Feudo Solaria Winery
Mamertino di Milazzo
One of Sicily's most celebrated family wineries dating back to 1887
Feudo Solaria is the name given to a historical territory located between the cities of Milazzo and its southwestern cousin Tindari. Located on the Tyrrhenian Coast of Sicily, this territory is the home of Cantine Grasso, a winery that has been handed down father to son for five generations (since 1887). The winery has recently been merged with the new Feudo Solaria Winery umbrella that includes three winery brands: Cantine Grasso, Feudo Solaria, and Vigne di Entella. Our International Series feature includes wines from the Cantine Grasso and Feudo Solaria branches.
To explain the modern-day Feudo Solaria Winery, one must start at the beginning with Cantine Grasso.
Cantine Grasso is steeped in family tradition and traces its roots back to 1887 when Peppino Grasso began his career in the wine industry. Peppino was the first in his family to plant vineyards. In 1925, Peppino’s son Alexis Grasso constructed the family's first winery and complimented the project with a number of enormous barrels that were used for both storage and fermentation. Some three decades later, in the mid-1950’s, Alexis’ son Carmelo Grasso constructed a second winery that helped the Grasso Family promote locally and dominate the local wine trade.
In 1984, Carmelo's son Alessio Grasso (the 4th generation) took over and began introducing modern winemaking techniques that elevated the quality of wines and further set the winery apart from other nearby estates. Alessio also took a special interest in expanding and diversifying the land under vine, while shifting to organic viticulture methods. Alessio still stands as the winemaker of Cantine Grasso/Feudo Solaria today, with the help of his son Tullio.
The fifth generation of Grassos is now involved in the winery operation. Alessio's two sons, Tullio and Carmelo, have individual roles in the family’s business. Tullio helps his father with the winemaking and vineyard management chores while Carmelo is involved with the company’s sales and marketing efforts.
The numerous national and international awards the winery has amassed throughout its multi-century existence place it among the very top tier of wineries on the island. The 120+ awards are a testament to the company's commitment to quality and the number is likely to grow in the near future.
The fact that today's Feudo Solaria is tied to multi generations of the same family is not uncommon in Sicily where family ties are considered sacred. In order to preserve the historic memories of this winemaking family, a wine museum was created on the winery property. The museum showcases old workrooms of the barrel coopers, an ancient laboratory for the chemical analysis of grapes and wines, and incredibly well preserved winemaking equipment. Those who visit the museum can see the transition from ancient manual equipment to the most modern, high-tech machines used today.
For the nearly 130 years of its existence, Cantine Grasso/Feudo Solaria has embraced the classic traditions of Sicilian grape growing and winemaking while taking advantage of the modern techniques introduced throughout the wine world. The winery has also remained faithful to Sicily’s classic native varietal, the Nero d’Avola grape, that represents the greater part of its high quality wine production.
Looking to the future, the Grasso family has adopted the new Feudo Solaria name as the larger, corporate name to promote their growing collection of Sicilian wines. Wines are still made with the Cantine Grasso designation, to celebrate their family's history and the traditional wines made in the Mamertino di Milazzo region. Wines under the Feudo Solaria brand celebrate native varietals grown in the specific vineyard of Sulleria in Rodi Milici of Mamertino di Milazzo. Vigne di Entella wines are produced from the Belice Valley in Western Sicily and blend a mix of native grapes with international varieties. The Grasso brothers (Tullio and Carmelo) bring a fresh perspective to the historical family winery and promise to bring even greater success to the company.
Sicily’s reemergence as a top quality wine producer can be traced back to the efforts of some of its high quality producers - and Feudo Solaria must be included in any formalized list of these top wineries.
Sicily's Winemaking History
It is well documented that the Mediterranean Island of Sicily has traced its viticultural beginnings back more than 2,500 years. Given the fact that it is the largest island in the benign Mediterranean and the climactic conditions there are among the best in the world, the fact that Sicily has produced amazing wines for so long a period is no great surprise. However, it has not always been that way for the former Italian penal colony.
Early on, Sicily was known for its sweet wines, primarily those of the Moscato style. The island is blessed with bright sunshine and moderate rainfall that is remarkably consistent from year to year. Mildew and rot are minimally problematic and chemical sprays are rarely applied. This factor has given rise to a large number of vineyard sites that are organically farmed and marketed.
The soils that constitute Sicily’s wine growing regions (there are twenty-seven currently classified sub-regions on the island) are all affected by the island’s volcanic composition and particularly by the massive strata volcano, Mount Etna, which is located on Sicily’s eastern quarter. Soils tend to be darker and mineral-laden and nearly perfect for growing vines. The rocky character of the mountainous terrain is a natural habitat for vines that must struggle to survive. As the Sicilian viticultural explosion has evolved, plantings have risen to new heights (literally) to utilize the richer soils and cooler air found at higher altitudes.
But it hasn’t always been easy for Sicilian wines to flourish and compete on the international marketplace. As late as the latter 20th Century, Sicily’s near perfect growing environment played a central role in the downfall of Sicilian wine. Fueled by the miraculous rise and acceptance of mainland Italy’s splendid wines, the Italian government offered Sicilian growers subsidies to upgrade their vineyards to specific vine-management techniques that would increase the yield of much of Sicily’s existing vineyard land. The growers jumped at the chance and many acres of low-yielding bush type vines were soon converted to high-yield training methods.
The natural result was an increase of imbalanced wines that lacked both finesse and taste. Consumer confidence in Sicilian wines soon decreased and the market was soon awash with extremely low quality (and low priced) Sicilian wine. Around the turn of the new century, this trend was reversed and the modern high quality Sicilian wine industry emerged. Along with this reversal was a batch of new, more boutique-style wineries that fueled the upward trend. After a decade or so, the international wine community began to recognize the quality and importance of Sicilian-grown and produced wines. Accolades and numerous international awards greatly increased the status of today’s resilient Sicilian wine industry.
To their credit, Sicilian farmers and wineries have stuck to the varietals that made Sicilian wines famous in the first place. Nero d’Avola and Catarratto are the most important native grapes, occupying 16% and 32% of Sicily’s vineyard area respectively as of seven or eight years ago. The latter is an important element in adding body and flavor to some of Sicily’s more acidic wines.
Sicily is not unlike many other notable wine producing areas that have undergone a major renaissance in their winemaking statues. To say that Sicily now emulates the great swath of mainland Italian wines would be a reach, but the fact is that Sicily’s finer wines are not that far behind. Continued adherence to modern winemaking techniques and always important cultivation practices will continue the island’s upward spiraling significance.
It is a pleasure to introduce Sicilian wines to our International Series members. We feel it is an adventure in great wine that is well worth taking.
Wine Regions of Sicily
Sicily is Italy's southernmost wine producing region and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. For over 2,500 years, Sicily has been a significant location for viniculture, although the style of its wines have changed significantly over time (from sweet Muscats to fortified Marsala, and finally, now to its dry table wines produced from the island's indigenous grape varietals).
The island of Sicily is blessed with a classic, warm Mediterranean climate and mineral rich soils thanks to the mountains and active volcano, Mount Etna, that dominates the eastern skyline. With a wide range of sub regions and indigenous wine varietals, Sicily currently stands as one of Italy's most promising and interesting wine regions.
The Flag of Sicily
The flag of Sicily was first adopted in 1282, after the successful Sicilian Vespers revolt against the king Charles I of Sicily.
The trinacria symbol with the winged head of Medusa and the three wheat ears was not added until February 2000. The three bent legs are said to either represent the triangular shape of the island of Sicily, or the historical three administrative regions of the island during the Muslim rule from 831 to 1072. The wheat ears symbolize the famously rich, fertile land of Sicily and the head of Medusa is for protection of the island - to ward off any future evil. The colors of the flag, red and yellow, represent the cities of Palermo and Corleone respectively - the towns in which the rebellion of the Vespers began
Sicily: Fun Facts!
• According to archaeologists, Sicilians have been making wine as far back at the 17th century BC.
• Palermo, Sicily is one of the top cities in the world for street food. Among the delicacies offered by street vendors are arancini (the famous Sicilian rice balls), pannele (simple squares of fried, smashed chickpeas), and the sfincione (the local version of pizza).
• The largest theater and opera house in Italy, Teatro Massimo, was built in Palermo, Sicily and inaugurated in 1897. Construction took over 20 years, starting in 1874 and ending in 1897.
• Located on the eastern side of the island near Catania and reaching a height of more than 10,000 feet, Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe. It's last eruption with lava occurred December 3, 2015. The fertile volcanic soils support extensive agriculture, including vineyards, grown in the region.
• Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea with 600 miles of coastline. Pistachio trees are grown all over Sicily and the fragrant green nuts are often used to flavor ice cream, as sweet fillings for confectionery and pastries, in rich pasta sauces, in pestos, and in glazes for meat and fish.
• One of the world's famous mathematicians, Archimedes, was born in Sicily.
• Nero d'Avola is the most widely planted red variety on Sicily and among the oldest indigenous Sicilian varietals.
• Sicily is home to many ancient Greek ruins, including the famous 'Valley of the Temples,' which is a collection of seven different temples dedicated to different Greek deities.