PIANORO CUDDÌA, A MEMORY PASSED DOWN FOR GENERATIONS.
Pianoro Cuddìa is north facing at 109 metres above sea level. The soil is characterised by a clay constituent of more than 60% which causes intense water stress for the plants. Together with the almost desert -like climate conditions this makes the estate a champion of complex viticulture. This complexity, however, has allowed Firriato to uncover the soil and climate conditions of choice for native vine varieties such as Perricone. Deployed over an area of 35 hectares of such a varied ampelographic platform which is so typically Sicilian, Pianoro Cuddìa almost presents itself as a picture postcard of a by-gone age—in these parts it is not unusual that peasants and farmers have the land blessed, even today. From May when the hills are flooded with golden wheat and the silver of the new leaves in the olive groves reflects the sun with the vibrant red French honeysuckle running between the rows, Pianoro Cuddìa fully expresses the abundant oenological uniqueness of the island.
The compact clay, rich in sodium, throws a spanner in the works of the life and productive cycle of the plants. Firriato has managed, however, to expertly use this limiting factor to their advantage, making it something capable of enhancing the organoleptic complexity of the exceptional raw material (the grapes) whilst respecting the varietal differences of the traditional vines. The land is meticulously worked in correspondence with the need to moderate the plants’ vigour that results from the mineral content of the compact clay. The work begins only after pruning of the trunk, between December and February, and then continues with ground cover to compete with the vines. Emergency irrigation is sometimes essential during the hot season, but only to wash away the surface salt. The northerly exposure influences the microclimate in the vineyards as the seasons change.
Inquisitive, but also studious types who are interested in learning about one of Sicily’s most deep rooted identities, would find what they are looking for at Pianoro Cuddìa. The native vine varieties that grow here are a symbol of Firriato’s philosophy: to enhance the biodiversity that the island’s ampelographic heritage represents.
Each variety is individually harvested by hand, ensuring that each wine tank can be precisely traced back to the portion of the vineyard of its origin. This makes for a complex and frenzied harvest calendar, but perhaps also a more exciting one. Grillo and Catarratto follow close behind, however, if the climatic conditions of that vintage have not been regular and it has been very hot, their harvest time is brought forward so the grapes’ acidity and freshness are not lost. Mid-September it is the turn of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, red grapes which have a similar harvest start time. At the end of the month arrives the moment for the latest of all the varieties, Perricone. Perricone is Pianoro Cuddìa’s star varietal, and with regular climate trends without extreme heat, it can indeed be harvested by the end of September.
Water is the fundamental element in the development of any form of life, vines are no exception. The consistently marked presence of clay in Pianoro Cuddìa’s soils causes the plants an elevated level of water stress. The plants, conversely, require huge quantities of water. Firriato, ever faithful to its philosophy, has had the know-how to adopt the most suitable farming practices for producing maximum results in the vineyards of this estate, without upsetting the delicate balance of salt in the soil. In the wines, this maintains and enhances all the specific characteristics of their terroir of origin. The plants produce exquisite but smaller than average grapes here, and that is the reason that the red wines are richer in anthocyanins and polyphenols, which are precious supporters of human health. Varieties like Perricone, which is itself already rich in resveratrol (which helps clear arteries and is good for the heart), finds one of the best habitats for growth on this estate.
Pianoro Cuddìa is a blessed location, a real apogee of the quality and variety present in Sicilian vineyards. It is here that Firriato’s top labels like Ribeca come to life. Ribeca is an extraordinary single varietal Perricone with a smoothness and fruity intensity that interplays with aromas of Mediterranean scrub. It is one of the most elegant and ambitious wines on the Sicilian wine scene as well as the catalyst for prizes and recognition among the most prestigious guides. Then there are the two Quarter Vitis labels, both red and white which are the embodiments of the dream of encapsulating Sicilian native varieties in one glass. Quarter Bianco (a blend of Grillo, Catarratto, Zibibbo, and Carricante from Etna) and its brother Quarter Rosso (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Perricone, Frappato, and Nerello Cappuccio from Etna) are wines which have achieved their ambition of expressing Sicily’s complexity, rediscovering a bright future for its vineyards.