A Force of Nature in Sicilia: Arianna Occhipinti

Within the first ten minutes of meeting Arianna Occhipinti, I understood that she is a woman on a mission with no time to spare. Her playful sense of humor comes through from time to time, but even as we talked, it was clear that her focus was still on her wine, her vineyards and her cantina. (Photo by Alessandra Cavallaro)

The beginnings of her life as a winemaker are beautifully recalled in her recent memoir, Natural Woman (See post). The book explains how that after studying oenology at the university in Milan, she had to come back to Sicily, unlearn all of the technical ways she had been taught to “construct” a wine in the laboratory (i.e. cantina), and learn to grow grapes and make wine, literally from the ground up.

In this video, she talks about her organic vineyards and her terroir:

For subtitles in English, click CC.

The heart of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG classification is the area within five kilometers of Vittoria, all of which was once under the sea (less than 10 miles away). Deep down, the soil is limestone: formerly the sea floor, crumbly and rich in minerals from ancient sea shells. On top, there is a layer of red sand.

This unique combination combined with the location of the vineyards, which are tucked in a long valley defined by the Hyblean Mountains and runs all the way from the sea to Etna, gives Cerasuolo di Vittoria (a 60/40 blend of native grapes Nero D’Avola and Frappato) its cherry color and distinctive characteristics.

Before sitting down for a tasting, Arianna showed me her new cantina which is partly underground and is surrounded not only by vineyards but ancient olive trees.
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She has replaced her old steel fermentation tanks with cement ones so that the wine can “breathe” while fermenting. She now has room to leave the wine longer in cement if necessary. We walked through the tunnel between the new cellar and the old one, which is under the villa and palmento.

She has left a part of the wall open to reveal the white limestone soil. As we passed by, she reached out and gently freed a tiny root with her hand. “This shows you how loose the soil it and how roots pass easily through it to go deep into the earth.”

We came up from the old cellar into the former palmento..
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Everything is now under construction and the palmento is being transformed into a tasting room. Arianna told me about her dream of starting a school for aspiring young winemakers here: a place where visiting experts would come to teach, but the most important teacher would be the land. The students would have the opportunity to learn by experiencing in a way that Arianna had to do after her formal training.

My fascinating visit ended with a tasting in the breezeway beside the new cantina.
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Her two basic wines (a red and a white) are named for the street she lives on: Strada Provinciale 68
SP68 Rosso Terre Siciliane IGT ($25-30)
The red is 70% Frappato/30% Nero D’Avola, a classic, semi-transparent cherry red.
It is light (12,5%) clean, and delicate but still has a certain decisiveness.

SP68 Bianco Terre Siciliane IGT
A blend of two Sicilian native varieties Albanello and Zibbibo. Very dry and crisp because of the limestone soil but the Zibbibo gives a slightly aromatic twist.

Perhaps my favorite of all of Ariana’s wines is the 100% Frappato.
Il Frappato Terre Siciliane IGT 12,5% ($15-20)
-elegant but authentic, like Ariana.
-light, but still structured (not a typical “easy” wine)
-meant to be drunk young and fresh.

And then, there is Grotte Alte Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG
On the label for this bottle, Ariana writes: “Questo per me è la sintesi della mia Sicilia.
(This is the synthesis of my Sicily.)
It is a classic Cerasuolo with 60% Nero D’Avola and 40% Frappato, a more structured wine than the others but not overly robust or heavy…the essence of this terroir. ($50+)

(In the US, Ariana sells a Frappato and a Nero D’Avola under the name “Tami”–$15-18).
Find these wines on wine searcher.

Azienda Agricola Ariana Occhipinti
SP 68 Vittoria-Pedalino Km. 3.3
97019 Vittoria (RG) Sicilia

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