Everyone has their own ideas of what kind of place Sicily is. Even people who’ve never been there. I’m exactly the same. You can’t help it really given recent popular culture. It’s massively unfair on an island most who have been there think is one of the most beautiful places in Europe. Unfortunately though, mention Sicily and most of us will think of the Godfather films, some may think of the Italian drama series Il Capo Dei Capi, and a few will have checked out the occasional TV chef waxing lyrical about the fresh seafood from the sketchy markets of Palermo. You think about exports, you probably think olive oil at best.
But as I mentioned in the previous post, Sicily has surprised the wine world in recent years and got itself in shape. Co-op Sicilian wines (they buy in the grapes and make the wine on mass scale) are now of such a quality that the shelves of the likes of Tesco and Sainsburys are laden with it.
So what’s made them so successful? They’re finally working together. Too long Italian winemakers have been a collection of individuals. Vineyards are family concerns, the wine sells well locally, and everyone has a roof over their head and food on the table. Why rock the boat? Well the influx of inexpensive but good quality wines from the New World (especially Argentina and Chile which is laden with Italian immigrants, both grapes and people) meant that the status quo in most Italian wineries was no longer good enough. The best sold, the rest faded from memory.
The north knuckled down, promoted it’s famous DOCGs (the famous areas and names such as Barolo and Chianti), and marketing was a collective business. Sicily is now showing the way for the rest of the south with this. It’s a branding exercise. It doesn’t have the famous DOCGs to fall back on like other areas. But what it does have is the willingness to work together. Co-ops and small wineries alike.
A couple of years back, you ask 99% of wine drinkers if they’d heard of Nero D’Avola as a grape. Probably not. But all of a sudden it’s on the £5 shelf at the local supermarket. It’s consistent quality (a must for both the co-ops and smaller guys) can now rival all the great things the New World brands have done so well.
The brand is now there. IGT Sicilia (IGT is the Italian version of the generic geographical appellation). And demand is there also. Sicilian wine is back on the map, and soon enough the ability for Sicilian makers to use the reputation of the IGT, of their brands, and of their local grapes to branch out into the premium export market in a big way will complete the turn around.
As we said in the last blog, cheap land and great grape growing climates should work. It needs investment and a willingness to succeed. Together.
Brava Sicilia !