TODAY WE WELCOME A RENDEZVOUS WITH WINEMAKER LUCIO MATRICARDI, Ph.D. WINEMAKER AT STEMMARI ON THE ISLAND OF SICILY. LUCIO IS ALSO THE WINEMAKER AT ROTARI TRENTODOC AND MEZZACORONA IN ITALY.
I’ll tell you what I was thinking, in the days leading up to my call with Lucio.
Have you ever heard someone say to a young mother -several toddlers at her feet or in her arms – I don’t know how you do it! A statement of astonishment, but also an admission that one’s own day (toddler-free) just isn’t as challenging.
So this is how I felt as I prepared by questions for Lucio. Winemaking is a hell-of-a-job under any circumstances. It is a task that binds together the hands of nature, creativity and science, arranging them in a ring-around-the-rosy of a product that changes constantly will never please everyone. I interviewed Lucio, originally, to chat about his Rotari Trentodoc Metodo Classico for an upcoming series on Alpine wines. I was aware that he was also the winemaker for a portfolio out of Sicily, Stemmari, and I was stuck here. These two settings have nothing in common but an Italian accent, and even that is a tangy connection. I didn’t quite know how to ask about his life without sounding, I don’t know how you do it!
Our conversation, however, flowed very smoothly, helping me see that his vision and knack for paying attention has allowed him to realize the harmonious dance between these areas. What I learned from him is a lesson that applies throughout daily life, from parenting to marriage to writing: it matters where and how we cultivate.
A Well-Done Education
Lucio was born in Abruzzo and trained in winemaking and viticulture at the University of Bologna. Early in his career he worked in agricultural research, working with a team to determine the best arrangements for vineyards in sunny Sicily to “optimize grape
growing in its unique sunny climate, which would otherwise produce wine that is too sweet and fruity.” Lucio then achieved his Ph. D. in viticulture and enology through the University of California at Davis, where he focused on oak aging and barrique. His resume also includes positions at Castello Banfi in Tuscany and Miranda Estate in South Australia.
For the past 14 years, Lucio has been with his current company the Mezzacorona Group, where he is the winemaker for Rotari Trentodoc, Mezzacorona and Stemmari. When I asked him about this range, he told me “It is an interesting challenge to understand the advantage of different varieties, where we cultivate.” Throughout the conversation, this theme peppered all of his responses.
A History of Stemmari
To understand Lucio as a winemaker, we look to Sicily for a guidepost. This starts with, according to Stemmari, the “the concept of living one’s life Sicilianamente, an idea which celebrates the island’s culture of hospitality and enjoying good company, traditional yet vibrant cuisine, and a profound respect for nature and the beauty found all over the island.”
“In Sicily, there is a saying that translates to, ‘Wine is life, and to life I drink.’ Stemmari wines are created with this ethos in mind,” says Lucio. While this is the motivation behind his work, it didn’t happen without planning.
“Wine has been produced in Sicily since around 2000 B.C.,” says Fabio Maccari, CEO of Gruppo Mezzacona, which first introduced Stemmari wines to the U.S. in 2003. “The incredible climate, fertile soils, abundance of sun light, make it easy to produce outstanding wines – and with more than 250,000 acres of vineyards, the island has immense potential.”
A $150 million renovation replanted the vineyards with indigenous and continental varietals and also rebuilt a 17th century baglio, formerly a nobility residence, into a visitor center at the Acate site. At the gravity-flow winery in Sambuca di Sicilia, efforts have been made to create a historical look in the image of classic Sicilian architecture. “Our baglio looks like a beautiful villa.” Matricardi says. “We didn’t want to create a massive facility that was too impactful on the landscape, so most of the winemaking happens underground. Plus, with the wine downstairs, we have natural cooling, which saves on air conditioning and power.”
Stemmari vineyards are located in two spaces on the southern rim of the island. The winery is located in Sambuca di Sicilia in the Agrigento province and the visitor center in Acate in the province of Ragusa; both of these structures are nested near the vineyards. Stemmari is the second winery in Italy to earn Eco-Management and Audit Scheme certification. According to the winery, “Over 50% of the sustainably farmed vineyards that exist on the island are part of the Stemmari estate.” Reservoirs were created to provide fresh, recyclable water for the vines and solar panels are in place to “harness the power of the sun to provide all the needed energy to operate the winery as well as much of the island itself.” says the winery.
A Chat with Lucio
Lucio tells me that winegrape growing and winemaking in Sicily is, “Economically costly. There weren’t any materials; all the materials had to be moved there and then brought back…” after use. Because of this, the estate bottles everything, including Stemmari wines, in Trentino (where Rotari is made). Stemmari wines are shipped from Trentino to 57 countries.
Lucio visits the Stemmari vines several times each year. There is a viticulture manager and assistant winemaker that follow a set protocol as a team. The estate maintains a permanent roster of employees that “became experts.” According to Lucio, these folks work at the estate year round and are trained to work in the vineyards as well as in the winery. During harvest, both machine and hand work is enacted to pick the grapes during the night. The sun is a monumental factor in Sicily and Lucio says, “When it is very hot, timing is essential, it is important to be fast.”
Lucio spoke of growing Chardonnay, for example, in a place such as Trentino which is an Alpine landscape. In Sicily, sun is the thing. He shared his understanding and efforts to find the characteristics in a varietal that are enhanced by environmental circumstances. He was firm that, “Modern is a word abused. Everybody makes modern wine.” To him modern means “how the environment impacts the wine, and how to find an approach that emphasizes that.”
Stemmari Wine & Food
We talked, of course, about food. With his wines from Sicily, Lucio recommends fish and veggies and he invites to people to experiment with wine and food. The estate provided a lovely recipe for Pasta alle acciughe (anchovies) to pair with the Stemmari Pinot Grigio:
Ingredients for 4 servings:
14 oz. spaghetti
8 anchovy filets packed in oil
7 oz. leek (the white part)
zest from half a lemon
3.5 oz. toasted and crushed almonds
1 clove garlic
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Finely mince leeks and cook slowly with 1 Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbsp. of water and garlic clove. When the leek has reached a creamy consistency, remove the garlic. Add anchovies split in half, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Toss with pasta cooked al dente. Plate and top with a generous helping of crushed almonds, minced parsley and remaining lemon zest.
Stemmari Wines to Try
GRILLO Sicilia DOC: Grillo is a native, widely-recognized white varietal in Sicily, often used for production of Marsala. Grown in Acate, in the province of Ragusa, where the Stemmari visitor center is located. Put this on the table with seafood, pasta and even fruits and berries.
NERO D’AVOLA Sicilia DOC: An indigenous Sicilian grape, original to the Siracusa area, it is now planted widely on the island. The vineyards are located in the Sambuca di Sicilia parcels. Pair this with traditional Sicilian dishes, such as baked pastas and smoke ricotta cheese.
DALILA Sicilia DOC: This wine is a select blend of native Grillo and the international Viognier, cultivated widely in France’s Rhône Valley. Aromatic and elegant, dressed lightly with a hint of oak. This marries well with seafood, grilled fish and aged cheese.
To schedule a visit to the winery or to learn more, contact:
C.da Portella Misilbesi
92017 – Sambuca di Sicilia (AG)
Tel. +39 0925 579000
Fax +39 0925 31540
From Monday to Friday: 8-12.30 | 14-17.30
Italian Food, Wine and Travel
Thanks to Martin at Enofylz for hosting this month’s edition of Italian Food, Wine and Travel which brings us to Sicily together.
Our group will get together for a live chat on Twitter 10 am central on Saturday, March 4th to discuss the Sicilian food, wine and travel. Join us using the #ItalianFWT hashtag on Saturday morning!
- Cam of Culinary Adventures With Camilla with be sharing Gnocchi Con Salsa di Pistacchi + Donnafugata Sherazade Rose 2014
- You’ve discover our post at L’occasion offering a Winemaker Rendezvous: Lucio Matricardi of Stemmari
- Susannah of Avvinare will be Discovering Tasca d’Almerita, A Sicilian Icon
- Jennifer of Vino Travels will be serving Sicilian Steak with Eggplant Caponata & Nero d’Avola
- David Crowley of Cooking Chat Food will be offering Pairings That Work With Sicilian Wine
- Jeff of FoodWineClick with be having Sicilian Fun with Frappato, Grillo, Swordfish and Artichokes
- Lauren of the Swirling Dervish – A Week-Night Dinner in Sicily
- Gwendolyn of the Wine Predator will be serving up Sicilian Wine and Food by Candlelight
- Martin from Enofylz is sharing Two Tastes of Sicily’s Autochthonous Grape – Nerello Mascalese!
We hope to “see” you online Saturday, March 4th!