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Sicilia en Primeur 2024: Resilience and quality amidst challenging harvest

Published:  14 May, 2024

Over 90 international wine journalists convened in Sicily for the 20th edition of Sicilia en Primeur, an event attended by Harpers which united over 100 wineries in the region. 

These wineries, including founding members Planeta, Tasca d’Almerita and Rallo collectively produce around 900 labels, accounting for more than 80% of the value of bottled Sicilian wine. Nearly all of these companies (99%) produce wines with a controlled designation of origin (DOC), with exports representing over half of sales, reaching over one hundred countries.

Despite challenges such as extreme weather events and downy mildew, white wines and organic cultivation remain pivotal in Sicily. In 2023, while exports of DOP red wines decreased by 4%, exports of DOP still white wines grew by 7%. Notably, Sicilian DOP white wine exports saw significant increases in the US (+29%), Canada (+13.9%) and Germany (+6.8%), while DOP red wines found growth in France (+7.5%) and the UK (+6.8%).

Speaking more broadly, the European market leads in Sicilian wine exports, comprising 98.6% of total exports, followed by North America, England, Japan, China and Australia.

“From this 2023 vintage, we will be drinking red wines with a strong identity, white wines with a complex aromatic profile, native vines increasingly faithful to the territory and international ones with a new and interesting profile,” said Mattia Filippi, co-founder of Uva Sapiens, during the 20th edition of Sicilia en Primeur.

According to UVA Sapiens, an Italian wine consultancy, Sicily’s grape yield in 2023 was approximately 50% less per ha compared to the national average of the past 13 years. Sicily’s 37,650ha represents 28% of Italy’s organic vineyard area. To put that in a global context – Italy, Spain and France dominate organic vineyard space, with Sicily alone accounting for 8% of the world’s total.

Despite a 3.48% decrease in total DOP and IGT production compared to the previous year, Sicilian wines have maintained their identity, terroir and quality, as evidenced by an exhaustive technical tasting of over 300 wines during the event.

The wines from the 2023 harvest were distinguished by their clarity and definition. Notably, Grillo wines exhibited evolving positive traits over time highlighted by vertical tastings, while Catarratto demonstrated its appeal as a single grape variety. Nero d’Avola, Frappato, Nerello Mascalese and Perricone are also emerging as wines of the future with elegant, versatile and fresh styles.

Another notable discovery was the resilience of Syrah grapes to weather conditions, yielding wines with balanced acidity and sugar content with promising ageing potential.

Despite challenges, the Sicilian wine industry, represented by Assovini Sicilia, responded adeptly. The 2024 edition of Sicilia en Primeur, themed ‘Cultivating the Future,’ celebrated the 2023 grape harvest characterised by a ‘Less is More’ approach.

“It was a very complex wine-growing year that highlighted some critical issues linked to the particular aggressiveness of downy mildew, but also revealed a very skilled production sector that was able to interpret and enhance the peculiarities of an exceptionally unusual grape harvest,” Pietro Russo MW told Harpers.

Sicily’s grape harvest, spanning a hundred days from August to October, was the longest in Italy, marked by complexities due to downy mildew. Across Italy, the 2023 harvest witnessed historically low productivity, its lowest production rate since 1947, with Sicily experiencing a 31% decrease in production due to adverse weather conditions, mirroring trends in other central-southern Italian and southern European regions.

However, Mariangela Cambria, president of Assovini Sicilia, praised the proactive measures taken by associated companies to manage the challenging harvest, emphasising a strategy focused on prevention, technical expertise and prudent management.

“The associated companies of Assovini Sicilia have demonstrated that they know how to manage a challenging situation, such as the last grape harvest, with expertise, know-how and technique. 

“An approach focusing on prevention and careful management implemented by the producers proved to be successful, as well as a series of agronomic techniques and monitoring activities capable of verifying water stress conditions in advance and being able to intervene promptly,” Cambria concluded.

A more in-depth review of Sicilia en Primeur will be available in Harpers’ upcoming Italy Report.