Friday, March 7, 2014

Sestini's Sicily

On the walk leading from Florence's Piazza della Signoria, past the Uffizi Gallery, and to the Ponte Vecchio you could understandably stroll by this fortress-like building bearing the name Accademia Dei Georgofili (Georgofili Academy) without taking notice.  This is the headquarters of the venerable Florentine society dedicated to the study and promotion of agricultural science.


In 1812, Domenico Sestini, a native son of the city, delivered a series of lectures to the members of the Georgofili Academy entitled “Recollections of Sicilian Wines”. Sestini had spent three years traveling around the island and studying the state of Sicilian viticulture and enology from 1774 to 1776.  Much to the astonishment of his elite audience, Sestini proclaimed that Sicilian wine has been prized since ancient times for its “exquisiteness and richness”.  He intended to lecture on seven different subregions, but only got as far as Etna and Vittoria.  Apparently, his words fell on disinterested (if not deaf) ears and he never gave the lectures on the five other subregions intended for the Georgofili’s esteemed members.

The texts of Sestini’s first three lectures are undoubtedly locked away in the Georgofili Academy’s historic archives.  In 1991, they were published by a Palermo-based publisher, Sellerio editore, in a booklet entitled, Memorie sui vini siciliani, the title of Sestini’s original lecture series.  While Sestini’s Tuscan contemporaries were not prepared to believe that Sicily’s winegrowers were capable of teaching northern Italians something about growing grapes and making wine, today two centuries later wine experts and consumers are passionately discovering Sicily as one of Italy’s most fascinating wine regions.  We honor Domenico Sestini for having the courage of his convictions.  Bravo!