’Avola has benefitted from its low production per hectare and has therefore kept a lot of freshness and acidity. It is very likely that these characteristics will lead to wines that have excellent acidity and probably also a long life over time.
Frappato performed in the same way, ripening very slowly, maintaining its varietal characteristics both for traditional winemaking as well as for more modern concepts Moving, instead, to the area of North East Sicily, that is, to Mamertino DOC, Faro and Etna, last year’s vintage was absolutely balanced with some exceptional peaks, especially in reference to the white-berried varieties.
The reason for this was that the traditional autumn rainfalls arrived a month later than they had the previous year.
This situation, consequently, allowed a very large and prolonged harvest over time, providing winemakers the opportunity to harvest the grapes at the right time.
The result, then, will lead to excellent wines from the aromatic as well as phenol ripening point of view.
In the Etna area, Carricante, especially, has had well balanced aromatic evolutions and a very acidic and vertical profile. Considering Catarratto, it will probably be an excellent year in terms of durability. Nerello Mascalese experienced truly perfect conditions during the harvest, which has allowed wine companies to make the most of its polyphenol ripening, typical of the variety.

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