Natural Woman by Arianna Occhipinti

Arianna’s book, begins on the morning after her 30th birthday party (August, 2012) as she walks around her house wearing her dress from the night before while her guests are still sleeping. The dress is a symbol of her coming of age both as a woman and as a winemaker. She writes, “…I became a woman while I was learning to make wine.”

Written poetically in Italian, the book is a series of flashbacks in which Arianna recounts her passage from being a child in the small Sicilian town of Vittoria to a wine producer (100,000 bottles) known throughout the world for her outstanding terroir wines.

The story begins when her uncle, Giusto Occhipinti, co-founder of the COS vineyard nearby, asks her to help him with his stand VinItaly. She recounts that she went for two reasons: “…because I got to skip four days of school and Giusto had always been more than an uncle to me, an important friend to whom I could not say ‘no’.”

It wasn’t until Giusto showed up at her house a few years later for family lunch and said, “So, what are you doing after high school?” that she started thinking seriously about studying Oenology (Winemaking) at university.

At university in Milan, she studied under the famous professor, Attilo Scienza, learning all the technicalities of winemaking, but the deeper she got into it, the more she felt contrary to “technical winemaking”. In frustration, in 2003 at the age of 21, she wrote a letter one night to the iconic philosopher and journalist, Gino Veronelli, saying:
I’m studying Oenology and viticulture in Milan. Every day, I experience ‘false oenology’, weighed down by the pressure of industrial forces that are obsessive. I don’t like seeing my colleagues learning mistaken methods…I don’t know if there will be enough time to change their minds, for them to understand that wine is not something to be ‘constructed’ from a distance by hands that aren’t paying much attention. Wine has to be ‘accompanied’.

Her rebellious missive started a lot of discussion, but she didn’t wait around for more theoretical debates. She returned to Sicily and began farming a small two-acre plot belonging to her family in the contrada of Fosse da Lupo. In 2004, she experimented with making her first wine in a neighboring winery. Then, she describes her trepidation at taking out a 150,000 euro loan to buy more land, set up her own cantina and start bottling wine.

It is an inspiring story of hard work and determination (which is ongoing as I learned during my recent visit.). Along the way, Arianna tells about the influence of her family, her three primary mentors (Giusto Occhipinti, Marco de Bartoli and Elena Pantaleone), and the workers, interns and local contadini who help her.

She notes that after planting vines, you have to wait three years before you can make wine. Everything about wine involves the balance between “doing” and “waiting” as she writes, “You wait, you observe, you think, you make your plans. And then, you harvest once a year.” And let’s not forget that in the whole span of a lifetime, wine producers can only harvest 40-50 times.

At the end of the book she writes,
“I read a sentence by Saint_Exupéry: We don’t inherit land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
I like that.
I like it because it ties me to that which I am, to my way of working the land, and at the same time it throws me toward the future.”

The book is a beautiful reminder of how deeply the values and character of a wine producer enter into his/her wine. I hope will soon be translated into English!

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