The Madonie Mountains of central Sicily are one of the island’s most untouched landscapes. Spanning 35,000 hectares, the protected area is home to dozens of charming hilltop towns that seem frozen in time, towering above the fertile landscapes below. A few of these have been recognized as borghi più belli d’Italia, a network that selects the “most beautiful villages in Italy” in an effort to preserve Italy’s authentic heritage and tradition. The allure of this area, in fact, extends beyond its scenery and into its history, heart and tradition. The Madonie are full of hidden gems and a visit to the area will introduce you to a secret side of the island.
One of the region’s many gems is the Tenuta San Giaime which lies just a stone’s throw from Gangi, a village that was voted the borgo più bello d’Italia in 2014. Managed by Salvatore Cicco, his son Alessio and brother-in-law Franco, this family-run organic winery is one of the few places in Italy that allows visitors to “adopt a vineyard” by making a donation towards a row of vines, allowing you to become a local vintner and support a small business along the way.
Tenuta San Giaime had been producing Syrah and Grillo labels since 2012 but Mr. Cicco and his family aspired for the wine to be recognized outside of Sicily and beyond Italy so they decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to get the word out about the vineyard. “My father managed the vineyards when I was growing up but when he got too old to tend to the vines, we had to consider our options,” begins Mr. Cicco. “I thought it would be a good idea to relaunch the project in a way that would draw attention to our wines and raise the profile of our territory, too.”
“We asked people to metaphorically adopt a vineyard by helping us plant new rows of vines of indigenous grapes,” says Mr. Cicco. “And thanks to the power of the internet, we were able to reach an international audience.” Today, the winery grows Syrah, Pinot Noir, Grillo, Carricante, Nerello Mascalese and Perricone grapes.
So far 20 filari, or rows of vines, have been purchased by Italian and international wine lovers. For anyone who has long aspired to make wine, it also makes for a unique gift. “Our idea wasn’t to generate a profit from selling our vines, but rather to draw people to our territory. Most people had never heard of the Madonie Mountains but when they came to visit us, they fell in love with the area because it is so authentic. Many of the adopters have become close friends and return to visit each year.”
Visitors who become involved with the project are invited to dine with the Ciccio family and stay overnight in nearby Gangi to discover the territory through the eyes of a winemaker. They also learn what sets this area apart from winemaking in other parts of the island: the Madonie are some of the highest peaks in Sicily, rising 1,000 meters above sea level, so the wines benefit from temperature fluctuations and approximate their cousins in northern Italy more than the traditional Nero d’Avola produced around the island.
And the vineyards, like most agriculture in the area, is organic. “Here in the Madonie Mountains, we do things the old-fashioned way,” says Mr. Cicco. “There’s a strong focus on tradition and sustainability, values that are more important than ever in today’s modern area.” No chemicals or additives are used in the wines and fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts.
Given that Italy produces wine in every corner of the country, initiatives like vineyard adoption are helpful to set a winery apart. “Today we actually sell very little of our wine within Italy because there’s already so much production in the country,” says Mr. Ciccio. “Which means we get to share our local products with customers in New York and LA, as well as the Asian markets.”
What is included when you adopt a vineyard? With your donation of €1,000 over 2 years, you will receive:
- Certificate of adoption and a name plate on display in the vineyard
- Participation in the harvest and the classic “lunch with the winemaker”
- 12 bottles of wine per year: 6 bottles come directly from your row of vines and 6 miscellaneous bottles produced at the vineyard
- Customized wine labels, upon request
- Winery visit & wine tasting, by appointment
- 20% off all wines purchased from Tenuta San Giaime