“Our Italians” is a series of interviews conducted with local food artisans, experts and producers in some major Italian cities, but also those who practice their craft in smaller, rural, less visited parts of Italy. These passionate individuals are committed to sharing the best in Italian food, wine and traditional products, through family-owned businesses and small scale enterprises, and we’re here to introduce them to you.
Today we meet Giuseppe Scirto and Valeria Franco the owners and wine makers of Vini Scirto. Giuseppe and Valeria invited us to their farmhouse for a home-cooked Sunday lunch where we were fortunate enough to spend time talking, eating and sharing life stories. Vini Scirto is located in the beautiful Etna zone of Sicily, which is rich in Sicilian wine traditions.
Casa Mia (CM): Why did you decide to dedicate your lives to making wine?
Giuseppe & Valeria: It was a natural and almost obligatory choice. We were pushed by the love and memories of the place where we grew up and the things that connect us to this land. We were born and raised at the base of the Muntagna – Etna in Sicilian dialect – a place that has thousands of years of farming traditions. Everyone here has always owned vineyards. The harvest was always a grandiose occasion shared with friends and family. The two of us had ties to Etna and wine production prior to meeting each other. When we met Giuseppe had decided to start making wine and I was really happy to join him in this adventure.
CM: Giuseppe you mentioned that you spent a lot of time with your grandparents in the vineyards, can you tell us more about how this influenced you to become a winemaker?
VS (Giuseppe): My grandfather always made wine as did his father and his father’s father…it was the same for my grandmother, who worked in the vineyards helping my grandfather. Since I was a child I had a special connection with my grandfather. I remember that when I was 5 years old, the minute I finished school I would get on a train for Passopisciaro where I’d spend the entire summer with my grandparents Giuseppe and Giuseppina. The days spent in Passopisciaro were frenetic but beautiful. In the morning I would wake up at dawn and work in the vineyard and the vegetable garden with my grandfather. In the afternoon I’d help my grandmother make bread or preserves for the winter months. At the end of the day, I’d go with my nonno to the village square where community life happened. I remember it as if it was yesterday. People gathered around a monument made of volcanic rock, called A’Colonna (the name of our Etna red wine). We’d meet other farmers and would chat, exchange opinions about working in the vineyards and sometimes even sell bulk wines as was done up until a few years ago. I loved spending every summer like this up until my grandfather died. When he, Don Pippinu (the name of our white wine), passed away I decided to continue his work in the vineyard.
CM: Valeria, you mentioned that your family produces wine too. Can you tell us a bit more?
VS (Valeria): My family also has a long tradition of being farmers. We produced a small amount of wine for family consumption each year and we continue to do so. The vineyard and above all the day of the grape harvest is something I remember from childhood. The harvest was synonymous with a party! The whole family would get together. After having picked the grapes we’d prepare a huge lunch and the children would play around pressing the grapes in an old palmento with our bare feet!
CM: When did you start to make wine and what was your initial goal?
VS: In 2009 we started working in the vineyards. Our first harvest was in 2010. Our first wine was bottled in 2012. From the beginning, we had three objectives: maintain tradition, respect nature – its rhythms and lessons learned – combined with a bit of innovation; and to make wine that was an expression of ourselves and our territory and above all to produce wine that we like. We’ve achieved these objectives by putting our ideas into practice. We believed if the vines were taken care well they would produce good and healthy fruit which require minimal intervention in the cellar.
CM: Describe how your wine is an expression of you.
VS: We like to imagine that anyone who drinks our wine can taste our land- soil, territory and vineyards-that one sip is an expression of us, while working in the vineyard or harvesting our grapes but even taking care of the wine in the cellar. In the structure of our wine – its minerality, color and fragrance – there are signs of our will, our obstinance, the courage of the choice we made but also simplicity, uniqueness and balance.
CM: What do you find most rewarding about making wine?
VS: The first reward comes from the wine itself because wine is a living thing born from plants that must be cared for throughout the entire year as if they were children. It excites us that there is a distinctiveness that each year brings and an evolution that will come. And, obviously we’re inspired and we push ourselves to keep moving ahead in order to create the thrill and pleasure for those drinking our wine.
CM: Why would you recommend that wine lovers try Etna wines?
VS: As far as wine is concerned, Etna is considered an island within the island. In the small circumscribed area we find diverse microclimates, lava flows dating back to various eras, and consequently different soils that greatly influence the wine, creating high quality wines with distinct personalities.
CM: What are your future plans for Scirto?
VS: Plans for our future surely include growing our business by purchasing new plots and we’d like to build our own wine cellar to be fully independent. Last but not least, we also want to travel the world with our wines.
Interested in learning more about the artisans, food experts, winemakers and other Italians you meet through our personalized, private food and wine experiences in Italy? Stay tuned for more interviews in the “Our Italians” series.