What are the origins of your farm?
My uncle owns a company that produces natural wines and he has passed on this passion to me since I was a child. At 16 I went to the Vinitaly fair with him. I discovered a multicultural place with producers from all over the world, a catalyst place of energies to which I immediately felt attracted. This experience made me decide at 18 to move to Milan to study viticulture and enology. The theory, however, did not fill the practical part so I decided to independently meet the producers and artisans trying to gain visual experience. After the first years in Milan, however, I began to miss Sicily. I had flashes of images: landscapes, places swooped into thoughts, bringing out the desire to be there. One day, in my third year of university, I called my father and told him that I wanted to rent a vineyard in Vittoria, the place where I was born. He replied “Stay still! You are 21 years old! “. He actually knew that day would be over. (Laughs, ed). So I rented a vineyard called Fossa di Lupo. I was in the last year of university, it was very demanding to go up and down, between studies and work but I still managed to make the first harvest in 2004 which produced half Frappato and half Nero d’Avola. A few months later, in November of the same year, I graduated. The wine I produced, in its simplicity, was good, genuine, well done. I decided to put it in the bottle and let my first distributor taste it. He liked it a lot and told me: “As soon as you are ready I will have the pleasure of putting it in the triple A catalog” which means Agricultural Artisans Artists or a selection of small wine artisans. At that time we came from a period in which the important wineries were the noble ones of the guides. Sustainability was not talked about as well as natural wines. The idea he was finally pushing was to go back to the earth, to the origins, to work on organic matter, to improve that small portion. And I became a part of it.
How did you manage to build your identity as a winemaker in a period where the concept of sustainability was not yet so widespread?
These were the years of training, of the first discoveries, of visits to the cellar, of the important things that you never forget. There I understood that natural wine is a part of this world, that it can give continuous stimuli and that it made sense to produce it to give an answer against such widespread and, in my opinion, exaggerated wine homologation.
What is the value of listening and respect for nature in your work?
They are of primary importance. I think that listening and observation determine the subsequent actions to carry on the season. You can’t go to calendar or schedule. There is a time to do a certain type of pruning, as well as a first copper treatment; when it rains more, for example, and therefore there is more explosion of vegetation, more cleaning is required than in other periods. Each season is different and comes from the experience you had in previous seasons. So listening, intuition, is essential. It is necessary to understand what is needed at that moment. The vineyard as well as the wine have taught me to wait. My character pushes me to want everything immediately, I don’t know how to wait. Thanks to this work I can do a great exercise on myself. Learn to wait for a result. Sometimes there are days when I go into the cellar, taste the wine and I think it’s not a day. I wait a week and everything changes. Change atmospheric pressure, change mood and change wine. The value of time is a fundamental aspect.
Has this job changed other parts of you?
It helped me to grow in many things. It has certainly allowed me to be more empathetic towards people; it taught me that there are things in life that you cannot do differently and that the exchange between human beings, relationships, not competition, are important. Fortunately, I’m not competitive. For me it is inspiring to listen to the way another producer makes wine. It gives me a different vision and teaches me to relate to people. I had started producing in a very individual way. It was just me. For my character, managing things by myself is almost easier. In the sense that on the one hand I want to do a lot and the help of people is necessary. On the other hand, I am an individualist so being able to integrate with the people I work with was difficult but fundamental. The transition from being a game to being a company is done by teamwork between people.
What are you most passionate about your job?
The life of a winery is divided into several parts: the vineyard, the cellar, the transformation of the wine and the sale. I love all of these aspects but there are times when I prefer one over another. In recent years I have become very passionate about working in the countryside. For example, I took a pruning course and then taught it to my team which is not seasonal but consolidated. I then decided to expand the company to other crops such as wheat and fruit trees in order to have total coverage throughout the year. It is a job that requires in-depth knowledge. I felt the desire to continue to train and refine the techniques in viticulture more and more to improve wine even if, being natural, it is the territory that speaks to you and makes for itself.
What did you learn during the lockdown period?
It inspired me to invent things. The need to bring out inventiveness in the face of a declining market has also taken over. In any case, in emergencies I give my best. I solve them, I activate instead of depressing myself. Every now and then a good blow of crisis brings me back to reality. I say to myself “Wait, it’s not like everything is always fine. Wake up that things can change from one moment to the next “. It gives me stimuli, also compares with colleagues I respect. There is a swarm of knowledge. In those weeks, two agents called me to do a training course on natural wines. I usually had to run after them. Crises always bring a new consciousness.
What makes a truly good and quality wine?
Basically I believe that we need a suitable territory. They are not necessarily known areas. There are also small ones with all the necessary features. This is the main aspect. Then it takes a lot of sensitivity. The wine I make is the result of a very close relationship between man and land. It is taking hands. To make a good grape you need a viticulture done well that respects the soil, the territory, nature, which feeds biodiversity. These are not just words, they are real things that make the difference in terms of grape taste. You can have a beautiful vineyard to look at but then it could give you a really cheap grape. The vine does not need to be overly fertilized and fed. In terms of flavor it needs the right nourishment that it can get from the soil itself. For example, I sow the same essences in the center of the rows which when they are overturned then bring nutrients. A further step is to accompany the grapes to the cellar with a lot of respect. Allowing it to express itself by itself with a spontaneous fermentation therefore without adding anything, a fermentation that reflects your work in the countryside and that is respectful of its characteristics. I do not want to cover with particular techniques what my territory gives me spontaneously. Because in reality I can never do better than that. It is an excessively self-centered view to think that the winemaker can make a better wine than what nature’s potential can do. It almost always ruins it. In the best of cases, it keeps the characteristics of a territory unaltered. It takes sensitivity to make a great wine, you need to listen to it in its different moments. It takes experience, understanding the territory, the winds, your grapes. It’s important. As well as tasting many wines. Understanding the correspondence between the tasting and what the producer does.
How sustainable is your company today and what would you like to improve for the future?
I have a totally sustainable agriculture since I work in biodynamics. With the pruning waste we make organic dynamic compost preparations and I also use them for vegetable gardens and the most calcareous areas where the plant suffers a little. The vineyard cycle is a closed cycle which regenerates itself with itself. I work on the soil in winter and on the foliage in summer. Soil work is important because it is what then gives the plant its sustenance. I do not irrigate and therefore I do not have a water imbalance to the detriment of the aquifers, plus I care a lot about the value and balance of biodiversity so I put many crops together while maintaining the Mediterranean scrub. I plant things when they are needed, in addition to the suns that give you an infinity of flowers and insects. Since I added wheat, fruit trees, the vegetable garden has become a much more protected and stronger ecosystem. Everything I do creates an agricultural circle that is closed only in appearance because in reality it is open in its intentions, ideas and ideals. My wish is that this type of cultivation is an example. I see around me a very special area that has undergone an important agricultural industrialization in the 60s with the arrival of greenhouses. Agriculture has also been transformed, it has become more industrial and mass-market and therefore these farms, more sustainable, are important, significant for the example they can give to the territory.
Is there inspiration among you, among the various wineries in Sicily?
Yes. On this territory there is a nice exchange with my uncle who still has his company that produces natural wines, with scattered friends such as Nino Barraco in Marsala, Giovanni Scarfone in the lighthouse area and also with friends from the area on Etna. And then also at the national level. I am part of an association called Vi.Te, which stands for winemakers and territories, and which includes many other beautiful companies in Tuscany, Trentino, Emilia Romagna, etc. We do an event together every year and we exchange news, training. It is a truly fundamental source of contamination.
Is your company also open to outsiders?
Pre-health emergency, from April to October, many people from all over the world always came to visit the company. Enthusiasts and individuals who are in Sicily and decide to go here too. There are two guys inside the company who deal with just this. I dedicate myself more to production.
How is your relationship with Sicily?
I was lucky enough to be born in one place and raised in another. I was born in Marsala and I grew up in Vittoria. Where I grew up and where I still live represents a part that I discovered in a second phase of my life and of which I am very proud. However, there is a continuous exchange with Marsala that began during my childhood when I spent three months, the summer ones, with my grandparents. Contact with the sea, with a different culture… I have a very colorful and quite widespread relationship with Sicily because I like it all. It changes every 30 km. In culture, in people, in landscapes. It has contaminated me a lot and I feel it on me having lived in various areas and having taken something positive from each of them. I cheer so much for the Sicilian culture but also for the contamination. I love Sicilians so much who decide to go for experiences off the island and then come back. I feel like I want to stay here and continue living it. Sicily is a land where there is a lot to do and I would not be able to find another place where there is more need to change things. In my small way I’m trying to do it.
You started this job very young in a predominantly male environment. Have you ever experienced gender or age discrimination?
On the international market, no. My first 10 years were important and difficult on some aspects. When you are a woman and young, the market believes that you can do things well done but you have to do them continuously because if you don’t keep the pace for a few years you lose credibility. Towards any person you have to interface with. It can be a worker, a customer or a supplier. I immediately started with international markets such as America which is actually the country of opportunities and from this point of view they are not discriminatory but give you the opportunity to become someone even if you are young or have a small company. And then with Japan. From this point of view I have never had any problems. Some have arisen with suppliers at the beginning. You in your twenties if you talk about caps and bottles with men in your fifties… it doesn’t come easy. I didn’t look credible and I could see it from their eyes. Then slowly I have conquered them. Now the roles have reversed. There is a time when you have to work hard and a time when results arrive.
Is there an experience you have lived over the years that you remember with particular affection?
I think of a person I have recently seen again after so many years. He was among the people who taught me to prune when I was 21. When I started he said to me: “Ah sir but who is photographing this vineyard?”. To say it was taking me a long time. He said to me: “You have studied, but who makes you do it? Not even my son would stay here “. I tried to convince him and the others and started this bond. I found this gentleman in a friend’s vineyard last month. When he saw me he exclaimed: “Sir, I don’t believe it!”. He looked at me with all his admiration, we took a photograph and told each other the journey we had taken. These are satisfactions. Winning the esteem of a simple person who keeps the knowledge of the countryside has an inestimable value for me.
What advice would you give to a young woman who would like to take up this job?
Definitely try to discover the essentials of wine, the intimate part in the relationship with people, with nature. Do not rush into the world of wine today just because natural and sustainable agriculture is trendy because we must remember that trendies changes. It is necessary to really understand what you want to do and how you want to do it and certainly deepen the production part. Natural wine must really know how to do it and not just know how to sell it. In my sector, making a good wine is the most important thing, especially for a woman. There are many women in Italy in the world of wine and most of them work for the marketing and communication part. Much less in the production part. I think it takes more women here too.
Do you think that women’s sensitivity brings added value?
There are wines produced by companies led by male colleagues that are wonderful and that perhaps another woman in that place could not have done better. But I really like the type of company that women manage to create. The style, the team, the balance between people. In this I think that a woman is able to have a wider sensitivity. On the project, on the detail, sustainability in the true sense of the word. Yes, I think women can add value.
I squeezed you like the olives you make oil with. Do you also make real oil?
Yes. Olives are those that come from olive trees with age-old trunks. They have seen everything. Wars, pandemics… and they resisted.