The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2015

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Page 109 of 140

october 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  109 azing out over the vineyards towards Lago di Arancio from the hilltop winery of Feudo Arancio, one is immedi- ately aware that this place is special, and not necessarily just for the view. Covering almost 2,500 acres, the winery, nestled in Sambuca di Sicilia about an hour south of Palermo in the Province of Agrigento, is one of Sicily's most modern winemaking facilities, and a showplace for owner Gruppo Mezzacorona's signature Stemmari wine portfolio. Long a powerhouse producer of premium affordably priced wines from Italy's north, when Mezzacorona was looking to expand its hold- ings, it was not to neighboring areas around its base in Trentino that it cast its eye, but south to Sicily. Fifteen years and $150 million later, the result is a testament to that company's foresight and ability to stay ahead of the curve in both winemaking and vineyard management. Stemmari brings the focus of sustainability, a word seemingly used more to sell wine than to make it these days, back to its roots while showcasing that philosophy's increasing potential as a platform that will help drive winemaking globally in the 21st century. "With its near perfect climate and great indigenous grape varietals like Grillo and Nero d'Avola, we felt Sicily was the right place to make an investment, and a statement," says winemaker Lucio Matricardi, Ph.D., who oversees production at the estate. While Stemmari wines are made to the highest standard once the fruit is picked, it's in the vineyard where the real innovation is taking place through true sustainable practices. "A lot of wineries talk about sustainability with solar power, water management and many other ideals," says Matricardi, "but true sustainability starts in the vineyard, and as such, we spend hundreds of man-hours each year working to maintain the optimal conditions for our vines, with the end result being top quality fruit grown without the need for chemicals and sprays." Some of the practices most important to Stemmari's philosophy are working to maintain a proper balance of sun exposure and airflow for the vines through canopy management techniques like growing it out to give more shade to the grape clusters as they mature during the super- hot Sicilian summer, then pruning it back to catch the full effects of the sun before harvest. Cluster-thinning is used to drive more of the vines' vigor to the healthy bunches of grapes, and working to maintain the right water table for the vineyard blocks through selective irrigation—practices particularly important when working with grapes like Nero d'Avola, a variety that is vigorous yet finicky to ripen and requires a lot of attention. Another key component to Stemmari's success from a wine- making point of view is that they control all their vineyards, a decision made at the start. "Working so closely in the vineyards allows us to develop a profound understanding of each varietal's needs and gives us the ability to nurture the grapes in a very hands-on way, around the clock. Of the approximately 1,600 acres under vines, about a thousand are at the Feudo Arancio estate, with blocks dedicated to white international varieties such as Chardonnay, Moscato, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, along with the fascinating indigenous Grillo—the Stemmari's hilltop Feudo Arancio winery in Sicily. Baci Vivaci is a 100% Grillo sparkling wine.

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