Swide retraces the steps of one of the family-owned wine makers in Italy. Francesca Planeta, from Planeta wines, reveals how they stayed true to Sicily's terroir, developing a culture of valorization of the territory that has no equals in the Region and produces high quality wines annually.
Planeta wines are one of the most important wine family businesses in Italy. Swide finds out about how everything started interviewing Francesca Planeta, a member of the family.
"It all started 17 generations ago in Sicily, this taking into account only the "last ones"!"
When you’re talking about Italy, you know there is always a long history behind pretty much anything, but, still, it always strikes a chord in me hearing someone like Francesca Planeta, daughter of Diego Planeta, who created the Planeta wines' emperor in 1995, talking about Centuries like they were days, as used as we are - well, not me apparently - to ageless traditions.
"My Grandfather was taking care of our agricultural activities, that involved not only vineyards but also vegetables and fruit plantations (mostly citrus fruits). In the Sixties he founded the Sette Soli, now one of the most important Agriculture Unions in Italy. In the Seventies my father became the President of it and was taking care of the business involved in it when his love for wines took place." recounts Francesca.
The three cousins. From the left: Alessio, Francesca and Santi Planeta
Diego Planeta was one of the first ones who, back then, understood that Sicily had to seek a quality enology, and not to just keep producing wines (called "vini da taglio") very high in alcohol content that were then sold to France or North Europe and used to enhance the gradation in the production process of low quality wines. He then proceeded to become the President of the Regional Institute of Vine and Wine in Sicily to promote and develop Sicilian wines, officially being a pioneer in the agricultural sector and investing public money in order to do research and experimentation within the wine world. Sicily, he thought, had to differentiate itself within the agriculture offer and had to excel in high quality wine production.
“So my father started to want to experiment more and more in the wine field, and eventually, in 1994, he decided to concentrate and invest exclusively in it and in olive trees cultivations."
The first experimentations happened in the Eighties in Sambuca di Sicilia, where the family has its first origins, and then in Menfi, another family territory (Francesca's great grandfather married a woman from Menfi and the family moved there at the time). In Sambuca the experimentation started on non-Sicilian grape varieties (like Merlot) at first, as it was easier to learn their know-how. But then it went on with Nero d'Avola (red whine) and Grecanico (white wine), Sicilian varieties.
Ulmo Mansion in Sambuca, one of Planeta's properties
In 1994, the first Cantina (wine-making location, from grape harvest till the finished product) was born with previously tested grape varieties: they were the first ones to invest in quality viticulture in the territory.
In the meantime, within ten years, Diego’s sons grew up. Diego then thought about creating a high quality wine brand within the family. It was during Francesca's summer vacations in 1995 - and more precisely during her first grape harvest - that she understood it was time to dedicate herself to the family business. What she was about to join – quitting her previous job as a manager in a multinational firm - was "a great opportunity, a revolutionary adventure that was yet to be written, since we had to build everything from scratch within two generations, mine and the one of my father".
Seeing the great potential of the land, they decided to expand the surface of the vineyards and to work more and more with local varieties. They have now reached 400 hectares cultivated with vines distributed in Sicily among 5 wine-producing locations: Sambuca di Sicilia, Menfi, Vittoria, Castiglione di Sicilia (Etna area) and Noto (also a project on Capo Milazzo is ongoing), with a total 2.200.000 bottles production per year.
Planeta's properties in Sicily
The Sicilian wine history dates back to Fenici: Sicily has a microclimate that varies in each viticulture area of the Region. This allows Planeta to produce high quality wines that have been long forgotten. “That's what we wanted to do: bring back to life those ancient key-areas. That is what, I believe, differentiate us from other wine-makers: the fact that we really differentiated the grape varieties’ cultivation in each key area. We didn’t cultivate the Sicilian grape varieties all in one area like others did. And because we kept our wine boutiques small, we can reach a quality level of “homemade” production”.
“What also differentiate us is the fact that this is a family owned business - and therefore carries with it an incredible passion and love for the land, for the territory, and an unbeatable harmony in communicating with each family member of the firm and also with our collaborators who become like family, too”.
Six family members are actively involved in the business: Alessio (beginning-to-end production process), Santi (Italian market), Chiara (vineyards visits and hospitality), Francesco (German-speaking markets), Marcello (who contributes to production and hospitality), and of course Francesca, who is in charge of the Marketing and Communication Department. This roles’ division allows them to develop and improve each area of the business, with at a same time getting a unique way of sharing ideas. “When people visit us (Planeta organizes visits to wineyards and cellars, food and wine tasting, workshops, cultural activities for family and children, and also has a Boutique Hotel, La Foresteria) they do sense these values that almost don’t exist anymore, the traditions we shelter, our love for the territory, and they feel like being part of the family".
Dorilli Mansion in Vittoria, one of Planeta's properties
But even if these vines are based on solid pillars of tradition, don’t think at Planeta as old-school wine makers.
Sustainability has and will be the key word for Planeta, that has created a specific brand, Planeta Terra, to contribute to make the world a better place for all of us through environmental protection, recyclable materials, renewable energy and bio-architecture. And will present new projects tomorrow at Vinitaly, the International Wine Fair in Verona.
The environmental project Sustain is the first one in viticulture in Italy and is aimed – through a certification given only to those who will apply to certain standards - to increase the sustainability levels in Italy. The project is in collaboration with Tasca d’Almerita wines and developed by Piacenza and Milan Universities.
They are also going to introduce the new addition to their wine production, Brut Planeta Metodo Classico (from Carricante grapes), their first sparkly wine straight from Etna territory, that gives to it the perfect charachteristics. They are also presenting the first white wine of Planeta produced in the Etna area, the Nerello, which will be commercialized only at the end of the year, with 6000 bottles on the market.
Buonivini Mansion in Noto, one of Planeta's properties
Planeta will also feature very soon a new website (www.planeta.it) and is already on main Social Networks, with more than 33.000 fan on its Facebook page.
Within years, they have become an international brand that exports 60% of their production in 70 countries around the world. When I ask which message they want to bring to it, she replies: “For sure we want to communicate Italy, better, Sicily, at 360 degrees through micro-areas wine production. Before saying I am Italian, I define myself as a Sicilian!” she laughs “What we do here is high quality production through the valorization of the territory”.
A product of Dispensa Mansion in Menfi, one of Planeta's properties
When I ask her to pick her favorite wine she is bashful: “Each of our wines has a history, it’s really hard to say. I’d say Nero d’Avola, the Santa Cecilia, which in fact it’s a tribute to our family (called Planeta di Santa Cecilia) and carries on the label our coat of arms. It has been a long journey of trial and error from the first experimentation in Menfi in 1997 to the harvest of 2006 that presented exactly the characteristics we were looking for. It has taken a very different path from all others but we eventually succeeded and we managed to give an official certification to it that links the production of this Nero d'Avola specifically to the territory of Noto (Siracusa) where it's produced and that distinguishes this wine from all others Nero d'Avola. It has definitely been the most difficult one to make, that’s why I love it most.”
Just like you would do with your most rebel son, I add laughing.
“Yes, exactly! You know, you love them all, but you make sure you mainly protect the most difficult one”.
Written by: Elisa della Barba
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