A record of the last grape harvest

26 Nov 2018

If ever there were a year to witness the breadth and duration of a Sicilian harvest, this was the year: a 90-day harvest period spanned from early August through to October; a timeline that only Sicily is capable of, and only Tasca d’Almerita can attribute to in its entirety throughout our 5 estates. We began our vendemmia in the hills of our mother estate, Tenuta Regaleali, where we harvested Pinot Noir in August for our metodo classico Almerita Rosè. We then travelled west to Marsala, and after a short boat trip we arrived on the tiny island of Mozia; it’s hard, backbreaking work bending to harvest the low-lying albarello cultivated Grillo vines. Once we collected the grapes we transported them into crates to travel across the Marsala Stagnone, past huge white mounds of sea salt covered in terracotta tiles. But the result, Grillo di Mozia, is worth all of these efforts.

Always by way of the sea, this time upgrading from shallow boats to a hydrofoil, for our next journey to the Isole Eolie, to arrive on the island of Salina. The harvest at Tenuta Capofaro is done in silence, on tiptoe, lasting four days. Thirteen of us harvested Malvasia grapes under a blue sky encircled by the cobalt Tyrrhenian sea. Curious guests staying at the Locanda catch glances of us in the vineyards; studying, learning how to cut bunches of grapes, grateful for the reprieve of the cool, salty sea breeze under the warm August sun. A year of continuous manual work in the vineyards and a good summer gave us healthy grapes which we transform into a dry wine named ‘Didyme’, and a sweet wine which takes the name of the estate, both of which recall the volcanic landscape of the Aeolian islands.

By September, Costanza and her team at Tenuta Sallier de La Tour had almost finished their harvest; it was a mild summer with some rainfall. Under the watchful eye of Costanza’s dogs, Polo and Nina, Syrah grapes were carefully harvested on the fresh La Monaca hill. The Syrah varietal found a home in this area of Sicily, and has become an icon of the Monreale DOC.

Now, it’s back to Tenuta Regaleali. The Regaleali Estate is an exposition of activity at harvest time after one year of preparation and experimentation. We harvest the grapes vineyard by vineyard, row by row, treading lightly on 12 different types of soil with varying expositions and altitudes. Sicilian colours and scents intermingle with continental precision and rigor. Calls across the vineyard in local dialect can be heard as you arrive at the estate; early risers will catch a glimpse of tractors coming over the hill from Case Grandi accompanied by the rising sun, while dusk brings the sight of local farmers proudly bringing their Catarratto grapes to the cantina up the hill from Valledolmo. Like an orchestra, each person has their part to play.

Exhausted, while nearly all of Sicily is resting after finishing the grape harvest, the call of Mount Etna brings us back into the vineyards, concluding the annual growing cycle across the five territories where we live and work. We walk up and down the volcano – patient and curious – observing the maturity of the grapes that grow between the mountain’s ancient black stone terraces and huge chestnut trees. Almost three months after we began the vendemmia, we harvest and vinify Tenuta Tascante’s Nerello Mascalese and Caricante grapes contrada by contrada. Four contradas like little “clos” spread across the North East side of the mountain, each with its own defining characteristics composed of differing altitude, soil composition, sun exposition, typology and layers of lava. It is here on the highest active volcano in Europe that we are reminded that the magic of Sicily resides in its enormous diversity.