I stood in line at the Palermo airport, crying. Not loud wails, just silent tears rolling down my face. But, as it was my seventh visit to Italy, the intense emotion was as surprising to me as it was to anyone else who might have noticed. I felt a deep loss as I prepared to leave Sicily. In less than a week this region had somehow wrapped itself around my heart and refused to let go. I wanted to attribute this visit’s difference to my slightly improved Italian language skills, but I knew that this didn’t do it justice. There was something else – something that permitted conversations to by-pass small talk and dive right in to what really mattered; getting to know one another and feeling safe to share. I had become attached to the spirit of the island, with its fusion of Arabic, Spanish, Norse and Italian heritage, and to the spirit of the people who inhabit it. I took a deep breath, blinked back the tears and boarded my plane knowing that I had been given a wonderful gift…
[Read the full story as a PDF: Discovering Sicily]
Sicily – a part of Italy and yet it stands apart both literally and figuratively. As an island situated off the coast of Italy’s toe (Calabria), the region is physically separate, requiring a flight or ferry to get to or from there. But, beyond geography, Sicily remains steadfast to its traditions and culture. My new friend, Federico Mammoli, of Firriato winery’s export department and originally from Rome, told me that when he first arrived on the island, he only understood about thirty percent of what people said to him, despite the fact that, of course, they all speak the same language.
As far as wine is concerned, agriculture is a big component of the economy and grapes have been cultivated here for centuries. Nearly everywhere one looks, there are vines and Sicily is responsible for an immense amount of Italian wines. Like the rest of southern Italy, the key word here was quantity, with quality a mere afterthought for many producers.
But that, to a large extent, is ancient history. Sure, Sicily still produces cheap and cheerful wines, most regions these days do, but while my formal exploration of Sicilian wine was admittedly confined to a handful of wineries, I was extremely impressed with what I found. There was complexity, depth and structure that I didn’t expect, revealing the significant quality and continued potential of Sicilian wines. And, throughout each winery visit, I was enamored not only by the wines, but also by the people and their passion and warmth. I felt so welcomed in a way that felt much differently than any other press trip that I didn’t want to leave… Hence, the tears at the airport.