History of Sicilian Wine

According to the oenologue, Bruno Pastena, "Sicilian wines encompass the essence and spirit of 20 civilisations." Although, in Sicily vines were already present and their grapes turned into some sort of Italian wine, before the arrival of the Greeks they were not cultivated. The Greeks brought their knowledge of pruning and selection to Sicily, as well as introducing the form of growing known as "alberello" (vines grown low to the ground as bushes), which is still used today in very dry and windy areas. Wine production was increased under the Romans, during which period it was exported to Gaul, the Eastern dominions and the territories that now make up Spain and Germany. Following Christianisation, during the period of Byzantine occupation, 2/3 of the island's territory came under the control of the Church, which did much to increase the diffusion of innovations and improvements in viticulture. Although the Arabs increased the production of table grapes, many of which were dried, wine production decreased. Under the Normans and Swabians it picked up again but it was under the Aragonese (1288-1512) that interest in Sicilian wine was really revived and exports started again, this had a huge impact on the increasing economic prosperity of the island. The wine produced typically had a very high alcohol content and was used to blend with wine from other regions. The origional areas of production are to be found around Castellamare, Castelvetrano and Alcamo, in the west of Sicily, and around Avola and Vittoria in the east. Marsala was first produced in 1773, and bottled wine was first marketed by the Duca di Salaparuta, following the foundation of the house of the same name, in 1824 (see below).

Sicilian wines

The Phylloxera (an aphid brought to Sicily on vines bought from France) crisis of 1880/1881 had a devestating effect on production all over Sicily. It took until the 1950s for the replanting of/replacing with vines resistant to phylloxera to be completed. The 1950s themselves saw the start of a period of great change, with the start of the mechanisation of vineyards. This conicided with a fall in demand for wines for blending and so the start of the policy of timing the grape harvest with the aim of producing wine with a lower alcohol content. During the 1970s new technology was introduced which improved the quality of the white wines produced by preventing the early oxidisation of the wine, and so preventing their becoming too acidic. Finally in the 1990s the pressure of the international market has meant that Sicilian wines need to justify their place in the market on the basis of quality, not quantity, on which they had previously relied. This has resulted in great investment in the Sicilian wine industry, with public bodies and private investors working side by side. New techniques are being studied and previously undervalued grape varieties have been re-introduced, not to mention the expansion of the area of land suitable for the growing of vines.