An Afternoon with Arianna Occhipinti

I met inspirational, natural wine maker, Arianna Occhipinti for the first time at Sicilia en primeur 2011. Arianna and her wine are the new and the old Sicily, strong, surprising, rooted in tradition with an eye toward the future. They reflect the land of Vittoria and the region of Ragusa. Arianna’s energy is infectious, her love for the vines deep as is her belief in letting wine express itself at every turn.

I was thrilled when she agreed to spend an afternoon with me at Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti. She is passionate, extremely generous and down to earth. Below are the highlights from our interview. Enjoy!

Why did you decide to dedicate your life to the vines? 

It happened a bit by chance. My first exposure to the world of wine was attending wine events with my Uncle Giusto. My interest grew from there. At university, I realized my true passion was wine making and oenology, it suits my character, the part that craves contact with nature. I love the side of wine that speaks of a territory and its history, the history of one piece of land. Wine making nourishes this part of myself.

When did you start to make wine and what was your initial goal?

I was 21. Selling wine was not essential to me at the beginning. I wanted to capture the essence of Vittoria through wine. I believed in Frappato and Nero d’Avola from Vittoria. Respecting the plants was essential for me so I used organic and biodynamic agricultural methods. I wanted to allow complete expression of the grape and wine without chemical intervention. For this reason, in 2004, I started with one hectare around my house, half Frappato, half Nero d’Avola – 2,000 bottles of each. 

Describe how your wines express your character.

Wines are without doubt an expression of the character of the wine maker. If two different people make wine from the same vineyards, they will do it in a different manner expressing their individuality, their interpretation. My wines are an expression of a this territory and my point of view. Fundamentally, Vittoria is a place where wines have always been somewhat diverse, fresh, elegant  and less alcoholic than other comparable wines. I hope my wine gives a sensation of tasting Vittoria, in particular “il Fossa di Lupo”, my farm, of the freshness of this land.

You feel strongly about not using substances to alter wine. Can you talk a bit about this?

I feel very strongly about appreciating what a grape gives naturally. I shouldn’t manipulate it using fertilizers. That would mean changing the characteristics to be something different than that of the land. If one year a vineyard gives me certain characteristics it’s meant to be and I respect it.  It shouldn’t be altered by the hands of men. It’s the same in the cellars. If one vintage has more acidity, I don’t change it, I don’t add tannins, this doesn’t interest me. 2008 was warmer than 2009 so the 2009 Frappato and Nero d’Avola express more freshness and minerality in comparison. I value the biodiversity of the vineyard. It’s exactly this that excites me and interests me. Each year expresses the traits of that year, each year is unique.  

Do you have a favorite?

No, people say that my favorite is Frappato because my eyes light up when it’s mentioned. It may be because Frappato is not as well known as Nero d’Avola. I admire it, it’s the grape that made me fall in love with this work. It was the idea of the grape itself. I saw it like many other important grapes, like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. I believe that there is always one thing that attracts a person to this craft and for me it was the frappato grape.

What are your future plans for Occhipinti?

An immediate goal is to build a new wine cellar. As for longer term, I want to keep doing what I’m doing, I’d like to see Occhipinti become even more rooted in this territory. Improvements come with time and experience, with analysis, with knowing a place. When I started I was lucky to make good wine right away but my knowledge of Vittoria wasn’t what it is today and in 10 years it will be different that it is today.

Beyond Occhipinti, I care about Vittoria. One day I’d love to overhear someone tasting wine say this is a Frappato or a Nero d’Avola from Vittoria. It’s my greatest desire that wine drinkers identify this territory through its wine.

Occhipinti has grown tremendously since 2004. Will you put a ceiling on this growth?

If it’s possible to grow while maintaining the same characteristics, great, otherwise, I’ve got to say that I’m already happy with things as they stand. At this moment, I’m making approximately 75,000 bottles and probably won’t surpass 100,000 bottles.

What do you find most rewarding about being a winemaker?

I believe the most rewarding thing is to leave a mark on history through your vineyards, to become a significant part of history. In my case, Occhipinti is still very young but with constancy, work, time, with the fact that you’re here, the fact that often you don’t give up, you leave your mark. A business continues with the passing of time.

Lastly, how often are tours and wine tastings scheduled at Occhipinti?

At this point by request only in English and Italian. I’m happy to say that people come from all over the world to visit Vittoria and often to visit Occhipinti. It brings me great joy to meet wine lovers and give them a tour of the vineyards and wine cellars. I love tasting and discussing my wines with others.

Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti
SP68 Vittoria-Pedalino Km 5,4
 Tel. +39.333 6360316

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