Discovering the secret of a famous old wine
I love wine and wine stories. When, three years ago, I was shooting my first documentary on the wine of western Sicily, I came across the amazing story of the Zucco wine and I did all I could to make a documentary about it. I received a grant from the Sicilian Regional Fund for Cinema and went on my quest to discover the secret of this famous wine: the Zucco.
Wine is a wonderful time machine, it is man made, and therefore, it takes you into human vicissitudes and in “History”. I like the very strong human component of a product like wine. The Zucco gave the farmers of Montelepre the awareness of being part of a better world, and the survivors still feel part of a paradise lost. This great experience handed down through three generations has made their lives legendary. In this case I wanted to make a film to let people know about an important piece of French and Italian oenological history: I could never imagine that where the great chef Vatel guarded the secret of Chantilly cream I would find the secret of the vin de Zucco produced in Sicily. A natural wine.
The estate of Zucco, a state of the art wine farm, established in 1853 in the province of Palermo by the son of the King of the French, was a property that has experienced various trials and tribulations and has been seized and auctioned several times. But a small part of it – just the area where the Duke had his own vineyard — still belongs to Pietro Galioto, an organic farmer who has inherited it from his father. Pietro has lived here his childhood and listened to the legends of the Duke. I met him when he was about to surrender to the call of a mysterious voice that whispered “You must make the wine”. At the same time there was a beautiful farm with its industrial archaeology, the cellar, the factory, the home of the Duke, who were still there and were going into pieces. Testimony to the golden age of Sicilian viticulture when France, despite being a long way ahead in innovative production, was doubly tied to Sicily for the needs of a blending wine to complement the massive losses of the vineyards due to powdery mildew first and then to the phylloxera.
In this the late nineteenth century context, the production of Zucco went on, winning among Italian wines a la Madeira, most popular in the world, but was different from those for its absolute purity and guarantees of counterfeiting, from the cap to the labels. The success of the wine Zucco, continued, in fact, when France — with its colonies now producing grapes in Tunisia — no longer depended on Sicilian grapes.
Today, people only remember the Moscato Zucco made famous by the princes of Gangi, the last wine producers of Zucco. However, during my research in France, at the Château de Chantilly I discovered a few things about the Zucco and the Duke of Aumale. I wanted to divulge them for the love of wine, history, and to give an opportunity to the wine entrepreneurs who are confronted with the challenge of Quality and the real strength of Sicilian wine: the land and its history.
Among the historians of the Orleans, as Salvo Di Matteo, connoisseurs like Ennio Palmigiano and the local farmers, I collect the last accounts on the subject from two beautiful people who sadly left us recently: the lawyer Vittorio Umiltà of Save Palermo, and the great photographer and publisher Enzo Sellerio.
It was very difficult to tell the story of the Zucco wine without being totally overwhelmed by the great personality of its producer: the richest man in the world, patron, bibliophile, writer and son of the first King of the French, called also “Citizen King”. The letters sent from Sicily to his tutor Cuvilliere Fleury, describe the love he had for this wine and for this land, where he returned one last time to die. I hope I have been able to show both sides of things: long live France, long live Sicily, long live wine!