WINE HISTORY AND TRADITIONS

Sicilian wine is appreciated since ancient times as was attested to by Greek writer Hesiod who in the 8th century BC told of Syracusanís wine-making technics.

According to legend, wine originated from a love story between Zeus and Semele, the daughter of Theban King Cadmus. Their affair was hindered by Hera, gorgeous and jealous wife of Zeus who killed her husbandís lover, who in the meanwhile had become pregnant. Then Zeus ripped her open, took the six month old foetus and placed it in his thigh to bring it to term. Later he took Dionysus to the nymphs of the Nyssa mount where Dionysius would invent the wine-making art.

Legend and mythology apart, historical data attributed to Phoenecians the merit of having introduced wine to Sicily as well as in the whole Mediterranean area. Evidence was provided by a number of relics, such as spheric vases going back to the 21st century BC, unearthed in the Siracusa area, and sandglass-shaped ones discovered in Agrigento and Tabuto Mount areas.

Sicilyís wine-making have gone through periods of alternate fortune. Not rarely was its production confined to the internal consumption, due to both natural and political reasons. In fact whereas some of Sicilyís foreign rulers particularly fostered viticulture and wine-making in their economic policies, others privileged other cultivations or fields.

Greeks introduced technical innovations and new grape varieties most unknown till then.

The Romans spread viticulture and wine-making to western Europe and England, although they reduced Sicilyís viticultural areas to the advantage of grainís. A considerable collapse of the wine production is documented since the 2nd century BC, notably during the Byzantine rule, even if a better quality of wine was produced at the day. The decline involving the entire agriculture of the island was especially due to the lack of labourers. Most of the viticultural lands were even entrusted to religious orders who only grew grapes for their personnel needs.

Wine-making was at its worst under the Arabians, whose religion prohibited the consumption of alcoholic drinks. They rather privileged the production of table grapes such as the Moscato díAlessandria that would be later referred to as Zibibbo. It entered a new flourishing period under the Normans who exported wine to other Mediterranean countries, notably during the Age of the Crusades. In the late 1700ís the introduction of new technics and equipment resulted in a general growth of the field with remarkable exportations to other countries.

A particular increase of the cultivated lands is recorded during the Bourbon rule. A new crisis came in the late 1800ís, mostly due to the phylloxera plague, that decimated most of Western Europe's vineyards. The following extensive restructuring led to significant improvements. Among the innovations were the introduction of the American root stock, that determined notable changes in pruning and grafting, and of the espalier training system, that allowed a more intense irrigation, an anticipated harvest, fertilizing and curing interventions.

Some periods of crisis did also occur in the past century, mostly due to contrasting policies and general tendency to privilege blending grapes and wines.

Negative contingencies were overcome thanks to intensive restructuring in production and distribution. Notably, the establishment of cooperatives allowed a remarkable disintermediation that resulted in higher profits and in the marketís increasing stability.