Arianna Occhipinti graduated from University of Milan’s school of viticulture and enology and started growing wine with one hectare of land in Vittoria. Her first vintage, at the age of 22, was made in a family farmhouse. In 2013 she relocated to a purpose-built winery surrounded by 22 hectares of biodynamically farmed Frappato, Nero d’Avola, Albanello and Zibibbo vineyards near Strada Provinciale 68 in Vittoria.
This was my first visit to the celebrated young Sicilian winemaker. I had tasted with Arianna’s uncle and mentor, Giusto Occhipinti at Azienda Agricola COS in Vittoria fifteen years ago and have been in love with his Frappato ever since.
We drove to Vittoria through orange groves from Siracusa. Snow-covered Etna dominated the landscape. Acres of vineyards on hillsides were covered in plastic sheeting. “Table grapes” the driver said.
The signboard said Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti. A long drive through olive groves led to Arianna’s imposing residence and neat, attractive and low-slung winery next door. Two dogs came out barking followed by Vittorio who works with Arianna. The welcome was warm.
We toured the vineyards, 280 meters above sea level, with Vittorio. The soil is red loam-over-white limestone and rocks from the Ibelian mountains, surrounded by dry-stone walls. Vines, 6000 per hectare and Guyot and Alberello trained, are fifteen to forty years old. “Arianna prefers to trill the land by hand” Vittorio said. Broad beans and oats are grown to be tilled in to the soil in spring. Compost is made and used. Harvest is by hand with the first selection in the vineyard.
Grapes undergo a second selection in the winery, and are fermented with natural yeasts and macerated on skins for an extended period. Aging is in cement tanks or large 25 hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels and the wines are bottled unfiltered with minimum use of sulphur. Arianna aims to produce gentle, natural wines with finness and elegance. We see Arianna busy in the winery. She comes over to greet and talk to us.
The tasting room is next to an ancient wine press. There were olives, tomatoes, excellent Occhipinti Nocellara olive oil and bread on the table. Vittorio poured small tasting samples into large glasses and talked about the wines with passion.
SP 68 Bianco 2018 – a Terre Siciliane IGT, is named after the highway SP 68 that runs next to the estate. The 60% Moscato di Alessandria and 40% Albanello blend spends six months in concrete vats after a fifteen day maceration on skins before bottling. It is aromatic with a hint of terpene, crisp and dry with citrus notes. It has 12% alcohol. (15.5)
Il Frappato 2017 – 100% Frappato from 40 year old vines, fermented with indigenous yeasts and macerated on skins for thirty days.The wines was aged in large Slovaian oak barrels for 14 months and bottled without filtration. It is fruity and elegant with an alcohol level of 12.5%. (16)
Siccagno 2016 – A Terre Siciliana IGT. It is100% Nero D’Avola from 35 year-old vines with both Guyot and Albarello training. After thirty days of maceration on skins, it spends 22 months in large Slovanian oak barrels and a further two months in bottle before release. Spicy and earthy with black fruit with beautiful balance. 12.5% alcohol. (16.5)
All the wines tasted are elegant, gentle and impressive with pleasing levels of alcohol. They are worth seeking out. We bought some wine and olive oil in the winery shop, and headed towards a small restaurant suggested by Vittorio for a quick lunch.