Nestled in the south-eastern corner of Sicily, 25km east of Ragusa, the city of Vittoria is home to Arianna Occhipinti’s vineyards. Founded in 1607, Vittoria was surrounded by some of Sicily’s best vineyards, where the local Nero d’Avola and Frapato grapes made for some of the Island’s finest wines. . The commercialisation of Sicilian wines over the years, however, lead to the region’s wine being sold in bulk and exported as cheap blending wine. It was only in the 1980s when Arianna’s uncle, Guisto Occhipinti, set up the bespoke COS winery that the region’s modern wines begun to restore the glorious reputation of the wines which first made Vittoria’s name.
Arianna’s first memory of wine is of her visit to VinItaly (the annual Italian wine fair in Verona) as a teenager to help her uncle. She vividly remembers the energy in the air and how excited and adventurous she felt with each new wine she tried and winemaker that she met. A couple of years later, aged only 18, she enrolled in a winemaking school in Milan. While at first focussing on the conventional and technical aspects of winemaking, Arianna soon became quite vocal about an alternative and natural approach to winemaking. Upon graduation she moved back South to produce natural wines from the local varietals of the land she loved so much.
Back in Vitoria Arianna started working a tiny vineyard plot around her house and in 2004, aged just 21, her first vintage was born. The 4000 bottles made from the local Nero d’Avola and Frapato grapes were an instant success and sold out within months. Arianna hasn’t looked back: working around the clock she’s a one woman band now producing today around 70’000 bottles which all, in their own way, capture the essence of Vitoria in a bottle. When not in the vineyards Arianna is busy travelling the world, meeting fellow natural winemakers and spreading the word and love for Sicilian wine around.
With eight vintages now under her belt her wines are original, intriguing, mysterious and elegant. “Wines full of energy and emotions”, in Arianna’s own words.
Food and Mediterranean wine share an everlasting love story. The ancient tradition of cuisine based on fresh ingredients and abundance of flavour was always complimented by the local wines, which thanks to the mediterranean climate are such stars in their own right. The warm, dry, sunny summers gives them ripe and spicy fruit flavours, while the mostly mild, wet winter nights retain the vibrant fresh acidity.
In Classical times, most of the world’s wine was produced in regions surrounding this famous sea. Back then - when wine consumption was at its all time high, the soft and fruity wines grown around the Mediterranean sea were kings. It was only many years later, when thin and acidic wines burst into fashion, that vine growing moved further North from the Mediterranean shores and French and German wines rose to fame.
Nowadays, hundreds of years after their decline, both production and consumption of Mediterranean wines is on the rise again. With Southern France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Israel and Lebanon all involved now in quality winemaking, it’s difficult to ignore the innovation, quality and deliciousness these wines now represent.
As Yotam celebrates his Mediterranean feast, we are happy to compliment it with two of our favourite Mediterranean wines.
Domaine du Matin Calme is a five hectare estate located 500m up in the Pyrenees-Orientales, where the granitic soils give the wine a fresher and crisper style.
Considered by many to be the best natural winemaking co-op in the world, les Vignerons D’ Estézargues also control some of the best vineyards in southern France.
Gonzalo Gonzalo’s love story with wine started like so many others have done so before. Born in Logroño, Spain, he grew up among his parents vineyards’ in Fuenmayor, Rioja Alta. Following the family tradition, he studied oenology at the university of Rioja before completing his oenologist training in a big industrial winery. The first turning point for Gonzalo came, however, when he went off travelling through France and Italy where he met small vine-growers and winemakers whose natural winemaking practices were about to change his life. Returning from his travels he left a commercial winemaking career behind to set up his own estate. Respect to the land and natural winemaking were at the heart of the estate’s philosophy from day one.
The second major turning point in Gonzalo’s journey towards sustainable viticulture and winemaking was the illness of his father, caused by years of daily exposure to chemical fertilizers and herbicides while tending their vineyards in the 1970s. This influenced him profoundly and spurred him on to fight the battle his father had lost. His first objective was to restore the biodiversity in the vineyard lost due to chemical treatment. Rejecting modern chemical treatment, Gonzalo has instead sought out his own methods with respect for the land, his vineyards, and the traditions of his forefathers.
In the weeks prior to the bottling of Gran Cerdo’s first vintage, young Gonzalo naively approached the local bank for some financial help to launch the new wine. To his surprise the application was declined on the basis that “wine is not a seizable asset”. Gonzalo eventually managed to launch the wine without the bank’s support but did not forget. Ironicallynamed Gran Cerdo (‘big pig’ in Spanish) the wine’s back label tells his amusing take on the matter (see below).
And the wine? Made from younger Tempranillo vines, this declassified Rioja is packed with crushed cherries, strawberries and a pleasant softness. This vibrant and juicy little natural wine is phenomenal value and turned out to be an international success. But Gonzallo just can’t sit still. Seen by many as Rioja’s “Bad Boy”, Gonzalo keeps on pushing winemaking limits and is nowadays busy forging relationships with other artistic forms such as painting, music, fashion or architecture, in order to stimulate joint creative talent.