For many years I worked at the Cantina Sperimentale (experimental wine cellar) in Noto as Research Director. Among our many projects, there was one we undertook with the Cantina Sperimentale of Milazzo and the University of Catania: clonal selection from indigenous grape varieties. The aim was to obtain virus-free clones and to evaluate the productivity, but also the quality and the resistance of the vines to disease.
My work involved going into the local, mainly Nero d’Avola, vineyards, and to select vines that showed no symptoms of disease. For years I patrolled the vineyards of this area, and the more I went around the more I realized that, just like a society, a vineyard thrives on a mix of similar but not identical types; each one able to contribute its uniqueness and distinctiveness to the final product.
As I analysed the plants I noticed that this multiplicity and variety over time enabled one to obtain a more consistent quality, because each individual plant evolved a different capacity for resistance. And so, if the aim of our research was to produce wines that expressed the uniqueness and typicality of the area, I understood that it was even more important to have a variety of individuals, even if not all perfectly healthy, rather than having a single, perfect, healthy, productive but ultimately less valued clone.
When I inherited the winery in 1989 my ideas were clear: I wanted my vines to be the expression of this land that my family has lived on for over 200 years, and to achieve this I needed to preserve the richness inherent in our varieties. If on our land a diverse group of Nero d’Avola vines had developed over time, I told myself, there had to be a reason. And if so, why not exploit it? So I decided to carry out careful mass selection on our ancient family vineyards. I rejected any plants with obvious signs of disease or defective productivity and instead gave preference to the vines that produced grape clusters and berries of different sizes and different shapes, with slight differences in time to maturation.
In this way, I ensured a rich and varied plant population that would ultimately be the truest expression of my land. I supplied the grafts to a trusted expert breeder to obtain the vines to be planted. I was well aware that this method was not perfectly in line with established agronomy practice, but my instinct for these vineyards of mine went well beyond what I had learned. I wanted to apply more than just the technical concepts: I wanted to apply my heart and soul.