Sicily Distinguishes Itself
Like the other two large Tyrrhenian Sea islands, Sicily has a long history of conquest by neighboring cultures. Arabs from the south, Romans and Byzantines from the north, Spaniards from the west. The wine culture tracks this influence, as in Corsica and Sardinia. But Sicily is bigger, even more diverse.
As Joe Bastianich says, more like a small continent than a large island.
Mt. Etna, with its cooler climates, dominates the northern landscape. The south is warmer and flatter and grapes tend to ripen earlier than most other European locales. That happens to be perfect for the likes of frappato and nero d'avola, both thin-skinned red varieties.
And while Sicily has centuries of viticultural heritage, most of it has traditionally been made into bulk wine. Only in the past few decades have the artisans stepped forward to turn Sicilian wine into a coherent, distinguished idea.
Ariana Occhipinti is a new breed of winemaker. She's young, steeped in the traditions of her ancestory, passionate about the story that a bottle of wine has the capacity to tell, and she has the gumption to do things her way.
An ocean of ink has been spilled for this young vintner, but here is her story in brief.
Her Uncle Giusto made a name for himself in the 80s as the 'O' in COS, a groundbreaking line of rustic wines that won great acclaim worldwide, and who through atypical techniques became one of Sicily's most prominent wineries. If you've never had these wines, they're certainly worth picking up first chance you get.
This is the man who inspired Ari to make wine in the first place. He introduced her to the wine world at age 16 when he took her to Vinitaly, one of the largest wine events anywhere in the world. Throughout school, she says, she bumped up against her teachers' bad practices. Her foundation is in the natural methods that Giusto used, not the manipulations common to the production of bulk wines. But she's never veered, never wavered in her devotion to the practices she believes in. And her wines truly shine.
The Occhipinti farm is 100% certified organic. The certification is left off her labels because, as she says, the laws are "a bit convoluted." This is the home of the mafia, after all; no telling what all that means. And the point isn't to advocate a certain ideology, the point is to bring into the cellar the best fruit she possibly can, which means taking care to preserve the ecology of the vines and the yeasts native to that land. It also means only growing indigenous varietals, grapes that evolved naturally in the habitat of southern Sicily.
Her adventure started in 2004 when she inherited a single hectare (roughly 2.5 acres) in the area of Vittoria. Since that inaugural vintage her holdings have grown to more than 12 hectares, allowing her to plant a couple local white varietals in addition to the nero d'avola and frappato for which she is known.
More recently, she has expanded yet again. Last year she built a new cellar and winemaking facility, on a new farm, where she is restoring an old farmhouse. The new digs allow her to make and age her white wines in concrete tanks, the way she does her SP68 red. Her wines keep getting better. 2015 was her 9th vintage. If her growth and development so far are any indication, the Occhipinti family (along with Planeta, et al) may put Vittoria in league with Italy's most storied DOCGs.