Pantelleria: The Italian Island With A Fascinating Story

The first UNESCO practice of heroic viticulture - Pantelleria is an Italian island with a fascinating story.

What is heroic viticulture?

Heroic viticulture is defined by impressive environments from a landscape point of view, that produce high quality wines. These environments make vine management incredibly challenging due to the climate, soil type, or geographical location. Heroic viticulture is defined by unique growing conditions such as vines planted on slopes greater than 30%, vines planted on terraces or embankments, vineyards at altitudes over 1600ft, or in this instance, vines planted on small islands with harsh climatic conditions.

The sea and rock pools

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Pantelleria, found halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, is an island distinguished by its lava rock formations, steaming fumaroles, and secluded diving coves. This exotic and remote island is also home to around 30 growers that cultivate grapes from “vite ad alberello”, head-trained bush vines. “Vite ad alberello” has three core phases which include planting, pruning, and harvesting by hand. 

Photograph by Catherine Todd (@damewine), May 2018

The island and the vines face harsh conditions year on year. The island only receives around 300mm of rainfall in winter, is exposed to Sirocco, a Mediterranean wind from the Sahara Desert, and is unprotected from the scorching African sun. Due to these arid circumstances, the vines are unable to source water from their roots, and instead, during the night when the humidity is mild, they supply themselves with water from their leaves.

The 500 hectares of Pantelleria vineyards mainly produce Passito di Pantelleria, a sweet wine made from dried Zibibbo grapes (also known as Muscat of Alexandria). Phoenicians who arrived on the island more than 2,500 years ago are thought to have brought the Zibibbo grape with them and introduced it to the island. Wine experts believe that it is one of the oldest genetically unmodified vines still in existence.

In December 2014, Pantelleria earned UNESCO World Heritage status. This achievement has recognised both the historical and cultural value, as well as the generations of hard work by Pantelleria’s incredible growers.

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