Trailblazer of Sicily
By W Peter Hoyne
The Planeta wineries have become a beacon for Sicilian winemaking, exploring the diversity of Sicily’s landscape and transforming this region with a vision toward quality and a homage to tradition. They have accomplished this by pairing local indigenous grapes and international varietals with site-specific growing regions to achieve the perfect expression. Additionally, they have guided this region with thoughtful research and a respect for the environment and sustainability.
Dating back to the 1600’s, seventeen generations of Planeta family members have been immersed in Sicilian agriculture, cultivating vineyards and olive groves. During the 1900’s, Planeta established itself as a large co-operative winery under the guidance of Diego Planeta. He became president of Sicily’s successful co-op community named Settesoli in Menfi. This group has since grown to over 2,000 members. During this time, Diego was able to unify the growers and modernize Sicilian winemaking, which at that time had only been recognized for bulk wine production.
By the late 1980’s, next generation Alessio Planeta had completed his master’s studies in agriculture with an ambition to work with his uncle Diego. As Alessio describes it, “everything related to agriculture always fascinated me.” After working for the well-known winery Azienda Agricola Cos, Alessio joined his uncle.
By 1989, Planeta had hired influential Piedmont enologist Carlo Corino who encouraged the planting of international grape varieties such as Chardonnay. Alessio admits that during this time he was influenced by both Diego Planeta and Carlo Corino. “Carlo really introduced me to this world and taught me how to study, to taste and to work in a winery. Diego had a vision of Sicily and Sicilian wine.”
Alessio decided to plant vines in different regions of Sicily before constructing a winery. He explains, “I consider grapes as the colors of the rainbow. We work with many different varieties and terroirs. How could I ever put them on a scale? A typical feature of Sicily is that different grapes correspond to different grapes living together. Nero d’Avola for sure falls into the top three, also because we work with these grapes in all the sites except one, thus we had a lot of time to know each other.”
Alessio and his cousin Santi along with Diego founded their first winery, Planeta Ulmo in Menfi. They released the first bottling in 1995. Diego’s daughter Francesca oversees global marketing. This property consists of vineyards situated at their 1600’s family home in the hills of Menfi on the banks of Lake Arancio.
Planeta has been interpreting the expressions of grapes grown in various soils throughout Sicily. They have extended their reach in viticulture to include seven wineries across five territories with properties in Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, Capo Milazzo and Mount Etna. They also manage one of the oldest wineries on Mount Etna, Feudi Spitaleris. In total they source grapes from 395 acres of vineyards.
When I asked Alessio what the Planeta style was, he responded, “I hope there is no Planeta style. I would rather hope in a Planeta Menfi style, Planeta Capo Milazzo style, Planeta Noto style, Planeta Vittoria style, Planeta Etna style… If I had to sum it up, I believe in non-interventionist wine making and maniacal work on viticulture/grapes. Less hands is more, no hands is bad.” Today, all the vineyards are certified organic.
In 2000, Planeta received 91 points from the Wine Spectator for the 1998 Planeta Chardonnay earning it a place in the magazine’s top 100 wine chart. In addition, they have received numerous Tre Biccheri awards from Italy’s Gambero Rosso.
When I asked Alessio what motivates and inspires him, he attested, “the desire to have Sicily, Sicilian wine and our family’s name where Sicily was a few centuries ago; at the top. We need to transform the idea of Sicilian wine as the cradle of antiquity and development of viticulture. His believes his legacy is “to be one of the main characters of the rise of Sicilian wine.”