You plant. You prune. You pick. You squash. You ferment. And then you pump the stuff into a barrel, then a bottle. Wine making rarely strays too far from the sidewalk, no matter what the producers would like you to believe. And then there is COS, two Sicilian producers that have rethought virtually every element of the craft, right down to the barrel. Well, in that there isn’t one.
Giambattista Cilia showed me around what must be the most playful winery in all of Italy: quirky over-sized murals, steps alternatively painted in Mirò’s palate, walkways where you’d expect a floor, a floor where you’d expect steps.
‘But that’s not the real story’, he says as he catches me smiling at the boys-with-toys of it all. ‘We’re a bio dynamic winery. We don’t use any fertiliser, except for a ‘tea’ of stinging nettles we spray over the fields twice a year. We don’t water either. The wind blows in the same direction here, always, so we planted along the wind currents, so that the grapes can cool at night. And we trained our grapes to grow at least 50 centimeters off the ground, so that they stay cool when the African sun begins to scream down.’
We visit their ‘cellar’, only to find 400 litre clay amphorae, ¾ invested in marine sand. Once filled with the crushed grapes, the skins and seeds will be left up to 5 months in full contact, the lids sealed tight with pasta. ‘Pasta’, I ask. ‘Si, farina e acqua’, he says. I nibble at a piece. Flour and water.
‘The perfumes that comes off this wine are incredible, mostly due to the cool temperatures of the soil that slow the fermentation process. And the clay gives further minerality, the way that a wooden barrels gives its flavours. Together with bio dynamic grapes, raised with a reduced yield, we’re making wines unlike anyone else.’. Crouched down around the lips of clay amphorae, timeless vessels sealed with a bead of pasta, it’s hard to argue.
In a tasting, it did strike me that we’re talking about a very different way of making wine. And a very different wine (not all of COS’s wines ferment in clay, but they are moving towards having some of all their wines in clay, a house signature, of a sort). It IS deeply perfumed with ethereal aromas: like a butterfly in the net, you mangle the concept trying to pin it down. My hand across my notepad stops three letters into each adjective, as I change my descriptors. Fennel. Red fruits. Eucalyptus. Leather. Black licorice. It’s complex and mineraly and tangy, every bit as savoury and satisfying as a split lip.
With three cases of wine to mail back to myself in Lecce, I shake their hands with both of mine, truly inspired to learn more about my subject, the haunting wines of the South. The more I learn, the more the trickle I set out to find becomes a river.