Like a big green oasis she rises, Tenuta Regaleali. After driving on a winding, rough road and thanking a higher power that I do not suffer from road-sickness, we finally get up on the crest. There, we get a mighty view. Suddenly the road is well-kept and lined with eucalyptus trees, while rolling vineyards extend towards the horizon. When we arrive at the housed houses, it feels like walking into a movie. The typical stone houses have beautifully painted blue doors surrounded by colourful flowers. A magnificent magnolia in the courtyard and a lush kitchen garden. But it’s not a movie. It is very real. It is Tenuta Regaleali, run by the Tasca d’Almerita family since eight generations.
“My grandfather appears in several of books written in the 19th century, which shows what status Regaleali had. He bought the first crawler tractor, he experimented a lot, and Tenuta Regaleali was a model to follow for the agriculture of those times. ”
So says Alberto Tasca d’Almerita. He also tells me that the farm had 1200 hectares until 1850 when it was halved after a major agricultural reform.
“Grandfather focused on wine production and we, along with Corvo and Conte di Salapurta, were long the big players in Sicily,” continues Alberto.
Eventually, several of the larger producers would disappear, but Tasca d’Almerita has continued with much energy.
“Until 2001, we sold our production to a single distributor,” says Alberto, who came to the company at that time.
Today, Tasca d’Almerita sells over two and a half million bottles to many different countries. Production has also been increased by purchasing more farms in Sicily. Each one has a strong connection to the island’s history. In total, Tasca d’Almerita has 673 hectares of land of which approximately 450 hectares are vineyards.
During my days in the world of Tasca d’Almerita, we move between Palermo, Tenuta Regaleali and the Mozia Island just outside the city of Marsala. At Mozia they have a small production of the grape grillo. The also support the excavations on the island done by the Whitaker Foundation to find out more about the Phoenicians who lived on the island thousands of years ago.
Left to visit is Tenuta Capofaro on Salina, the small volcanic island belonging to the Aeolian islands, producing Malvasia delle Lipari, Tenuta Tascante on Mount Etna whose renaissance is taking Sicily to new heights, and Tenuta Sallier de la Tour Principe di Campo Reale where they grow syrah. Sicily is bigger than you might think and one cannot visit all the different parts in just a couple of days.
The impressions are many. In Sicily, one travels fast between ancient and contemporary. Between beautiful and ugly. The faces of the people are full of life and their movements are elegant and generous at the same time. In Sicily, one gets the feeling of living twice as much as usual. Even so, you leave the island with a feeling of having seen only a fraction of the largest island in the Mediterranean and what it has to offer.
Renewal and tradition
“We are experimenting a lot here on the farm. When you suggest something new to Alberto, he usually says, why have you not done it before?” says Davide Bacchiega and laughs.
Davide is the farm’s chief agronomist. When he got the job, he moved with the family from northern Italy to a small town right next to Tenuta Regaleali.
“A big change, but what you lose in efficiency, you win in quality of life,” he says when I ask how about his experience of the move.
He tells me that he just started planting grass between the rows of vines to avoid erosion and to prevent the valuable water from evaporating. The grass varieties come from California and Australia and are particularly resistant. At the moment they are investigating what kind that works best in this part of Sicily.
“The farm workers thought I was crazy, they’ve always dug a canal in the ground between the rows to collect water, so when I started planting grass, they shook their heads,” he says, laughing again.
He then adds, seriously, that he has great respect for the workers here.
“They have lived from farming for thousands of years, and thousands of years are worth more than a thousand books. They are often right when they give me advise, yes, except for the grass, “he says smiling.
Tenuta Regaleali is located on four hills, fifty kilometres from Palermo.
“We have twelve different types of soil, there’s clay and sand in different proportions since this once was the seabed,” says Davide.
In the nineties, they began to study the soil to plant the appropriate grapes in the each place. Tasca d’Almerita was one of the first to start working with international varieties in Sicily. Already in the mid-eighties, they planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
“Working with international grape varieties helped Sicily to get out in the world, it was an important gateway to new markets,” says Alberto Tasca d’Almerita.
They also make very interesting wines from the local indigenous vines perricone and nero d’avola, including the famous Rosso del Conte from the San Lucio vineyard. This was Sicily’s first “cru” when the wine was launched in 1970 and it was the first wine from the island that had great ageing potential.
Today, Tasca d’Almerita has a great number of grape varieties, both domestic and international, and they make a myriad of different wines. They even have their own clone of sauvignon blanc that they blend with inzolia in the delicious Nozze d’Oro wine.
“Our clone is more fruity than a traditional sauvignon blanc,” says Davide.
He also points out that Tenuta Regaleali is almost at 500 meters altitude. It is not uncommon for snow to have snow in winter.
“Here we have the largest temperature differences in Sicily, there’s often a difference of twenty degrees between day and night during the summer,” says Alberto.
“Our goal is to keep the freshness and acidity in the wines. We can do that thanks to this climate”, Laura Orsi adds, the wine-maker at the estate.
With vineyards in so many different locations in Sicily, the harvest is long.
“Our harvest lasts for ninety days and we harvest mainly by hand. We only use a harvesting machine if we have to get the grapes in extremely fast, but it is not very often that’s the case,” says Davide.
Towards the future
Alberto Tasca d’Almerita explains that one of many future goals is to work towards greater environmental awareness. But not only that.
“We have created a Sicilian project called SOStain, based on the National Protocol called VIVA, which not only takes into account the environment but also other aspects such as occupational safety and social responsibility. Right now, we and Planeta are the only producers certified, but thirteen other farms are in progress. The most important thing is that we are always better than what is required for organic farming. I strongly believe in this and we work closely with different universities to collaborate on different research projects, “says Alberto.
“I feel safe in this; I think this is the future. To have a broader perspective, not only to see the final product. We must think one step further,” says Alberto convincingly.
Read more about the winery at: www.tascadalmerita.it
Åsa Johansson is BKWine’s person in Italy. She lives in Florence since the early ’00s. Asa writes regularly on wine and food in Swedish and Italian publications as well as online.
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