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Sicily channels tourism to boost recognition of diverse DOCs

Published:  13 May, 2019

The 90 Sicilian producers belonging to trade association Assovini are seeking to build upon the ground laid out by the broad Sicilia DOC with greater focus on the 24 DOC that make up the vinous mosaic of Italy’s most extensively planted wine region.

Introduced in 2011, the island’s umbrella Sicilia DOC was designed as a quality marker, lifting the bar for Sicily’s quality-focused producers, allowing their wines to stand out from the sea of bulk production that the island is traditionally known for.

However, with the boost to regional recognition given by the ascendant Etna DOC, increasingly followed by other regions as diverse as Monreale, Cerasuola di Vittoria and Pantelleria – giving lie to the very individual regions across the Mediterranean largest island - Assovini’s president Alessio Planeta has said that there needs to be greater focus on the regional DOC to bolster the image of quality Sicilian wines. 

Speaking to Harpers at the annual Sicilia En Primeur event in Syracuse, Planeta said: “DOC Sicilia is doing very well, but what is really growing is recognition of the other DOC – Etna is doing very well, with a vision, a clear product, the others are slower, but the consorzio are the future of Sicily, they are getting stronger, more focused and there is a lot of collaboration.”

Wine tourism was a strong theme at this year’s Sicilia En Primeur, with international press reminded of Sicily’s sites of Unesco heritage, along with an update of the growing popularity of this island destination.

Sicily welcomed 195,000 tourists in 2018, with Assovini members reporting a 30% increase in visits over the past five years, and investment by wineries now meaning that some 94% of estates offer some form of visitor experience, often including rooms and/or restaurants.

“We organised the wine tours, also going through Sicily’s Unesco heritage sites, because if you taste wines at Monreale (DOC) and then you visit the Dome of Monreale, that clicks in your head and gives a real sense of the place,” said Planeta, of mixing wien and heritage at this year’s Sicilia En Primeur event.

The idea that local heritage, culture and gastronomy creates a strong link and recall for the local terroir and styles of wine is a compelling one, the connection being “super strong” according to Planeta,

Fifty percent volume of the 900 differing wines produced by Assovini members is currently exported beyond Italy, with Europe – led by Germany, Switzerland and UK – accounting for the lion’s share at 45%, followed by USA and Canada at 31% combined, and 16% heading to Asia, led by Japan.

“Twenty years ago there were a few producers with a very clear picture, and many producers without a clear picture,” said Planeta, on the growth of Assovini’s export ambitions.

“But now things have changed. There are many great producers with a good vision, so all of Sicily is growing and events like Sicilia En Primeur, along with all the other activities and tastings we do, help to show this.”

The 2018 vintage should help with this aim, with production volumes generally in line with the annual average, but bouts of summer rain and a long, coolish hang time into autumn mitigating some of the heat effects of a year when Italy and parts of Europe experienced very high summer temperatures.