Planeta journies through Sicily one winery at a time
Sicily and southern Italy in general, was long known for its high volume of wine production where quantity trumped quality. In fact, there was a time when more wine left Sicily in tanker than in bottle, destined to beef up wines from cooler climates up north.
While some regional producers continue to make wine in bulk, others have adopted a new philosophy. Sicilian producer Planeta is one such company, which has not only chosen to embrace quality, but does so in an unusual way.
At first glance, the Planeta winery seems like a huge operation. Yet, when you look closer, the Planeta brand is actually several boutique wineries strung together under the same banner. This family-run business, currently headed by cousins Francesca and Allessio Planeta, owns six different wineries, each located within a distinct area on the island.
Although the family has been in agriculture for many generations (and lived on the island for four centuries), wine is newer to them, but they have been at the forefront of Sicily’s renaissance. Francesca’s father saw that Sicily had the potential to create great wine if the focus was shifted. Following this philosophy, the Planetas planted international varieties in 1985. However, the family also sought to preserve the local grapes, initially conducting research on Grecanico and Nero d’Avola. Their first vintage was in 1995.
Acknowledging that Sicily is a big island, Francesca further explained that it is not one region, but rather several different regions, all located on the same island. Accordingly, only a few grape varieties –Grecanico, Nero d’Avola and Inzolia – are planted throughout the island. All other varieties grown by the Planetas are confined to a specific subregion. As further quality assurance, Planeta established wineries in each terroir.
The family’s original site is in Sambuca di Sicilia, in the northwest, where they grow their Chardonnay and Fiano grapes, among others. Nearby, in Menfi, they have two winery operations, one dedicated to international reds and the other solely producing their white blend (La Segreta) and rosé.
A smaller site was established in the northeast near the slopes of Etna, where Carricante and Nerello Mascalese do best. This volcanic area possesses richly, mineral soils with black lava sand. Further north is Planeta’s newest project in Capo Milazzo, near Messina. Here, a blend of Nocera and Nero d’Avola grapes are destined for Mamertino, a wine previously favored by Julius Cesar, and scheduled for release in 2013.
In Sicily’s southeast, the family maintains a winery in Noto and in Vittoria. In Noto, the emphasis is on Nero d’Avola and Moscato Bianco, the latter primarily used to produce Passito di Noto, which had almost disappeared due to the lack of a local market for this luscious dessert wine. Grapes are dried for 45 days, during which time they lose 55% of their weight and become increasingly concentrated in sugar and flavor.
West of Noto, Vittoria is home to Sicily’s only DOCG – Cerasuolo di Vittoria. This blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato displays bright cherry fruit, low tannins and is fresh and lively on the palate.
As an additional commitment to Sicily’s culture, the Planeta family has opened La Foresteria, a boutique hotel near Menfi. As a vacation destination for culinary and wine enthusiasts, La Foresteria offers cooking classes and the produces its own olive oil from a grove on the property.