Gianfranco Daino: Cork Trees and Wine

Gianfranco Daino picks me up in his truck near the small town of Acate in southeastern Sicily. We are about thirty kilometers from the sea in hilly, dry mostly barren terrain. “Before we go to my vineyard, I want to show you the Bosco di San Pietro (The Forest of Saint Peter),” he tells me, explaining that this protected natural area is full of cork oaks (Quercus suber).

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Driving into the forest, we are sheltered from the hot afternoon sun.

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Gianfranco takes me to see the largest cork tree in the forest. Quercus super is a remarkable evergreen species of oak that tolerates having its bark stripped off every 9-12 years. The trees regularly live to being 250-300 years old and this one is surely in that range.

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Gianfranco shows me a type of grass that grows in the forest that is like natural velcro. He uses it to bind his vines to chestnut stakes in the vineyard. At the end of the season, the grass disintegrates and releases the vines without him having to cut them free to prune them for the winter.

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We stop repeatedly as Gianfranco points out a tiny flower blooming, an ancient spring, and numerous kinds of herbs to smell and taste.

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At Gianfranco’s vineyard, he explains that he is part of Salvo Foti’s I Vigneri. All of his vines are alberello (little tree), planted according to the quinconce system that the Romans used to line up their troops. It’s easiest to imagine a five die repeating. In this way, there is a clear line of sight in every direction, to the right, to the left and on the diagonal. I stand in the vineyard and confirm that it works! This gives maximum air and light to the vines, all of which must be planted, pruned and harvested by hand.

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Finally, I taste Gianfranco’s Quercus Suber IGT 2010, 50% Nero D’Avola, 30% Alicante, 20% Frappato. It is similar to Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, made locally with a mix of native grapes, Nero D’Avola and Frappato, but Gianfranco adds a twist: Alicante, a French derivative of Grenache for more intense color and flavor.

As I smell the wine, the herbs of the forest leap out of the glass: thyme, rosemary, heather and a Mediterranean resin plant (Pistacia lintiscus). The taste is dark, tannic, rich and complex as if the giant cork tree in the forest had lifted me up into his massive branches and was speaking to me in growly tones.

Gianfranco Daino only produces a few thousand bottles of his organic wine. If you can find a bottle, you can drink it now, but it will be even better if you cellar it for five years or more. Best with meat or aged cheese (not blue cheese).

Visiting the Forest of San Pietro, one of Italy’s National Natural Preserves, is free.
http://www.parks.it/riserva.bosco.santo.pietro/Eindex.php

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