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A lesson in Sicilian winemaking

Rockliffe Hall's Head Sommelier has recently returned from a trip to Sicily. Find out all about his visit.

On the back of my trip to Mezzacorona last year, I was invited to their Sister Vineyard in Sicily. To curb my curiosity, I packed my bag and note book, and set out to learn how people manage to create good wine in very hot climates.

Feudo Arancio is a relatively young Vineyard. It all started in 2001 when they bought the land and house from a Sicilian family. Straight away they demolished the main house and started to excavate the ground with everything, including dynamite. All this to create a modern Vinery underground with a two story, beautiful Sicilian Manor house, complete with a lush olive grove on the top, overlooking a quiet valley that produces a magnificent view.

The hill sides were prepared for the new adventure ahead. They planted different grapes in loads of different locations to see what kind of yield it would produce. One ingenious way to create irrigation was built high up on the top of the hillside where they built two reservoirs. Then underground they laid a network of pipes that reached every single row of vines. Down in the valley two more reservoirs was built to collect all water that came down from the hillside, to then be pumped up to the top for re-use. The irrigation is planned to the smallest detail. It involves time of year, humidity, grape variety, soil and altitude, just to name a few.

After some years Feudo Arancio learnt where the exact locations were that the different grape varieties would flourish and set about to start producing wine in earnest. To maintain a Green Credential for the vineyard, everything is managed to the smallest detail. They are immensely proud to be green. It shows with everyone I came in contact with.

The vinery underground is impressive. The creation of the stainless-steel tanks and their positions are thought out in detail. An ingenious, and complicated array of pipes connect most tanks. So, if the vine maker would like to test a blend from different tanks, he can program to the closest centilitre what goes through the pipes and to an empty tank for the ‘test’.

During my walk I saw many small tanks that were experiments as the magnificent winemaker, Maurizio, was telling me with a big smile. He has the best job!

Very impressive was the use of oak barrels. American Oak that gives you a smooth, almost vanilla essence. French Oak for the classical touch. And also, the use of used oak barrels. Very technical but for a wine nerd like me, it was immensely interesting. And to try wine straight from the barrel is something that should be on anyone’s bucket list!

In five days, there was of course the odd tasting. We sat on a large veranda overlooking the valley and thoroughly and enthusiastically tried many wines. The best wines I found were of course, not available in the UK. One was their Chardonnay which blew me away with its intense nose of smooth oak and a touch of pineapple. The palate was deep and promised longevity in the wine. A hint of vanilla and butter at the end. The dark horse was Hedonis. A grape variety that stems from Greece, but comes alive on the rolling hills in Sicily! It has a complex expression with a touch of anise and spice. Tobacco lingers in the background and lovely touches of almond and vanilla at the end.

I finished my adventure at Feudo Arancio with so much more knowledge and inspiration than I thought was possible! Every day my head was buzzing with so much information and my note pad is full of ideas and anecdotes from the shy smiling winemaker, Maurizio. The best part of the trip was when I managed to negotiate a healthy sum of boxes of the Chardonnay and Hedonis that will very soon arrive in the cellar at Rockliffe Hall.

My sincere and humble thank you to all at for five days I will never forget. The party I was with was also one of a kind! Thank you all! I will return to this beautiful part of the world.

Daniel Jonberger

Head Sommelier