Native Italian wine grapes that thrive under the tutelage of women in Sicily

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Strapped into the cramped cockpit, Barbara felt a jolt of exhilaration as the jet began to climb past 6,000 feet per minute, and since this Aermacchi MB-339 jet only flew to about 3,000 feet, it only took half a minute to get up to stabilize. Due to the lack of padding on Barbara’s seat, any turbulence could be felt, but that lack of padding would provide ideal protection for her spine if she had to parachute. As the aerobatics began – turning upside down, turning on a dime, descending rapidly to get closer to the ground, she immediately felt forces against her body with an intensity she could never fathom while she felt at the same time that it was her in a dream as she and the jet were one – very little between her and the open sky – and so she knew what it was like to be an eagle and see through his eyes .

On that day, a childhood dream came true as Barbara Tamburini became part of just a handful of women who flew the iconic Aermacchi MB-339 jet with the National Aerobatic Patrol in the Friuli region of Italy. Barbara, who is already a legend among winemakers in Italy and has won many awards since its inception in 1996, including Best Winemaker in Italy, was able to use her Italian wine star to get a chance to fly with the National Aerobatic Patrol .

Although she has worked in some of the world’s most important wine regions, such as Piedmont and Tuscany – and received one of the most prestigious Tuscan wine awards called Golden Pegasus – she now finds her most important wine home in Sicily, having become winemaker of Duca di Salaparuta in the summer of 2020 .

Wine women in Sicily

Barbara was drawn to Sicily for many reasons, as she expressed that it is like a continent in its own right in terms of the wide variety of soils, climate and native grape varieties – over 70 native varieties are already used in the wine, and many more are still used researched. Duca di Salaparuta, a winery that has been around for almost 200 years, has an important connection to Sicily’s most popular native red grape variety, Nero d’Avola. The winery’s ‘Duca Enrico’ wine, first produced in 1984, was the first single varietal bottling of Nero d’Avola and Barbara’s philosophy of ‘respect for the grapes’ combined with ‘expression of the land’ was carried through Reinforcing their reputation for making great Italian reds, all point to exciting Nero d’Avola wines to come from Duca di Salaparuta in the future

One cannot even mention wine women in Sicily without mentioning José Rallo, one of the family owners of the world famous Donnafugata winery, who along with her mother is a pioneer in Sicily.

Sicily’s old-world charm is what draws many there from around the world, while other areas of Europe are being modernized too obviously for the tastes of some travellers. Not only is it steeped in Italian Sicilian culture, but a mix of African and Middle Eastern influences, as well as other cultures, can be found in the art, food, and general sense of belonging to the different types of people who come from all walks of life in Sicily; But certainly these traditional ways held women back in the past as they were expected to fulfill the role of wife and mother and nothing else.

José Rallo’s mother was Sicily’s first woman winemaker and many thought her father, Giacomo Rallo, was crazy for allowing a woman to oversee the vineyards. Since his daughter José showed the same gift for storytelling as Giacomo, he decided to send her out into the wide world and work for big companies so that she could come back and tell the family how to market their wines as Sicilian export markets didn’t exist back then.

As women played an essential role in her wines, José decided to focus on the female journey and named the wines Woman Who Fled, which is the English translation for Donnafugata as it represents the woman who is learning , to fly herself so she can come back to empower everyone else; and that is undoubtedly the story of José, as Donnafugata helped establish Sicilian wines around the world. Donnafugata has introduced the names of many Sicilian native grape varieties to wine drinkers around the world, and two of these native red grape varieties are known for her, Nero d’Avola and Frappato.

There is only one DOCG, the highest quality grade for Italian wine, in Sicily, although some wine experts would dispute that there should be more, and it is in the area called Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG that must be a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato – two Sicilian grapes that represent two different sides of Sicilian wine. Donnafugata produces this prestigious wine under the name “Floramundi” and the label shows a woman giving flowers and fruits as it is a wine that shows the dialogue of the two different souls of these grapes. Nero d’Avola brings a depth of fruit flavor and structure in contrast to Frappato’s brightness and floral aromas.

Nero d’Avola and Frappato

These two grapes illustrate the two distinct sides of Sicilian wine and the many facets of the Sicilian women who make, market and sell them. Nero d’Avola wines can range from youthful and light to big, bold and complex – they deserve to be aged. Nero d’Avola is a grape that can represent the strength and tenacity of the women who bring these wines to the top, and it harmonizes so well with the vitality and available pretty notes of Frappato because that’s another side of these women – than sometimes it takes more strength just to give to uplift others rather than just demanding individual respect.

Another famous wine producer, Planeta, produces a 100% Frappato wine (Vittoria DOC) not far from Donnafugata Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG vineyard. Planeta’s winemaker Patricia Tóth, who has been a winemaker there for over 13 years – a Hungarian who has made Sicily her adopted homeland – spoke about the importance of this frappato vineyard, which shows the serious potential of this grape. The soil in Vittoria is its main feature with a red soil called Terra Rossa associated with other quality wine growing areas in the world, but this particular Terra Rossa is sandy in texture and lacking in nutrients with a limestone base beneath the top layer. This soil contributes to smaller yields, which Patricia says makes a big difference in producing a quality, single-varietal Frappato wine. She also spoke about the intriguing “smoky” minerality emanating from this Frappato, which is accentuated by the location.

And a daughter, Anna Alessandro, leads the way by drawing attention to her lesser known family winery called Alessandro di Camporeale. Only in the last 20 years have they started making their own wines, having previously been winemakers selling their grapes for many generations. But after working hard in the vineyards with their father and two brothers to replant quality and implement organic practices, they finally feel they can show their land’s potential. Their only vineyard “Donnatà”, located 40 km southwest of Palermo, the capital of Sicily, shows the beautiful balance of refreshing acidity and rich black cherry aromas that Nero d’Avola can produce in ideal conditions – the vineyard benefits from intense breezes in this vineyard which is crucial as Anna said that Nero d’Avola can suffer from powdery mildew if the grapes don’t have good air circulation.

A place of contradictions

One of the most amazing things about Sicily is how they retain much of the old world charm but are able to innovate in other ways. Local government has been at the forefront of investing funds in agricultural research initiatives, and no other region has a better understanding of the variety of its native grapes. As such, Sicily has set the standard for research into native grapes for other Italian wine regions. In a way, innovation and preservation of the old ways seems like a counterintuitive partnership, but what seems impossible elsewhere is possible in Sicily.

The same goes for the prestige of women in Sicily, as one of Italy’s most influential wine women, José Rallo, is Sicilian through and through, and there are incredibly talented women winemakers from other places who are still drawn to making wine in Sicily, and this is still the case wonderfully warm, traditional Sicilian grandmother who is always ready with a big hug and a hearty meal for anyone who shows up on her doorstep. It is impossible to pigeonhole wine women in Sicily, just as it would take lifetimes to understand everything about Sicily itself; Once you think you know, something else comes along to contradict your first conclusion.

And knowing this about Sicily explains how it could attract a woman like Barbara Tamburini, who has already achieved great success in other wine regions of Italy. She may be brilliant, hardworking, and extremely brave, but she is also humble, warm-hearted, and often gives credit to her longtime mentor. Above all, she radiates the feeling of gratitude and the never-ending enthusiasm to face the next challenge.

In a way, Sicily seems like the ideal place for them as it brings together all their qualities, as this Mediterranean island is still on a quest to show the world that great Italian wine can be both kind and profound; a wine drinker need not compromise on one to preserve the other.

2019 Donnafugata ‘Floramundi’ Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG: 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato. Lovely floral and red fruit notes with lilac and preserved redcurrants with a good weight that has dried black cherries and fresh thyme and crushed stones in the long finish.

2018 Planeta, Frappato, Vittoria DOC: 100% Frappato. Fairly pale ruby ​​red and smoky minerality on the nose with rose petals, fresh red cherries and strawberries with an intriguing note of singed herbs with a round body and an aromatically expressive finish.

2018 Alessandro di Camporeale, Nero d’Avola ‘Donnatà’, Sicilia DOC: 100% Nero d’Avola. Dark berries but very bright with fresh sage and rich black cherry flavors with hints of aniseed and refreshing acidity.

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