Last month Rossana and I travelled in two different directions: she went north to Verona for Vinitaly, and I was in the southeastern part of Sicily, enjoying early spring in the countryside, sampling Sicilian sweets, and with Sicily guide Renee Restivo, checking out two wineries I was curious about, both widely known for their fresh, elegant wines.
The Cerasuolo di Vittoria wine zone is Nero d’Avola country, yet another picturesque and fertile part of Sicily. 10 kilometers from the mountains and the Mediterranean, olive groves and vineyards are separated by low walls of unmortared limestone rock, collected by local farmers from their stony fields. Refreshing breezes from the sea make this an ideal place to grow grapes
I was interested in the first company, COS, because they’re making wine in an ancient way, in terra cotta amphorae, a trend that seems to be growing, and in the second, Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti, because I’d heard that it was a biodynamic farm. The two wineries are located near each other and, it turns out, the owners are related.
One of the founders of COS, architect Giuso Occhipinti, led us to a roomful of amphorae, buried nearly up to their necks in the ground. This is a way of making wine that he’d observed on a visit to Georgia in the former Soviet Union, where for centuries terra cotta vessels have been used for the fermentation, storage and transport of wine. Ten years ago, weary of working with barriques, of having to replace them after a few years and not fond of the oak flavors they imparted, he switched to amphorae. The porosity of terra cotta allows the wine to breathe and the amphorae don’t wear out; they just need to be thoroughly cleaned every year. (They smelled delicious!) Burying keeps them at a steady temperature.
Giuso likes to say that the amphorae give the wine a sense of freedom. Half his production is still made in the traditional way, but the wine he calls Pithos, amphora in Greek, designates what comes out of terra cotta.
Just down the road is the winery of Giuso’s niece, Arianna Occhipinti. She also comes from a family of architects and like COS she has created a beautifully designed workplace.
Her assistant, Damiano Buscema, showed us around and explained that her winemaking is not strictly biodynamic (followers of the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner) but like many Italian farmers she works her land in accordance with the phases of the moon.
Arianna’s wines are organic, she uses no chemicals, plants green manure, tills and harvests by hand, and cherishes what she has been given: the soil, the slopes, the climate, the other plants in the fields, all the elements which make up “the originality of the vineyard”. We walked across a lawn that turned out to be a roof over one of the buildings, a natural insulation.
These owners are not only masterful and successful winemakers, they are also wonderfully poetic about what they are doing. Arianna writes eloquently about her farm and Giuso plays classical music in the cantina. Their wines are available in the United States and worth seeking out.
S.P. 3 Acate-Chiaramonte, Km. 14,300
97019 Vittoria (RG), Sicily
tel. +39 (0) 932 876145
Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti
S.P. 68, Vittoria-Pedalino, Km. 3.3
97019 Vittoria (RG), Sicilia
Tel. +39 (0) 932 1865519
Check out these articles for more about amphorae, as well as biodynamic wine making in Italy. (One producer is right here in Cortona.)