The Wine: Bukkuram Passito "Padre della Vigna" 2012
Marco de Bartoli Bukkuram Passito "Padre della Vigna" is a dessert natural wine made from 100% Zibibbo grapes (Muscat of Alexandria) grown in Pantelleria on volcanic, terraced slopes, as low, free-standing bushes trained with the “vite ad alberello” system. The yields are 25 hectoliters per hectare, hand-picked from mid-August to the first week of September. 50% of the grapes are dried in the sunlight, for a minimum of three weeks, over suitable mats and delimited by thick walls made of volcanic stone. The remaining grapes mature on the plant until September. Once the fermentation has started, the grapes previously dried are added to the base wine and left macerating for about three months, until a balance between alcohol content and residual sugar is achieved. At least 30 months of aging in French oak barrels of 225 l and 6 months in stainless steel vats. (source: Marco de Bartoli)
The Producer: Marco de Bartoli
In his youth, Marco had worked with his father on his family farm near the town of Marsala. But his obsession with cars and a need for speed proved too strong, leading to a first career as a professional race car driver. Towards the end of this career, however, Marco was ready to turn a new leaf. Thinking back on his youth, he felt a deep sadness that the once-proud tradition of Marsala had sunken so low. He decided he wanted to change this.
First, Marco reconstructed his family's old cellar on his mother's farm in the contras of Samperi. Then he searched high and wide for old solera barrels of Grillo from local contadini. Much to his surprise, many were eager to part with these ancient relics, some even happy to give them to him for free! Next came the vines, planted progressively and exclusively in Grillo, which in Marco's eyes was and is the only grape to make Marsala due to its high acidity, ability to reach high degrees of alcohol, and aging potential. Finally the wines: "Vecchio Samperi" represented the unfortified, traditional style of Marsala while the "Superiore" line was fortified with mistella (sweet must and eau de vie) as a statement that the cantina was not only rooted in the past but well versed in the present and future.
In 1984, Marco started a new project on the island of Pantelleria, originally producing only a Passito. By the early 1990s, he had garnered a stellar reputation for being alone in making truly stunning expressions of Marsala terroir. But the story doesn't end there. By the mid-1990s, Marco's children Renato, Sebastiano and Giuseppina had all joined him in this work. Youthful energy led to new experiments, most notably dry white wines from Grillo and later Zibibbo from Pantelleria. While chemicals had never been used in the vineyards and the Grillo for the Marsala was never yeasted, conventional yeasts were used on the dry whites until 2006. Sebastiano elaborates on working organically and using native yeast fermentations:
"Our idea was always to make wine as a product of the land so we have always eschewed systemic chemicals. I do not remember a particular date we followed this course (organic), but I can tell you that about ten years ago I personally began to follow this campaign and have been sure of it ever since. I distinctly remember that even before then my father did not want to do intensive agriculture and prevented the farmer who worked our lands from using fertilizers, herbicides, and so on...
Up to now we did not seek organic certification because it did not seem a serious approach and my father's point of view was never to have "organic" be a selling point for his work. But my dad was extreme and today organics seem to be a more serious issue. We understand the need for people to have the certification, so we are now seeking it.
For the indigenous yeasts, the key was the production of the "Integer" in 2006. I am not reneging the selected yeast used in the '90s because it allowed us to understand an innovative form of Grillo and Zibibbo. But with the experiments of the Integer we understood the potential of the land was far more important than so many other things, knowing also that it was riskier. It may not always be the same for the tastes and aromas of the wine, but it certainly enhances the territorial typicity." (source: David Bowler)
The Region: Sicily
Sicily is Italy’s biggest island and also its biggest region. It’s separated from the mainland by the Strait of Messina (Stretto di Messina). The capital of Sicily is Palermo, a majestically decadent multicultural city offering one of the richest culinary traditions in Italy.
Sicily’s history and culture are fascinating, to say the least. Their complexity is manifest in the diverse architecture of its cities. All over the region and particularly in Palermo we can find Arab, Greek, Roman, and Spanish influences in the layout of the city as well as in the food and local language.
Sicily is the third biggest producing country in Italy, behind Veneto and Tuscany. The quality of Sicilian wines has increased steadily in the past 30 years. Some international grape varietals - mainly chardonnay and syrah - have found a place in Sicilian viticulture, traditionally dominated by native varietals such as Nero d’Avola, Catarratto, Grillo, and Inzolia.
The Terroir of Sicily
Sicily proximity to Northern Africa and position right at the center of the Mediterranean reflect deeply on its climate. Endless sunshine, moderate rainfalls, and good aeration characterize pretty much the whole region with minor seasonal variations. Palm trees and other tropical plants and fruits are a fairly common sight in Sicily all year round.
Among the several benefits of this climate one stands out: in Sicily, grapes can grow without being imperiled by mildew, rot, or any other disease brought by too much humidity. Sicilian grapes are generally speaking naturally healthy, hence the substantial number of certified organic or biodynamic wineries.
The Red Wines of Sicily
The most widely planted red grape varietal in Sicily is Nero d'Avola, which accounts for about 20% of the total regional wine production. Frappato is another prominent red varietal, used to make the only DOCG wine in Sicily, Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG.
Less common but typical of Sicily are Alicante, similar to Grenache, Nocera, and Perrone often blended with Nero d'Avola. On the slopes of the active volcano Mount Etna, Nerello Mascalese, and Nerello Cappuccio are key red grape varietals in the popular Etna DOC appellation.
The White Wines of Sicily
Marsala and Passito di Pantelleria are perhaps the most famous Sicilian white wines, although their popularity has been waning over the years in favor of dry and refreshing white wines made from native varietals Inzolia and Grillo are fairly easy to find in the United States and generally very good.
In a similar way to Umbria, the Central Italian region known for the red tannic wine Sagrantino di Montefalco, Chardonnay has found its place also in Sicily. Chardonnay from Sicily can vary in quality depending on the producer.
On Primal Wine we sell one of the few 100% Chardonnay vinified with extended skin-contact in the style of an Orange Wine made by the excellent Marabino winery from organically farmed grapes.