International Versus Indigenous Wine Grapes: The Case of Sicily

Posted on: December 2nd, 2014 by

planeta mount etnaWhat gets you to explore wines made from unfamiliar grapes? How do you discover something new? Sicily is an interesting case as an island full of indigenous grapes as well as plenty of wine made from non-native, better-known grapes like Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Syrah. I had these questions in mind when I conducted a phone interview with Francesca Planeta of her family’s eponymous Sicilian winery, Planeta. So how to build up interest in Sicily for people who have had little or no previous exposure to the wines? My query and her answer via a transcript of our conversation:

JF: It’s interesting to hear you talk about international grapes and indigenous ones. I was introduced to the wines of Planeta through your Chardonnay, and probably a lot of other people were, too. You focus on both international grapes and indigenous ones. Why do you focus on both, rather than solely indigenous grapes?

Francesca Planeta

Francesca Planeta

FP: “First of all, because indigenous grapes in 1985 were only used for bulk wines, we needed to research and find out more about these wines. As you know, in viticulture, you can’t try every week. You have to wait one year, year by year. A lot of experimentation. There were not many examples on the island — ‘this is the best Nero d’Avola’ — you have to really do it on your own for everything. International varieties were very popular in the New World, so the fact that we were in a warmer climate, getting examples and the right viticulture, the right care consultants. We wanted to start using varieties which were well-known.

“That was actually a good strategy in terms of the marketing, because if we started immediately with the indigenous….La Segreta Bianco and Rosso [Planeta’s introductory wines] have always been a blend of indigenous and international. It was very hard at the time for me to sell indigenous.

mount etna soil

Mount Etna Soil

“With the results we got, that Chardonnay was something quite extraordinary for Sicily. People really got some help to really to get into the world, to know more about viticulture in Sicily, to know more about our terroir. And start then, step by step and then we started to research and introduce other things. I think if we didn’t have those wines, it would’ve been much harder for us and I actually can say that it’s still actually the most popular of our wines. It’s the icon of Planeta, it’s all around the world. For example, I’ve just been in Taromina this weekend on holiday, and most people were from America. And the sommelier was saying, ‘Everyone knows Planeta Chardonnay.’ They maybe will start with the Chardonnay and since you’re on holiday in Sicily you’ll try something else from Planeta, which is more indigenous.”

Find the rest of the interview over on Grape Collective.

For more on Sicily, get to know the authors of The World Of Sicilian Wine.

Images courtesy the winery and Palm Bay International.

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One Response

  1. I hope as the world is better educated on wines in general producers like Planeta will have more success with some of these indigenous varietals as they need to be discovered.

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