At the Duca di Salaparuta, Corvo and Florio estates in Sicily the wine harvest ended in mid October. It’s a particularly painstaking job which every year our agronomist Francesco Pizzo directs and supervises with passion and care, as only someone who has a deep love of the land and the vineyard can do. Challenging work performed with keen attention to environmental sustainability, it consists mainly of a few specific and absolutely essential tasks designed to guarantee the health of the grapes and the land, in addition ensuring the quality of the wine. We had the pleasure of meeting with him for a brief interview, to get a closeup on his work.

Francesco Pizzo

1) First of all, thanks Francesco for being here with us today. What exactly is the job of the agronomist during the precious days of the wine harvest?

It’s my job to control the quality of the grapes on our estates and on those of our vine growers. It’s a 360° job that consists of controlling the ripening process and the plant health of the fruit thanks to analyses both in the field and in the lab, so as to understand what’s the best period for picking the grapes and for maximizing product quality. This painstaking work involves planning the days for being in the vineyard, calculating the quantities of grapes necessary and the proper times for delivering them to the cellars, in such a way that the fruit can then undergo the various steps of winemaking. All this requires a great synergy among vineyard, lab and cellar.

2) What are the objective difficulties in planning and organizing the harvest?

Now we control the grapes all during the wine harvest, because due to climate change these are particularly difficult vintage years. The last one, for instance, was unusually hot after a winter with little rain. This situation caused diverse vineyards to make certain choices; in some cases, for instance, they made use of “rescue” irrigation operations that enabled them to maintain a very high standard of harvest quality despite climate related problems. Another major difficulty that frequently arises concerns making sure the labor force in the field at the various estates is constantly available, also for timely interventions (as in rescue irrigation) above and beyond the hand picking of the grapes that takes place in our vineyards. Lastly, we must always also keep under control the quantities and types of grapes that come from the vine growers, so as to then efficiently manage the work in the cellar.

3) What are the most important characteristics of the grapes harvested this year at the Duca di Salaparuta estates?

The vintage year was unusual due to the great heat that surely favored native Sicilian grape varieties such as our estates’ Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese, for which we arranged particular operations with precisely focused irrigations and weekly cultivations. We had to consider climate trends for the grapes of our vine growers as well. In fact, the excessive heat made some grapes skip steps in the ripening process and this caused variations in the sugar level: for some early ripening white grapes (like Irmàna Grillo and Chardonnay) with a certain degree of acidity, we had to select diverse areas in which to pick the grapes so as to ensure the same final result. Since some areas of the valley floor underwent temperature stress they were eliminated, and we had to opt for other areas, hilly ones. Prompt intervention on the territory enabled us to optimize quality, by quickly organizing the picking of the grapes when  they reached the pre-established ripening point for a particular wine.

4) What can we expect to have on our tables as a result of the harvest that has just ended?

For sure, it will be the task of enologists to describe the character of this year’s wines as best as possible. On the basis of my personal experience as an agronomist who works in the field, I’m convinced that the grape picking process went off well, confirming the high standards and excellence of Duca di Salaparuta wines. We won’t see any big changes of quality in the bottle; so, we expect consumers to appreciate the wines coming from our cellars the same as always. This year’s wine harvest truly marks for us the achievement of another goal!

5) Do you have some anecdote or curiosity about the 2021 wine harvest that you’d like to share with us?

This year, due to climatic difficulties, we began close collaborations with others, for the precise purpose of tackling together obstacles and challenges. I sought to share the knowledge and experience gained from my more than twenty years of work at Duca di Salaparuta with younger colleagues, all of whom very much appreciated what they could learn from me. Results show the effectiveness of this approach. For example, at our Vajasindi estate on Mount Etna the youngest of my colleagues involved in the picking of Nerello Mascalese grapes got a brainstorm that enabled us to gather the fruit on two distinct days, at the peak ripening point. Thanks to this timely intervention, we brought to the cellar a perfect product, ready for beginning the winemaking process in the correct and proper way.

Thanks Francesco for this chat, which confirms once again the great experience and care the Duca di Salaparuta team devotes to every one of our wines, from wine harvest to dinner table.



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