Beppe Fontana and Battista Belvisi
Pantelleria is a very special island. The black volcanic cone lost in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Africa is an expression of an intense character and a strong identity that can be found even in the simplest agricultural products.
There are certain people who honor this identity and who, without knowing it, are the enbodiment of the soul of Pantelleria. One is Battista Belvisi, farmer and winemaker. In 2015, together with Beppe Fontana, traveling gourmet and chef, they formed what was then a tiny winery called Abbazia San Giorgio. Three and a half hectares of vineyards situated on the outskirts of the village of Khamma, in the south-eastern part of the island.
In 2015, Battista and Beppe produced 1,000 bottles of Passito, 2,000 of a dry Zibibbo (local name for Muscat of Alexandria), and 1,000 bottles of red. Most of these get sold in a flash on the island.
Since then, Abbazia San Giorgio has grown both in terms of world-wide recognition of the quality of its wines, now exported in many foreign countries, as well as in terms of bottles produced.
Divided into small plots 900 feet above sea level, the vines are on average 60 years old. Two-thirds are cultivated with Zibibbo grapes, while the remaining are Carignano, Grillo, Nerello Mascalese, Alicante, and Pignatello (known by the natives as (Nostrale). The vines are trained in the traditional local practice of vite ad alberello, a technique that is included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the first of its kind to have received this prestigious distinction.
All the wines of Abbazia San Giorgio are cultivated using organic and biodynamic methods, even though they are not certified as such. Instead of pesticides, chemicals and cryptogams, agronomic techniques are used to manage the weeds and pests. The weeds are pulled and buried in the vineyard at the end of each winter, fertilizing and replenishing the soil, which eliminates the need for chemicals and even organic fertilizers.
During the fermentation process, only the naturally occurring wild yeast from the skins are used. And in most of the wines, no sulfites are added.
In April 2022 Sebastiano Tecchio joined the Abbazia San Giorgio team. A filmmaker, photographer, and "ambassador" of Italian natural wines in the United States, he takes care of brand management and communications for the company.
PANTELLERIA and the ALBERELLO VINE
The history of Pantelleria dates back to more than 5,000 years ago, when the Sesioti settled on the island due to the presence of obsidian, a volcanic mineral then considered very precious.
In the following centuries, given its strategic position in the center of the Sicilian Channel, Pantelleria was a land conquered first by the Greeks, then by the Phoenicians, and later by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Normans, the Swabians, the Aragonese and the Bourbons. Finally, in 1860 it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.
The landscape of the island reflects the contribution of these past cultures. For exmple, it was the Byzantines who introduced the mosaic characteristics to the houses. The Arabs, who remained on this island for over 400 years, also had a strong influence upon agriculture, architectural techniques (the Dammuso) and even the ancient and magical name of the island - Bent-el-Rion, which translates as daughter of the wind.
And to the ingenuity of the Phoenicians we owe the cultivation of the Alberello vine . This Pantelleria vine is low and sheltered by a basin of land created to allow the production of grapes and preserve the life of the plant in adverse climatic conditions, which characterize the island for the majority of the year. In use in Pantelleria , almost exclusively with vines of Zibibbo, it has a very short trunk and four to ten rather long branches, with very short spurs (maximum 2 buds).
The dossier, coordinated by prof. Pier Luigi Petrillo (who previously had successfully coordinated the UNESCO nominations of the Dolomites, the Mediterranean Diet and the wine-growing landscapes of the Langhe-Roero and Monferrato), was unanimously approved by all the UNESCO member states.
It is the first agricultural practice in the world to obtain this prestigious recognition.