From the brilliant blue waves of the sea right up to Etna’s blackened slopes, Sicily is a place as rich with landscapes as it is wines, food, and history. Consider that this is the very island where Ulysses of the Homeric epic The Odyssey, washed ashore, only to find himself in the company of a cranky cyclops!
During my holiday in Sicily this April, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Cir0 Biondi and welcomed into more than a hundred years of his family’s heritage: the Vini Biondi vineyard. He was kind enough to walk us through the vines, their brilliant green leaves just starting to crawl towards the sunlight, proudly showing us what they are all about (and have been all about since the end of the 19th century).
Like many Italian wines, their approach is decidedly organic (even if not always labeled as such), where the vines and grapes are treated gently and naturally- as friends and not crops or produce to be beaten into submission. This means no harsh chemicals or insecticide sprays are used – and you can see that clearly by the grasses and plants comfortably growing alongside and between the vines. Irrigation, which is nationally considered unnatural and therefore too manipulative or “cheating”, is also avoided. The majority of the vines themselves are grown in the albarello (=”small tree”, aka “bush” pruning) fashion, rather than being trained along wires, partly for tradition and partly because they feel it’s a more natural and beneficial pruning method for them. The vines are also ungrafted, a vineyard rarity, which Ciro explained is in part thanks to cold winter temperatures discouraging the notoriously destructive vine pest phylloxera from gaining much momentum. Some vineyard practices they have carried on as their fathers and grandfathers before them, such as coinciding grape picking with the moon’s waning period. Other techniques and improvements are thanks to the introduction of some new technology and ideas after Ciro and his wife Stephanie decided to revive the vineyard. With all the care and passion that they put inside every drop of Biondi wine, it’s no surprise how much recognition and praise, both domestically and internationally, they have won throughout their long history.
The wines, which you’ll be glad to hear are available worldwide, include a few reds and whites. The reds are made of local grape varieties Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, and the whites are made of indigenous white varieties such as Carricante, Cataratto, Mannella, Muscatella, and Bianco di Candia.
- Two of the wines are cleverly named “Outis“, meaning “No one”, which is what Ulysses told the cyclops his name was before getting him drunk on undiluted wine. This helped him later escape after stabbing the snoozing cyclops who awoke screaming “No one is hurting me!”, failing to alert anyone within earshot that he actually needed help.
- Vines range from 1 year old to over 100 years old!
- Vines are planted primarily facing south-east, between 600 and 900 meters above sea level.
- Vini Biondi is located just 18 kilometers from Catania, on the slopes of the active volcano Etna. This volcanic surrounding and the variations in elevations and soils help create differences in even the same grape variety grown in the same general area.
- Ciro’s wife is Stephanie, who was raised in Nigeria and England, actually taught Giulianna (pictured above) English many years ago! You can read her very own posts HERE.
- All of the wines created by Biondi offer a unique volcanic minerality and freshness. Some of their wines are: “Outis” Etna Rosso DOC, “Outis” Etna Bianco DOC, Etna Rosso M.I. DOC, Chianta Carricante IGT, Etna Rosso “Cisterna Fuori” DOC
- Vini Biondi was featured on the BBC’s “Sicily Unpacked” series.