The Tasting Panel magazine

January / February 2018

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DEPARTMENT HEADER 90  /  the tasting panel  /  january/february 2018 90  /  the tasting panel  /  january/february 2018 Stemmari was built by Trentino- based Gruppo Mezzacorona, which also owns sparkling wine producer Rotari, among other brands. Lucio Matricardi, Ph.D., who oversees wine- making at the group's facilities in both Trentino and Sicily, explains the ratio- nale for the company's Sicilian venture: "In 1998 through 1999, we were looking for a warmer area to produce different types of wines from those we produce in Trentino. We started to appreciate Sicily as an amazing climate where you can grow any type of produce: fruits, vegetables, and, of course, grapes." A Sicilian Adventure In 2000, Stemmari purchased vineyard land in Sambuca di Sicilia in the Agrigento province in western Sicily, as well as at Acate in Ragusa on the southeastern coast. "We decided to invest in the local varieties Nero d'Avola and Grillo. We replanted the grapes and built a new winery," Matricardi says. The state-of-the-art, solar-powered facility represents a $150-million investment in the future of the island and both Grillo and Nero d'Avola. (By practicing sustainable viticulture and enology, Stemmari became the first winery in Sicily to receive EMAS [Eco-Management and Audit Scheme] certification.) But there was much work to be done. "The problem with Sicily was that the grapes were geared to produce bulk wine with high alcohol," explains Matricardi. "We found that all of the vineyards were on a pergola system [a charmingly rustic, traditional vine- training system that's unsuitable for the highest form of Sicilian wine produc- tion]. The first money we spent was to tear out the 600 hectares of vineyards and replace the pergolas with a vertical- shoot Guyot system." After that, the new vines would take five years to start producing fruit worthy of vinification. The question of vine material was an issue Matricardi addressed early on. "To introduce a specific clone requires at least 20 years of experimentation with a given variety," he says. "Nothing had been done on Nero d'Avola for 100 years. Instead of clones, we used massal selection [field-selected old-vine grafts from the best-quality plants] to find superior material that was virus- free, and we started to propagate Nero d'Avola. It took three years." A Chameleon Grape "Nero d'Avola is the chameleon of vines," says Matricardi, clearly enam- ored by the grape. "It has an amazing characteristic in that it adapts very well. It's a very happy variety, so no matter where you plant it, it will produce serviceable to extraordinary wines." For example, the soils are sandy and light in Avola and absorb warmth very easily. "Here, Nero d'Avola gives an amazingly light, gentle, delicate wine, but with good acidity and cherry, rasp- berry fruit aromas," says Matricardi. "In Trapani, the northwestern part of the island where the climate and soils are completely different—clay, calcareous, more fertile, cooler—the Nero d'Avola is heavier and much more powerful. The Stemmari style of Nero d'Avola, influenced by the choice of the vineyard location, is a harmonious expression of the two styles: fresh, fruity, rich, and approachable with restrained oak." Lucio Matricardi, Ph.D., oversees winemaking at Stemmari as well as at Gruppo Mezzacorona's Trentino facilities.

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