The Canicatti co-operative is based inland from Agrigento on Sicily's south-western coast, although its 480 members cultivate 1,000 hectares of 60 different types of vines across the entire winemaking area of the island. They are eager to express the ancient nature of Sicily's vines and water-deprived soils in the character of their wines, without rejecting the benefits of modern winemaking practices.
The gently undulating hills of vineyards - which rise to 600m above sea level - are made up of mineral-rich soils (including potassium, sulphur and calcium), making them like a laboratory for winemakers keen to experiment and see what the various vineyard areas of Sicily can produce.
Despite the size of the vineyard area covered by their growers, the co-op employs very strict growing guidelines and only accepts grapes of a certain quality level. The poor soil quality results in low yields, so growers can monitor the ripeness of each parcel of vines individually and harvest at the best time. They grow a wide array of indigenous varieties in the hope that they'll be able to showcase the huge amounts of regional variation in this small but important winemaking region.
One of the most important of these regional varieties is nero d'Avola, grown for the co-op's La Ferla range of wines. These grapes are sourced from vines in the areas surrounding Palermo, Agrigento, and Caltanissetta. The vines are grown on sandy silt soils with limestone influence, and have an average age of 12 years.
Regional identity matters not just in the vineyards, but in the winery too: grape parcels are selected and vinified separately according to a harvesting calendar. In recent years they have invested in pneumatic presses to improve the quality of the free-run juice, and another key investment is the development of temperature-controlled cement tanks - a modern twist on a traditional method - as well as stainless-steel ones. The stainless-steel tanks are particularly small, so that batches of fruit from specific microclimates can be fermented separately. Investments have also been made in the bottling line, which is now so advanced that quality control can be monitored throughout every step of the process.
The effort to portray Sicily's regional identity does not stop here: Canicatti are currently undertaking a simply astonishing project to convert the historic Taccia-Caci sulphur mine at Aragona into an ageing cellar for their vines. Their aim is also to open these converted mines to the public, so tourists can learn about their history as well as to see how they've changed to benefit a new industry.
Winemaking is overseen by consultant Tonino Guzzo. La Ferla Rosso is fermented in a mixture of steel and cement and aged for eight months in cement tanks with no wood influence.