Alessio Planeta talks about the magic of Sicily’s grape harvest

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The author Albert Camus wrote this poetic line about the magic of autumn: “Autumn is a second spring in which every leaf is a flower.” For the winemakers of the world, however, the autumn flowers are the plump, sugar-rich grapes of a vine for them Winemaking. As the northern hemisphere enters the harvest season, Alessio Planeta, board member of Consorzio Sicilia Doc and Sicilia Doc Winemaker for Planeta Winery, shares his thoughts on this momentous time in the vineyard.

Alessio Planeta completed a Masters in Agriculture before devoting himself to studying Sicilian viticulture and its history. He spent time in different wine regions outside Italy, immersed himself in the world of wine and brought home wisdom gained abroad. Today he and family members Francesca and Santi help run a collection of six boutique wineries in different parts of the island. The trio is 17NS Generation of this 500-year-old wine family. The family’s commitment to Sicilian viticulture is evident in their work: they focus on researching and developing local and historical varieties and have been committed to promoting Sicilian wine tourism by integrating the culture, cuisine and art of Sicily.

What is the harvest time like in Sicily?

In Sicily, the harvest is a ritual that lasts more than one season. The harvest of the first grapes begins in August, like Chardonnay in the southwest, and for those who produce it, Pinot Grigio. The other whites follow in the southeast like Moscato, and the harvest will take place in the Etna area by the end of October. Sicily is one of the few regions where the harvest begins in summer, when there is still bathing on the beach, and ends in October, when Mount Etna is covered in snow: this is really something extraordinary!

What does the year 2021 look like?

I don’t like to talk about the harvest before it’s done, but we’re very close and everything seems to be going well so far. We can only say that there have been no drastic climatic events, on the contrary, everything has been very positive so far. It only rained a few times in Sicily, once in June and once in July in western Sicily, which was a real blessing for Sicilian viticulture. We’re also glad it wasn’t too hot. So far so good, but I think it’s too early to really talk about it.

Most consumers view the harvest as a time of joy and celebration, but fall weather events can put the fruit at risk before it is harvested. Can you share some of these concerns across the different regions of Sicily?

We need to distinguish between Southwest, East and Central Sicily, the latter being an area where our greatest fear (especially in my experience) is the excessive heat that could affect the quantity and quality of the grapes.

Conversely, in northern Sicily, excessive rain and in some cases even hail can be a problem during the October harvest, but these are very rare occurrences. In Sicily, too, there is a threat from time to time sirocco, a hot wind that brings high temperatures. Obviously, all of us winemakers are afraid of these particular occurrences that we are seeing more now with climate change. Fortunately for us, nothing bad has happened right now, but … well … maybe it’s better not to talk about it and bewitch it.

Speaking of climate change, have you noticed that harvest dates are changing or starting earlier or having a different impact on the vineyard?

In terms of the beginning of the harvest, this may seem controversial, but I remember seeing even earlier harvests in the early 2000s. The last few years in Sicily have been strangely wetter than the last twenty years, which perfectly sums up why it’s never easy.

What we have noticed, however, is a shift towards more severe weather conditions, which are contributing to an increase in total annual rainfall. I did not notice any early harvest, in fact we did not experience those terrible cold spring days in Sicily this year, which can be very dangerous for the vines.

Most of the talk about the harvest focuses on the quality and harvest of the grapes, but what happens in the vineyard when the fruit falls off?

The time after the harvest is a crucial moment for viticulture. The plants are preparing for the next year and rain is undoubtedly always welcome. We are really happy to see that it starts raining in late September or early October.

Sicily is obviously in the heart of the Mediterranean, so we never expect heavy rain, but autumn is usually a time when the weather “breaks”. In Sicily we say “mid-August is the beginning of winter”, which means that it is winter; a phrase that refers to the fact that the rain usually starts in mid-August.

What is the process of fruit picking and the transition to winemaking in the Planeta wineries?

We work very differently on behalf of my winery: some grapes are harvested in boxes, others are harvested manually. In order to preserve the quality of the grapes, the vineyards are only a few meters away from the cellars. The techniques that we use in Sicily are the most varied as this region, more than any other region, produces white, red, aromatic, concentrated and elegant wines. Sicily produces wines that are so diverse that it is not easy to standardize and just speak of one production process. I would say working in Sicily means working in one place with so many variables and it is really fantastic to be able to use a different technique for each wine.

Would you like to say something more about the magic of autumn in the vineyard?

Since we work in five different sub-regions, The harvest begins in the first ten days of August and ends at the beginning of November. I think the beauty of Sicily is the fact that you can harvest two whole seasons, from the beginning of summer to the end of autumn. Autumn in Sicily is very different from any other region. The landscape changes from the mountains to the forests. Autumn is great because you can really see the colors change, from the leaves of the oak and chestnut trees to the leaves of the grapevine.

PlanetaThe six wineries of Ulmo in Sambuca di Sicilia, Dispensa in Menfi, Dorilli in Vittoria, Buonivini in Noto, Sciara Nuova on Etna in Castiglione di Sicilia and La Baronia in Capo Milazzo belong.

Planeta Estate is also running La Foresteria Menfi, a beachfront wine resort in Menfi with a restaurant, pool, and experiences like wine tasting, biking, trekking, and massages. In Palermo, Planeta Estate offers seven apartments in a historical palace. Book online.


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