Sicily Day 3 - Rain, rain go away
On Wednesday we awoke to the news that there was going to be rain today. Little did we know at the time that it was due to be the worst storm the island has seen in ten years!
The torrential rain started just as we were boarding the coach, so we were thankful that we'd managed our trip to the ruins the day before and weren't due to be tramping through vineyards. We thought we would have been pretty safe at our visit to the Settisoli Co-operative winery in the centre of Menfi. Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way. On arrival it was clear that the harvest was underway with queues of farmers in tractors all the way down the street. A co-operative works as a collaboration between lots of small grape producers gathering together to make use of economies of scale and by combining their production. This particular began in 1958 with only 88 growers, but now boasts over 2,300 local operatives growing a combined 6,500 hectares of vines, and contributing approximately 70% of the employment in the local area. They produce bottled wine under two main brands: Mandrarossa mainly to restaurants, and Settisoli which is bottled in many guises for a number of international markets.
While it was clear that it was too dangerous for us to visit their wine production operation on such a busy day, we were to be shown the bottling plant on arrival. Unfortunately we (along with everyone but the ducks and fish!) were not prepared for the 4 minute walk to a different part of the plant. It turns out that even waterproofs and umbrellas are not sufficient to repel a drenching of this magnitude. We arrived soaked from head to toe having splashed through rivers of running water to get there. Thankfully we were all inside once the thunder and lightning arrived but the rain had not abated.
We squelched our way round the impressive bottling plant comprising of two separate lines. The first and smallest line is exclusively reserved for their Mandrarossa premium brand and can operate at up to 4,000 bottles per hour, while their larger line is capable of up to 24,000! Although three power outages due to the weather prevented us from seeing them in full flow, it was interesting to witness some of the packaging for specific customers - namely Tesco, Asda & Morrisons!
We also learned that as part of the co-operative method, many farmers are encouraged to produce better quality grapes through specific production methods and in this way, the standard of wines produced can be improved.
Back to the tasting room and our guide Linda, provided a number of their wines for us to sample. The first, a white wine made with 100% Grecanico, and at only 12% alcohol, under their Mandrarossa brand and named for the vineyard area that produces the grapes - Costadune DOC. This being the 2014 vintage as they do not keep wines in stock. Each year their aim is to sell what is produced, in order to return the profits to the co-operative, and in turn it's members. This wine even comes with its own removable sticker to provide assistance to it's description! A light, fresh citrus nose with orange blossom, cedro lemons and thyme. On the palate it gave good fruit, and, as seems to be a signature of all Sicillian wines so far, good acidity. Next up was the Mandrarossa Chardonnay 2014 "Laguna Secca" DOC again named after its vineyard. The previous vintage was a Silver Medal winner at the 'Chardonnay du Monde' competition, so it had much to live up to. At 13.5% alcohol this unoaked Chardonnay has traces of apricots and peaches and again a lovely acidity giving it a fresh feel in the mouth.
The final white wine was the Sauvignon Blanc 2014, named for the Urra di Mare vineyard. Another Silver Medal winner this was a very light version of what is a very well known grape, with hints of citrus and grapefruit and herbs, and left a clean, crisp mouth feel.
Our introduction to the Reds came in the form of the 2014 Nero d'Avola.
Our final wine was the Mandrarossa 'Bonera', a blend of 70% Nero d'Avola and 30% Cabernet Franc. Aged in oak barrels for 10 months, this lovely combination of a native Sicilian and native French grape had bags of red fruit flavours.
And with that, we were off to Palermo, the island's capital city, and another opportunity to try out some more traditional local cuisine at Antica Focacceria San Francesco, including spleen sandwiches and my very first canollo. Thankfully the sky had rained itself out by the time we got there, but the effects of the storm were to be witnessed for the rest of our trip.