Stories from the palmento at COS

In 1980, high school classmates, Giusto Occhipinti and Titta Cilia, were hanging around Vittoria waiting to go off to university to study architecture when Titta’s father asked them if they wanted to try making wine in the family palmento. He offered to give them some of the grapes he was selling in bulk for the experiment.

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Standing inside the palmento next to these stone fermentation tanks, I could see why the idea might have been irresistible. Titta told me that he and Giusto came home as often as possible from university and dedicated themselves full-time to COS after graduation. (The name derives from the last name initial of the three original partners: Cilia, Occhipinti and Strano, the last of whom dropped out).

Watch Titta explain the palmento process and how he and Giusto began:

The palmento is part of the Cilia family baglio: a traditional Sicilian enclosed farmhouse, which includes not only the palmento, but a huge area that was COS’s original cantina, an underground cellar for aging, and across the courtyard, a house for the family (more below). Titta took me downstairs where he has collected antique tools to create a history museum about winemaking (not yet open).
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He explained to me what each tool was and showed me that all are in working order. This, for example, is a specialized tool for scraping barrels clean.
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And this is a leather container for transporting wine. You filled it up, then carried it like a backpack.
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This machine was for milling grain. It has a sophisticated system of creating different grades of flour.
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As interesting as all of this was, the story that gripped me was that of Titta’s father. He grew up here in the baglio. In Titta’s words, “A baglio is not a villa. It’s a machine for making good wine and for earning money.” Together, Titta’s grandmother and her sister bought this nineteenth century baglio in 1937. Titta’s father, being the only male (since the older generation had passed away and his cousin was a girl), was running the whole winemaking operation and the farm at a very young age. He was following the tradition of his father who won many prizes for his wine, including this one, which was awarded at Montacatini Terme in Tuscany.
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A few years later, during World War II, Mussolini was forming an army to invade Russia. Titta’s father’s regiment, which had been stationed locally (conveniently allowing him to continue running the baglio), was called up. Titta told me the dramatic story of how his father’s mother sewed most of the family’s cash into his uniform. When he got to Catania, with a flip of his hand here and there, he was able to evade being shipped out on Hitler’s disastrous invasion of Russia from which 90% of the men did not return.

After the war, times were hard. Titta’s father had always made vino sfuso but turned to selling the grapes in bulk instead of making wine. On the day he challenged Giusto and Titta in the palmento, he was probably thinking that that would be the only chance for getting his son, who wanted to be an architect, to stay in the family business. He passed away in 1982 before knowing what COS was to become.

After COS moved out of the Cilia family baglio in 2003, Titta bought it and has renovated not just the palmento and the cellar but also the house and the rest of the property. The central courtyard has an impressive main gate. The part where the family lived (on the right in this photo), faces south. On the other side of the courtyard, facing north (cooler) is the palmento.

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There is a garden and an area with fruit trees (photo below), all safely enclosed in the baglio along with the living quarters, the palmento and the cellar.

This photo was taken from atop the lookout tower which doubles as a cover for an enormous water cistern. All of the rain gutters flow into the cistern, providing a reliable water supply.
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Visiting the baglio was definitely like stepping back in time. As we left, I couldn’t help but think how amazed Titta’s father and grandparents would be to know about COS…and how beautifully Titta had used his architectural training to preserve a piece of family and Sicilian history.

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Comments

  1. Reply

    Reading this entry made me want to drop everything and head out to Sicily! An evocative shot at the end with the archway, figure and vegetation. Thanks for the wonderful descriptions and the meaning of a baglio. Now it is time to uncork a bottle of bio dynamic wine!
    Alison

  2. Pingback: Drinking Southern Sicily in Southern California – Uncorked In Italy Italian Natural Wine

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