Lo Zucco: France, Sicily and a little wine magic

Imagine traveling more than a hundred years back in time to meet the richest man in the world, the Duc D’Aumale, heir to the Bourbon Princes of Condé and owner of the Chateau of Chantilly. What if he stepped out of the shadows and offered a taste of the internationally famous wine he made at his Sicilian estate called “Lo Zucco” in the late 1800s?

I didn’t meet the Duke in person, but when I attended a special presentation of Lidia Rizzo’s elegant and sensuous film 34th Milo Wine Festival, I felt as if I had. Then came the real magic of the evening. I tasted the Duke’s wine: a “natural” wine, nothing added, made primarily with local Catarratto grapes that had developed botrytis or “noble rot” (the quirk of Nature behind great wines like Sauternes).

As Lidia said that night, “The wine is like a time machine that tells the story of people, their culture and their era.” She is right, and that’s the magic part of the story. Let me explain why.

The film, first presented at the Venice Biennale in September of 2012, recounts the history of the Henri of Orleans, Duc D’Aumale. He was the son Louis Philippe (King of France from 1830-48) and the Princess Amelie of Bourbon-Sicily. Raised as the son of royalty in France, he was exiled in the Revolution of 1848. He managed to maintain ownership of Chantilly, but lived between England and his beloved Lo Zucco estate outside of Palermo in Sicily. There, he employed as many as 4,000 of the local people on the estate and was revered by them.

Lidia conveys all of this with a remarkable juxtaposition of: historical photographs, her video footage of Chantilly and Lo Zucco, and her interviews.

The protagonist of the film is Pietro Galioto, who inherited the heart of the Duke’s original vineyard from his family. For four generations, they had farmed the land with citrus trees, not vines. (Keep in mind that the Duke’s estate had been broken up and was, to a large extent, abandoned.) Pietro, who had spent a lot of his youth at Lo Zucco, returned recently to the citrus groves. When Lidia was just starting to research the documentary and called him, he was astonished. “I couldn’t believe it,” he told me, “she called me when I had just had a dream about the Duke. He appeared and said very clearly, ‘Make wine. You have to make my wine.'”

In a strange case of fantasy meets reality, Pietro pulled out citrus trees and began planting the vines in June, 2011 shortly after meeting Lidia. Locals and wine experts told him that NO ONE plants vines at that time of year, but the Duke told him to do it, so he did. Meanwhile, Lidia was working on the film, traveling to Chantilly and collecting information from the archives about the Duke and his wine that she passed on to Pietro. This photo shows them on the evening of the film presentation.

In the fall of 2012, when the film was already being presented in Venice, Pietro wanted to harvest his grapes. Once again, everyone told him that he was crazy because the grapes were too young, but he was determined. With Lidia’s help, he found Giacomo Ansaldi, an enologo and researcher of historical grape varieties, who was making his own wine in the baglio of the famous Donna Franca Florio in Marsala.

This is where the story really gets unbelievable. Giacomo went to look at the grapes in the vineyard and for the first time in his life, he saw the noble rot. He was stunned. He had only learned about botrytis in books, but he recognized it.

In these two videos taken at the presentation of the film at Milo, Pietro and Giacomo recount the “miracle” of the film and the Duke’s wine, which had received a point score of 93 from Monica Lerner of the Wine Enthusiast a few weeks before. I’m not generally a fan of point scores, but in this case it demonstrates the essence of what Lidia so beautifully communicated in the film: the Duke was an exceptional human being whose legacy transcends the time he lived in.

Pietro Galioti tells his story of the wine:

Giacomo Ansaldi, owner and enologo at Baglio di Donna Franca tells his, especially the miracle of finding botrytis, noble rot, on the grapes in Pietro’s vineyard:

Order the film.
To buy the wine, contact Giacomo Ansaldi at Donna Franca.

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