From wine to marsala
From wine to marsala
The scents and flavours of our territory
The viticulture of the Trapani area is among the oldest in the island (wine vessels of the period between the eighth and sixth centuries BC were found) and already in 300 BC the port of Marsala was an important center of exchange with the countries of the Aegean, with North Africa and with Spain. Moreover, the vine and the cult of Dionysus were imported into Sicily by the Greeks, experts in the cultivation “ad alberello” (which did not let the plants grow more than 70-80 cm) and in the best pruning systems; the grapes cultivated with their systems were rich in sugar, and the wines had a high alcohol content and a delicate fragrance. Marsala is their direct descendant. The white grape varieties that give rise to this wine are Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia and Damaschino; for the ruby type the black Pignatello, Calabrese and Nerello Mascalese are used instead.
The production of Marsala in the area of Trapani has also given rise to an interesting architecture typical of these areas with the construction of the bagli, buildings formed by warehouses that develop on the ground floor around a rectangular courtyard; their width is almost always 12 meters (to allow the arrangement of 4 series of 20-25 hectolitre barrels), the length varies according to the importance of the farmhouses.
The birth of Marsala wine and its fame are is due to the adverse weather conditions that forced John Woodhouse, a rich merchant of Liverpool, in 1773, to land in Marsala instead of Mazara del Vallo. Once landed in the Sicilian town, a bit to celebrate the narrow escape and a little to raise morale for the fuzzy deal, Woodhouse went to a tavern in the port area, where he had the opportunity to taste a particularly good wine, produced in that area: the Perpetuum. It was a strong wine, similar to Madeira or Porto, just the wine that the Englishman liked.
From here, almost by chance, he decided to buy a large stock to sell at home, and in order to keep it in the best conditions until destination, it was decided to add a certain amount of alcohol to the barrels increasing the alcohol content.
The first expedition was an incredible success: all the barrels were sold in a few days and this convinced Woodhouse to return definitively to Sicily to give life to a new and stable commercial activity.
By the end of the 18th century Marsala wine was usually drunk on all of His British Majesty’s ships, Admiral Nelson also used to celebrate his victories with Woodhouse’s Marsala wine, and the story goes that it was right after the naval battle of Trafalgar who, for the first time, people began to talk about marsala as the “Victory Wine”.
That was the decisive moment: from then on, the Sicilian wine business also interested other British entrepreneurs like Benjamin Ingham, and, later, his nephew John Whitaker.
But it is only in 1832 that, finally, we find an Italian name among the producers of Marsala, and it is precisely that of Vincenzo Florio.
The inclusion of Florio in the wine market, in 1834, is an important moment both for the history of the family and for the history of Marsala wine; meanwhile, compared to the other English merchants, Vincenzo Florio’s choice is to turn above all to the national market rather than to compete – which would have been lost since the beginning – to Ingham who had the predominance of the American market or to the Woodhouses that had the predominance of Northern European market. Things started to change significantly in the second half of the nineteenth century when Vincenzo Florio and his son Ignazio invested more and more in the company to modernize it. In their cellars the first mechanical bottling plant was carried out before that of Ingham or Woodehouse. The activity undertaken proved to be an excellent deal and the product secured a vast market.
Today it is possible to make numerous visits with tasting but also enjoy dinners in the wineries and obviously buy the “Victory Wine ” to enjoy it comfortably at home with friends.