In September I visited Donnafugata in Sicily. Included in the two-day visit was a trip to Pantelleria, a satellite island of Sicily where Donnafugata makes one of its most precious treasures, a sweet Passito di Pantelleria. This treasure is the result of a strong local culture that is imposed by the challenges of the extremely difficult growing (and living) conditions of Pantelleria.
It’s a nice feeling arriving at a winery in full harvest activity. Here, harvested Zibibbo grapes (know as Muscat of Alexandria) are lined up to be selected and turned into fresh grape juice.
It all starts with a simple yet delicious lunch. Pasta with with olives, pesto and capers together with a bottle of aromatic and crispy Linghea 2011, Donnafugata’s 100% Zibibbo made from Pantelleria grapes. A really nice pairing.
Pantelleria’s Arabic influences are evident throughout the island. Donnafugata has recently restored a Pantelleria Garden, a circular structure with high stone walls that was used to protect orange trees from the strong winds that blow during most of the year. Olive-trees, for example, are pruned by man and grown successfuly at ground level.
Inspiring views everywhere in Pantelleria. Always with an infinite sea, ground level vines & gorgeous mediterranean white walls.
Terraced plots and dry-stone walls, the typical landscape in Pantelleria, viewed from a typical Dammuso (Pantelleria house).
The Khamma winery is Donnafugata’s cellar in Pantelleria. A well integrated and sustainable architecture project by architect Gabriella Giuntoli.
Luiz Alberto getting wine production details from Antonio Rallo, co-owner and technical director of Donnafugata.
A dammuso, the typical Pantelleria house where with the roof surface is undulated to permit rain water to be collected for domestic use. Like many other in Pantelleria, this one has been converted into a holiday home with a striking sea view.
Great local food is the best way to discover the local culture. At local restaurant La Nicchia you can get Pescato del giorno cucinato alla pantesca, meaning that is the fisherman’s catch the of the day cooked a la Pantesca (with tomatoes, capers and olives). Amazing fresh food.
Donnafugata is still actively using two magnificent vintage Lupetto, a truck produced in Brescia, Italy between 1958 and 1970.
Harvest in Pantelleria is particularly difficulty. Mainly due to the hard manual work required to pick grapes in the terraced plots and in ground level vines.
To make a Passito di Pantelleria grapes are harvested in 2 seasons. Around mid-August, the harvest begins by picking the grapes destined to dry naturally in the sun and the wind for 20 to 30 days. In September, the less mature vineyards are harvested. Then during fermentation, the dried grapes are de-stemmed by hand, and added to the fresh must in several batches.
The island of Pantelleria is subject to strong winds for most of the year. Windbreakers are necessary to protect vines growing in wind exposed areas.
Harvested of Zibbibo grapes for drying starts in mid-August. Grapes are placed in large grates and left to dry in large greenhouse exposed to sun and wind from 3 to 4 weeks. The basic idea behind this process is to concentrate sugars and aromas that will add complexity to the final wine. This drying and selecting process needs a lot of extra manual labor adding even more costs to the already onerous production process of Passito di Pantelleria.
Ravioli dolci is a typical Sicilian pastry made with ricotta cheese and screaming to be paired with a sweet wine.
Finally, the treasure! The sweet and truly delicious Ben Ryé with an enchanting complexity. Alone or with blue-veined or mature cheeses or some good chocolate this is a wonderful treat. One of the world’s great dessert wines (and it takes a lot for a Port Wine lover like me to say that!). It’s not just how wonderful it tastes but also what it represents culturally in the evolution of human civilization.