VINE EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

In barely two generation­s, Plan­eta Win­ery has cre­ated a rep­u­ta­tion for fine Chardon­nay in Si­cily. Santi Plan­eta, how­ever, prefers to look to the past to build a greener fu­ture.

Epicure - - CONTENTS - By June Lee

Diego Plan­eta of Plan­eta Win­ery

As the largest and one of the most fabled Mediter­ranean is­lands, Si­cily has long hosted a cul­ture of wine­mak­ing – in fact, since 4,000BC. Dur­ing the 1900s though, the at­ten­tion turned to sweet Marsala and cheap bulk wine as farm­ers looked to higher yields. It took a new wave of bou­tique wine­mak­ers in the 1980s to dig in their heels be­fore Si­cily be­came known for pro­duc­ing wines that could make the world sit up. Lead­ing the way is fam­i­ly­owned Plan­eta, from which the dy­namic Santi Plan­eta lit­er­ally shows me the unique soils of Si­cily dur­ing our tasting in Sin­ga­pore. The key to un­der­stand­ing Plan­eta? Don’t think of it as a sin­gle brand but a col­lec­tion of six smaller winer­ies.

ROOT­ING FOR SUC­CESS

Like many in his gen­er­a­tion, 50-year-old Santi was born in one of Si­cily’s re­gions but moved to the city of Palermo while grow­ing up. His fam­ily home in Menfi is where his grand­fa­ther Vito first trans­formed the fam­ily win­ery into a large co-op­er­a­tive win­ery, Can­tine Settesoli, whose son Diego then man­aged for 40 years along with be­ing chair­man of the re­gional in­sti­tute for vines and wine.

In 1985, Diego be­gan plant­ing a new vine­yard with Nero d’avola, Gre­canico, Chardon­nay, Mer­lot, Caber­net Sauvi­gnon and more, be­ing the first to trial in­ter­na­tional va­ri­eties in Si­cily. The project in­volved his daugh­ter Francesca and nephew Alessio, and in 1995 they had their first vin­tage of Plan­eta wines. Santi, Alessio’s brother, joined them a few years later. Today, while the cousins are in­volved in all as­pects of the fam­ily busi­ness, they take care of dif­fer­ent fields – Alessio is the wine­maker, while Francesca takes care of the mar­ket­ing and hos­pi­tal­ity, and Santi the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. It’s no small feat – they pro­duce 20,000 cases across 390 hectares, ex­port­ing to 73 coun­tries while also man­ag­ing hos­pi­tal­ity as­sets such as a wine re­sort, apart­ments and a restau­rant.

In this ‘jour­ney through Si­cily’, they cul­ti­vated dif­fer­ent ter­roirs – Vit­to­rio, where they have in­dige­nous Frap­pato and Nero d’avola for Cera­suolo di Vit­to­ria; south­east to Noto de­voted to Nero d’avola as well as Moscato di Noto; Mount Etna for Car­ri­cante and Nerello Mas­calese; and Capo Mi­lazzo for No­cera and Nero d’avola. In some cases, they re­stored the ex­ist­ing build­ing (in Vit­to­ria); in oth­ers they built new spots where spa­ces were not ad­e­quate for the vol­umes re­quired. One unit­ing fac­tor has been sus­tain­abil­ity, which they en­shrined in the tenets of ‘Plan­eta Terra’: pro­tect­ing the land­scape, bio-ar­chi­tec­ture, re­new­able en­ergy and re­cy­cled ma­te­rial.

MAK­ING THE WORLD TAKE NO­TICE

Plan­eta’s Chardon­nay, with its unique Si­cil­ian char­ac­ter­is­tics that bal­ance be­tween creami­ness and crisp­ness, re­freshed with sweet spices and min­er­al­ity, soon built up a rep­u­ta­tion in­ter­na­tion­ally, mak­ing it “one of Si­cily’s wine am­bas­sadors abroad”, ac­cord­ing to crit­ics like Wine Ad­vo­cate. For the fam­ily, it was a call­ing card that al­lowed them to grow while pay­ing at­ten­tion to what was hap­pen­ing back home – the re­vival of lit­tle-known, in­dige­nous grapes that have pre­vi­ously rarely been given the chance to make sin­gle va­ri­etal wine.

Notes Alessio, the three most im­por­tant va­ri­eties today in­clude Nero d’avola: “a flex­i­ble and ver­sa­tile grape va­ri­ety, at Noto mak­ing wines suit­able for age­ing, at Vit­to­ria fruity and in­tense, and at Menfi area rang­ing from Rosé to spicy wines”. He con­tin­ues, “Grillo is the va­ri­ety of the fu­ture. This aro­matic white has a great per­son­al­ity that at­tracts con­sumers, with a pro­file like Sauvi­gnon Blanc from the Mediter­ranean. Nerello Mas­calese, in spite of liv­ing in the south, is a vine des­tined for great el­e­gant reds, such as Neb­bi­olo and San­giovese. It de­vel­ops well on vol­canic soils and al­ti­tude and di­a­logues with the great Pinot Noirs of the world.”

Santi sees that the sec­ond chap­ter for Plan­eta is to talk about ter­ri­tory. “We have de­fined, and now we need to re­fine and fine­tune what we have,” he de­tails. In­ter­na­tion­ally, au­di­ences are still more fa­mil­iar with in­ter­na­tional grapes and may not de­mand unique pro­duc­tions like Cera­suolo di Vit­to­ria – which isn’t avail­able in Sin­ga­pore (yet). On Alessio’s side, less is bet­ter, he pro­claims. “The new tech­nol­ogy is zero tech­nol­ogy. On Etna we have con­crete tanks un­like the more neu­tral ones, but they have a dif­fer­ent thick­ness and such that the wine changes the tem­per­a­ture slowly, with an in­ter­est­ing qual­i­ta­tive ad­van­tage. In Menfi we have changed from bar­riques to wood bar­rels that can ac­com­mo­date 2,500-3,500 litres, 10 times the ca­pac­ity of the for­mer. For each wine we seek the right age­ing ma­te­rial, for the pur­pose of greater in­te­gra­tion of wood and wine. Ob­vi­ously, it is a re­turn to tech­niques used in the past.”

Capo Mi­lazzo

Etna

Vit­to­ria

Noto

Menfi

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