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A day with Ariana Occhipinti

After a string of fantastic appointments throughout Piedmont and then on Mount Etna, it was hard to imagine our trip through Italy getting much better. Then we arrived at Occhipinti.

Undoubtedly one of the true up and coming stars of the winemaking world, Ariana is making some of the most exciting wines coming out of Italy. Having met her last year when she visited Sydney, it was great to cross paths again, this time on her own doorstep.

Arriving at the same time as a couple of winemakers who were visiting from California, we were greeted by Ariana and immediately she took us off into the vineyards. For me this is a great example of her philosophy: making great wine is not about what you do in the winery, it’s about what you do in the vineyard. Farming biodynamically, Ariana’s focus has always been on the health of her soil and vines as this is the basis for creating high quality Frappato and Nero d’Avola. Her passion for farming and her commitment to biodynamics is very impressive and she explains to us some the hurdles involved in being a young female in her mid 30s trying to teach middle-aged men how to prune vines when they have been doing it differently their entire lives!

With the success that Ariana has seen in recent years, there is a bit of money in the bank. A lot of this has been poured back into the winery and whilst it is very understated, it does have some nice modern touches that would get many winemakers quite excited. Concrete fermentation vats (adored by many winemakers for their porosity) line the walls and large-format oak boti take up space underground in the cellar.

Tasting from tank, the sheer beauty of Ariana’s various straight Frappato’s was particularly eye-opening and impressive. These are made from a number of different ‘contrada’s’ (small districts of the countryside) and represent Occhipinti’s top tier ‘cru’ wines. (Coincidently, only weeks after returning to Sydney, the importer of Occhipinti in Australia landed some of these wines for the very first time and odd bottles remain available at Five Ways. They are very highly recommended and in my eyes, these wines are as good as Sicilian wine gets).

Beyond generous with her time, Ariana suggested that we stay for lunch at the winery which we of course accepted. Home made pasta with Occhipinti ‘Siccagno’ Nero d’Avola to match while sharing stories with Ariana herself. What a way to spend the afternoon!