‘Not a good year,’ said Michele glumly.
‘Rain in August. Too much rain in August. It dilutes the concentration of the juice and many of the bunches lay on the wet ground, which is not good for them’
The wines of Pantelleria are famous for their sweet lusciousness. Although the grape from which they’re made is now known as Zibbibo – zibib means raisin in Arabic – it’s said that the vines on Pantelleria are descended from the Muscat of Alexandria introduced by the Romans. Passito di Pantelleria has also been designated as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. To which the only possible response is ‘Golly’.
There were patches of vines all over the island, about 1400 hectares in all, divided up between 20 or so producers. The vineyards came in all shapes and sizes, straggly triangles, hexagons, rectangles, squares and some of a geometric design that defies precise description, each billowing the brilliant green leaves of healthy vines. All over the place I saw groups of pickers. Not a machine in sight, except for trucks, APEs, small trailers beside the road stacked with small boxes of grapes. Picking was all done by hand.
‘It’s hard on the back,’ said Michele, trimming out the dodgy grapes before placing the perfect bunch carefully in a crate. According to him, it was the combination of the volcanic earth, the hot sun, the dry wind and the salt from the sea that produced the unique qualities of the wine. Some of the grapes would be dried – passito – for two to four weeks to concentrate the juices still further, before being pressed and added to the juice of undried grapes to create that unique combination of intensity, balance, harmony and apricot-and-honey beauty.
It seemed ungrateful not to end each meal I ate without a glass of passito, and so I did.