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‘Sicily is a wine continent’

At Sicilia En Primeur, Assovini Sicilia president Count Laurent Bernard de la Gatinais spoke to db about how the strength of the Mediterranean island’s wine industry is rooted in its diversity.

An assortment of journalists from as far afield as Japan and the US gathered in postcard perfect Taormina last week for the 19th edition of Sicilia En Primeur to taste new releases from across the almost 99,000 hectares of the island (and surrounding smaller islands) that are under vine.

Gatinais, who is also president of Tenuta Rapitalà in Palermo province’s Camporeale, mentioned what has changed for Sicilian wine over the last two decades: “After 25 years of Assovini Sicilia, we can finally say that the world is becoming aware that Sicily is a wine continent – it’s not even a region, it’s a continent in miniature. There is now very good rosé and very good sparkling wine.”

Indeed, Sicilian rosé and sparkling wine were the subject of two separate masterclasses given at the En Primeur event by Elizabeth Gabay MW.

With Sicily having 23 DOCs and one DOCG (Cerasuolo di Vittoria), Gatinais compared the region to a “mosaic”.

“What is fantastic in Sicily is that even with the same variety, Grillo, Catarratto or Nero d’Avola, you can have so many different interpretations, according to the terroir.”

He went on to outline what he believes are now the three key institutional pillars of the Sicilian wine industry: Assovini Sicilia (established in 1998), the Sicilia DOC consortium (established in 2011), and environmental and social sustainability body SOStain Sicilia Foundation (established in 2020).

Gatinais acknowledged that the sheer variousness within Sicilian wine can present challenges when communicating about it to consumers. But, he argued that “complexity” and “diversity”, the result of millennia of occupation from a multitude of foreign powers, are intrinsic both to Sicilian culture overall, and its wines.

“We are more resistant to climate change due to our diversity. We have great biodiversity. We have so many microclimates and terroirs. That diversity is really our strategy. It is difficult when you have so much to communicate, but I think people are becoming more curious and they want to discover more and more. Sicily is like a candy shop for those who are curious about wine.”

“In term of communication with people from outside, wines are a business card for Sicily. Now when you think about Sicily, you think about wine.”

According to Gatinais, the 91 companies that are members of Assovini Sicilia are “ambassadors” of Sicily’s “beauty” and “uniqueness”.

When asked about winemakers blending international and indigenous varieties, Gatinais quipped that he himself is half French, half Sicilian, and again cited the past to explain why the region is still receptive to influences from abroad: “Every culture added something to Sicily, so there’s a different way of thinking here.”

Foreign arrivals will play a major role in the future of Sicily’s wine industry, Gatinais suggested, but in the form of tourists, rather than invading armies: “Here in Sicily, we either do agriculture or tourism, we don’t have much industry here. It’s in our DNA to be tourist-friendly. That sense of hospitality is in our story, in our culture. And there’s so much to see – history, monuments, art.”

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