Assovini Sicilia Celebrates 25 Years

Assovini Sicilia celebrated a double anniversary this year: twenty-five years since its founding, and twenty years since the first edition of Sicilia en Primeur.

A special event was recently held in May during Sicilia en Primeur 2024, which included the preview of the latest vintage. This was a record edition with over one hundred journalists, including national and international press, ten enotours, five masterclasses, fifty-nine wineries and over three hundred labels for tasting.

Cultivating the Future, the claim chosen for this edition, takes stock of the first twenty-five years, emphasizing Assovini Sicilia’s role as a leading player and witness to the Sicilian wine renaissance.

Diego Planeta, Lucio Tasca d’Almerita and Giacomo Rallo signed the articles of association of Assovini Sicilia in 1998. Eight wineries were the first to join the association, endorsing that far-sighted, courageous, revolutionary vision, which saw associationism as a winning strategy to promote Sicily.

Twenty-five years later, the dream of the “founding fathers” to attribute cultural, promotional and storytelling value to Sicilian wine has been fully realized.

The strong wind of change and evolution continues to push the association forward, which, driven by the spirit of teamwork and system, has recently become a beacon in the wine scene, demonstrating not only that in Sicily, wine production is of quality, the managerial profile of the companies is competitive, and wine is a cultural ambassador to the world, but that the Sicily that knows how to team up is a winner.

“I am proud to represent an association that has always conveyed and promoted a contemporary image of Sicily, linked to traditions, dynamic, and elegant,” comments Mariangela Cambria, President of Assovini Sicilia. – Thanks to the courage of those who believed in associationism, defying all cultural resistance and, putting themselves on the line without protagonism, believing in teamwork, today, throughout the world, Sicily is a brand with a powerful and profound cultural value and international appeal. Assovini Sicilia was born from a vision and a plan that pushed the island towards new horizons, made it known throughout the world for its beauty and history. A story whose telling was entrusted to the narrative and symbolic power of wine. The great revolution of Assovini Sicilia was to believe in wine as a cultural product, with potential that is extraordinary and unique, before being economic.”

The story of these extraordinary twenty-five years, divided into multiple themes – the evolution of the vineyard, the cultural value of wine, perception in the American market, wine tourism and the Next Generation – was the heart of the “Cultivating the Future” conference, moderated by Gioacchino Bonsignore, a Mediaset journalist, inside the monumental complex of San Domenico in Cefalù.

Bonsignore retraced the history of Assovini Sicilia through those who have supported the vision and path of the association over the years.

«It’s a bit like what happened with the Italian language: It was born in Dante’s Florence, in the fourteenth century, but the precursor is the Sicilian School of the court of the “Stupor Mundi”, Frederick II of Swabia, in the thirteenth century.

Members of Assovini Sicilia speak about history, culture and values. They are all aiming for exports: Europe confirms itself as the main export market, for 95.7% of the companies, followed by North America. «I have witnessed the Sicilian wine renaissance firsthand over the past twenty years, and writing about the wines of Sicily has given me some of the most rewarding professional moments. I am deeply convinced that the bright future of Italian wine begins here, in Sicily, in the heart of the Mediterranean” – states Monica Lerner, an American journalist and wine critic for Robert Parker Wine Advocate.

Alessio Planeta, Antonio Rallo and Alberto Tasca, sons of the original founders, took up the torch and carried forward the initial plan of teamwork that laid the foundations of the winning “wine system” of Assovini Sicilia.

«I have always been convinced that collaborating and sharing long-term objectives is the right way to create value and promote our extraordinary wine-growing contexts.
Therefore, associationism for me has been and continues to be a successful path, which fully embodies the spirit of collaboration and commitment to excellence that characterizes Sicilian wine-growing,” comments Antonio Rallo, past president of Assovini and current President of the Consortium for the Protection of Sicily DOC wines.

Alessio Planeta defines the time span and history of the Sicilian vineyard in three emblematic eras: the enchantment of the past, the fervor of the 1980s and the vitality of the new millennium. «Each stage tells a story, interwoven with numbers, trends and varieties that reflect our commitment to the future. It is not just an exercise in meditation, but a bridge to tomorrow, shaped by family experience and innovation. In a world where we export to 75 markets, operating in five different Sicilian regions, we rely on the wisdom of our predecessors, like my uncle Diego Planeta, and our vision,’ adds Alessio Planeta, CEO and President of Planeta Winery.

Not only quality production and promotion abroad, Assovini Sicilia has won the bet on wine tourism as a tool for telling the story of the territory and its historical and wine-growing heritage.

Today, 84.8 % of the member companies have implemented a series of wine tourism services in their wineries that are true wine experiences, contributing to the evolution of wine tourism services from simple wine tastings to a part of experiential tourism.
In Sicily, the wine experience is a metaphor for a land that is changing and that has managed to enhance an asset, the wine industry, capable of representing our Sicily at its best,’ commented Marcello Mangia, president and CEO of Mangia’s – Aeroviaggi and host of the Sicilia en Primeur conference.

With its roots firmly anchored in tradition and the past, Assovini Sicilia is laying the foundations for the future by continuing to follow the winning trajectory and strategy that has led the association to celebrate these first twenty-five years successfully. The wineries are preparing for the generational transition: About 78% of the member wineries have already integrated a new generation into the company management. Within the association, the ‘Next Generation’ group has been created to represent the new generations of Assovini Sicilia, young people under 40 years of age who are already operational and family members within family businesses and who, guided by the example of Assovini, are committed to creating a team that looks to the future and to the enhancement of the Sicilian wine-growing territory. Among the new group’s main areas of intervention: communication, training and promotion of the territory.
«I believe that the NextGen of our entrepreneurial families have very clearly in mind what kind of ancestors they want to be: And this is how they will transform business models, here in Sicily and in the wine industry as in all sectors and geographical areas,’ Giovanna Gregori, executive director of AIDAF – Italian Family Business, commented during the conference.
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Sicilia en Primeur, the event conceived of and organized by Assovini Sicilia since 2004, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. An itinerant event that has based its success on a winning format: combining the preview of the latest vintage wines with visits to wineries and territories, telling the story of Sicily’s historical-archaeological and landscape beauties through the stories of wine.

“With Sicilia en Primeur, wine becomes an instrument of narration not only of the wine heritage but also of the human and historical heritage of Sicily. Wine is the leitmotif that unites the stories of the producers with those of the territories, weaves tales, joins pieces of a unique mosaic where Sicily is an extraordinary wine-growing continent” President Mariangela Cambria concludes.

Sicily En Primeur: A Glimpse at a Wine Destination Par Excellence – Filippo Magnani

A few weeks ago, one of Sicily’s highly anticipated wine events took place in the beautiful town of Taormina, one of Sicily’s main tourist destinations, on the slope of the tallest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna or ‘A Muntagna’ as locals call it. Sicily En Primeur is an itinerant event created by the association Assovini Sicilia to introduce the wines of the most recent harvest and to highlight its member wineries as the “ambassadors and guardians of culture and territories.” Starting in 2004, this was the nineteenth edition of the event which was attended by over one hundred national and international accredited wine writers and included nine wine tours, eight hundred wines for tasting, sixty wineries and five masterclasses, hosted by Elizabeth Gabay, Master of Wine. Assovini Sicilia was founded in 1998 by Diego Planeta, Giacomo Rallo and Lucio Tasca d’Almerita. Their mission was to bring together a team of producers who shared a common goal: to raise awareness about the importance of Sicilian wine. Today the association strives to protect and strengthen its territorial identity by highlighting the cultural richness of the different terroirs as well as the stylistic interpretations of their winemakers.

The association presented its vision for Sicilian wine production, and its connection to tourism as a means to create unique wine experiences. The President of Assovini Sicilia,  Laurent de la Gatinais, described Sicily as “a wine destination of excellence, the Napa Valley of the Mediterranean, because of its variety and quality of wine, beautiful landscapes, and unique historical and archaeological heritage.”  The event also highlighted the fact that, in addition to wine tourism, the new generation of Sicilian winemakers is focusing on sustainability and the environment. Of the fifteen new producers, eleven of them are women. These dynamic young people have studied and worked outside Sicily to gain valuable skills in marketing, economics, and oenology. They share a passion for the history of their island and families, but also a strong desire to bring new ideas and innovation to Sicilian viticulture.

Layers of terroir, culture and history have created a truly unique territory

Sicily holds over 3,000 years of rich viticulture history. From the Greeks to the English, the island has been influenced by many civilizations but has managed to preserve a unique identity in its language, cuisine, and territory of wines without fully yielding to these outside influences. As a Mediterranean crossroads it has developed a rich culture that can be experienced through its architecture, cuisine, music, and art. Perhaps even more diverse, however, is its terroir and wine. In an hour you could be skiing on Mount Etna at 2,000 metres over lava and black volcanic soil, and then move to the shores of Catania to bask on the sandy beach. Other areas to the west and south are rich in limestone and clay. The island is the biggest in the Mediterranean and one of its most mountainous. This of course is reflected in the impressive variety of wine styles you can find here, from crisp, clean sparkling wines to full, deep reds and luscious fortified wines. Sicily has 1 DOCG (Cerasuolo di Vittoria), 23 DOC’s and 7 IGP’s.

The main grapes grown in Sicily are the white Grillo and black Nero d’Avola, together with the main grapes of Mt. Etna being: Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. Many local producers, including long-established families who planted international grapes like Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah 40 years ago, have now started to draw attention to lesser-known varieties like Nerello Cappuccio, Catarratto (named Lucido) Insolia, Zibibbo, Frappato and Perricone.

Made In Sicily: Wine tourism creates a cultural symbol of excellence

It is no surprise that the President of Assovini Sicilia compared Sicily to the Napa Valley. It is roughly at the same latitude, and for an island just slightly bigger than Massachusetts its total vine covered acreage is about 40% of that in California. In addition to the broad array of high-quality wines, it offers stunning scenery and a unique historical and architectural heritage. Some of the best-preserved antiquity sites are found across the island and are layered in with all the cultures that came after. One can visit Sicily’s largest Greek theatre in Taormina and in less than an hour be wine tasting on the slopes of Mt Etna, or visit Moorish influenced mosaics at a Normand cathedral in Palermo then spend the afternoon exploring the best Marsala wineries.  Few places offer such rich experiences with wineries so well equipped to receive visitors. Among the members of Assovini Sicilia, almost all of them have a dedicated facility for wine tourism with a cellar for tastings and over half of them offer integrated experiences from cooking classes to wellness and wine tours that interact with the landscape and culture. The most popular wine experiences offered are sunset tastings, dinners in the vineyard and a chance to join the grape harvest. One third of these wineries also have lodging facilities where wine enthusiasts can fully immerse themselves in the terroir and team culture of the winery.

During the Sicily en Primeur some fantastic wines were presented, all of which were from the Etna region, where viticulture is still manually done on its steep slopes. With an average altitude of 800 metres, wines from Etna are vertical, sharp, and crisp. It’s no coincidence that the largest producer of sparkling wine from Southern Italy is based here which is Firriato, with a total production of 200K bottles per year.

 

Casa Grazia, a Sicilian Winery by Lake Biviere, that is fully immersed in biodiversity

Prior to Sicily en Primeur 2022, we visited a number of wineries. One winery that stood out was Casa Grazia. Maria Grazia Di Francesco, CEO of Casa Grazia opened to the doors of her new cellar and welcomed us to the magnificent rural landscape of Lake Biviere Oriented Reserve. Maria is truly an advocate for women in wine – I was thrilled to meet her and her daughter. The Casa Grazia Winery is located in Gela, Southern Sicily. The family has been grape producers since the 1980’s and starting from 2005 they bottled their first wine. More recently, in 2020 they achieved organic certification.

Casa Grazia covers an area of ​​about fifty hectares, almost completely planted with vineyards, is 120 meters above sea level and a few steps from the sea. The vineyards are influenced by Lake Biviere, a natural saltwater reservoir rich in biodiversity. In this area the mild winds and sea breeze meet the warm and dry air currents of the Sicilian hinterland, creating a unique microclimate which is favorable for the cultivation of both native and international grapes: Frappato, Nero D’Avola, Moscato and Grillo along with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon all on limestone-sandy soil.

The estate has eight labels:
Two white wines: Zahara and Adorè;
Five red wines: Laetitya, Victoria 1607, Gradiva, Emiryam and Vi Veri, and
One Sparkling wine: (rosé) Euphorya.

After the tour we had a technical tasting of seven wines:

2020 ‘Euphorya’ Spumante Rose; 2021 Zahara; 2021 Adore; 2021 Laetitya; 2020 Victorya 1607; 2019 Gradiva and Emiryam.

All the wines have great balance, wonderful character, and elegance. My favorite wine was Victorya 1607.  I found out after the tasting that this wine was named as a tribute to Vittoria Colonna Enriquez, Countess Consort and regent of Modica , who in 1607 gave 75 settlers two hectares of land, on condition that they cultivate one vineyard. The vineyards also fall perfectly in the D.O.C.G. of the Cerasuolo of Vittoria, the only Sicilian D.O.C.G. The 1919 vintage of Cerasuolo di Vittoria “Victorya 1607” received a Gold Medal with 96/100 from “Decanter World Wine Awards 2021.” It was such an honor to have tasted this wine knowing the backstory.

It was wonderful to meet Maria Grazia Di Francesco, like her wines, she also has wonderful style and elegance.  Maria presented all the women at our tasting a beautiful bouquet of flowers – what a lovely surprise and memorable experience.

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Sicilia en Primeur 2022…. It’s a Wrap!

What an amazing experience attending Sicilia en Primeur 2022!  Assovini Sicilia has certainly set the bar high for its eighteenth edition, and I believe the attending journalists will attest that this.

By the Numbers

This year is the 18th edition. In attendance were 80 national and international journalists. There were 7 wine tours, over 500 wines tasted, and 1 Masterclass.

After two years, the itinerant event organized and produced by Assovini Sicilia, was held in Erice, in the historical venue “Centro di Cultura Scientifica Ettore Majorana.” The medieval town of Erice has previous welcomed journalists, scientists, scholars, institutions, and enologists.

Inaugural Conference – some highlights 

The conference and opening of Sicilia en Primeur 2022 was held on April 30 with renowned Journalist Massimo Giletti as the host and various guest speakers giving their technical-scientific presentations on the theme “Back to the roots. Sicily experiencing the future.” Including a presentation by Professor Antonio Zoccoli, (President of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics) “Wine is also physics, and neutrino detectors are useful to unmask wine frauds” and he further states that “There is no wine without neutrino.”

Professor Marco Moriondo (Institute of Bioeconomics of CNR in Florence) states “Wine-growing Sicily is less exposed to climate change thanks to its soils, terroir, biodiversity and microclimates.”

Enologist Mattia Filippi and founder of Uva Sapiens states “Sicily is nowadays enjoying a privileged condition and its viticulture structure is so strictly connected with its traditions that a series of productive variables are extremely relevant also with regard to climate change.”

The Mayor of Erice, Daniela Toscano, along with Lorenzo Zichichi, both hosts of the “Centro di Cultura Scientifica Ettore Majorana”, mentioned the historical and scientific vocation of the medieval town of Erice.

Laurent de la Gatinais, the President of Assovini Sicilia, spoke of Sicily as “a miniature continent. Its diversity will be the key of our future. Therefore, we need to focus on vine, its study, its development. It has always been said that the human factor is fundamental in the production cycle, and today I strongly believe that it is more and more actual and understood as science, knowledge, and know-how. This is the only way we can tackle important issues, such as that of climate change. Assovini Sicilia wants to be the advocate and pioneer in leading the future of Sicilian viticulture following new models.”

“Sicily is today the largest organic wine area in Italy” comments Antonio Rallo, the President of Consorzio di Tutela Vini DOC Sicilia. It is a territory that by its very nature identifies sustainability as the keystone of the Sicilian viticulture system. This is the direction to where the industry of the island is moving, towards quality wines, authentic and recognizable in their identity and sustainable throughout the whole production process.”

Sicilia en Primeur is not only an important event for the Sicilian wine industry. It is also a perfect opportunity to showcase Sicily’s viticulture and historical-archaeological heritage through its wine tours. Stay tune for my updates on the wine tour.

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The Balio Gardens – Erice Sicily

A few days ago we had an amazing lunch with local specialities, accompanied with some lovely Sicilian wines on the grounds of The Balio Gardens, Erice.

Some History and Viewpoints

The Balio Gardens are built in 1872 by Conte Pepoli around the Castle of Venus. The gardens are of English design and style.

While enjoying our incredible lunch at the various stations around the castle, we are welcomed with stunning panoramic views of the Gulf of Trapani, salt pans of Trapani, Egadi Archipelago and the coast of Marsala. Apparently, on a clear day, it is possible to see Capo Bon, North East Tunisia.

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