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The Origins of Viticulture

Sicily is an island blessed by sun, cooled by gentle sea breezes and endowed with generous calcareous soil, ever granting for centuries abundant harvests and renowned high-quality wine. The Phoenicians, navigators with a vocation for trade, were the first to replace the wide-spread wild grapevines with new cultivars from the East, introducing and then diffusing the usage of drinking wine, as witnessed by ancient amphoras and bottle-shaped vases with flared slender lips (VII-VI century B.C.), once surely used to contain wine, found in the Necropolis of Mothya, a little isle south of Trapani.

Later, the Greeks enhanced the techniques of pressing and introduced new cultivars, such as the Grecanico grapes, for example . They improved wine production so much that in the V century Sicilian wine was exported from Agrigento to Carthage. Under the Roman rule there were about 21,600 hectares (53373.6 acres) of vineyards giving high-quality varieties of wine, such as “Mamertino di Capo Peloro” with which Julius Caesar celebrated his appointment as Consul.

The precious mosaics in the peristyle of Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina represent scenes of Putti and Amorini cultivating vines, harvesting and pressing grapes. In one of the rooms, the bust of a crowned figure probably represents Dionysus the Greek god of wine.

Later, the Arab conquerors of Sicily did not interrupt wine production. Although Koran forbade to drink wine, the Arabs enhanced wine making technique with the invention of the alembic (the ancestor of the modern pot still). Furthermore, they imported the Zebib (also called Zibibbo or Muscat of Alexandria), a cultivar from Cape Zebib in Tunisia.

The long history of the island witnesses how wine tradition, born and developed by different populations and cultures and favoured by a mild climate, is of major importance in Sicily and explains why the island can boast the highest productivity rate for wine in Italy, with more than 700 million of litres produced (about 15% of national production), and several local brands winners of national prizes in all kinds of competition every year.

Ancient Sicilian chart used for the grape-harvesting

Grape-harvesting in Feotto dello Jato winery

Grecanico grape

Grape-harvesting in a Mosaic in Villa Romana del Casale - Sala Amorini

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