The universality of Zibibbo

The heroic oenology in Pantelleria is a candidate for the World Heritage List

04-10-2014
by Andrea Cuomo
After four years, the journey for the candidacy of

After four years, the journey for the candidacy of Zibibbo di Pantelleria to enter the World Heritage List is almost completed: by November, in Paris, the evaluating authority composed by representatives from Peru, Kirgizstan, Nigeria and Latvia will decide whether to propose the registration of Pantelleria’s dossier in the List to the UNESCO intergovernmental committee

Zibibbo di Pantelleria could soon be included in the World Heritage List. The verdict of the international committee is expected in November. They will have to decide on the candidacy of the heroic oenology of the island between Sicily and Tunisia to be included in the cultural and immaterial UNESCO World Heritage List: an important decision not only for Pantelleria and Italy; it would be a first for an agricultural procedure. An acknowledgement that would give an even greater value to vine growing in Pantelleria, the fruit of a long research for a balance between a hard and harsh nature and the aware and constant work of man.

Pantelleria is today a magnificent and unique land, Sicilian though only from an administrative point of view, but with a unique culture and language. This wild soil of volcanic origin is today a luxurious garden in which some special cultivations stand out: that of capers, nowhere else in the world as good as here; and that of Zibibbo, the grapes from which the most famous wine on the island and one of the most beloved Italian dessert wines is made, namely Passito di Pantelleria, a total of 1427 hectolitres produced in 2013 by a few dozens producers, most of whom very tiny.

A merit that was made possible also by the totally local stone-carving tradition which, besides the two architectural characteristics of the island – the dammuso, the typical barren house, and the hieratic gardens of Pantelleria – allowed to build the terraces made with dry stone walls that are widespread in Pantelleria, something which, besides defining one of the most fascinating rural landscapes in the Mediterranean basin, also protects the low trees of local vines from the wind that endlessly blows, three hundred days a year.

Nowhere as in Pantelleria it is right to speak of heroic viticulture. The vineyard in Pantelleria has to count on the strength of men, there are no machines that can substitute a farmer. On the terraces, often with sharp slopes, vines are grown below the level of the earth, in a large hole that protects the plant and the fruits from the scirocco and greco levante winds. This custom also contributes to create a balanced development of the external part of the plant, compared to the roots. The small vine trees in Pantelleria require a work load that is three times as much as the one required for any other vine on the mainland.

The typical terraces that make it possible to grow Zibibbo on the island

The typical terraces that make it possible to grow Zibibbo on the island

The approaching and desired goal was one of the themes of Passitaly, the first edition of the festival dedicated to dessert wines from the Mediterranean area, which for a few days animated the island early in September. «After four years, we’re now in the final phase of the candidacy process – the juridical counsellor of the Ministers for Agriculture and Environment, Pier Luigi Petrillo, said on that occasion -. Should the UNESCO include Pantelleria, the Zibibbo pantesco would become a cultural and touristic attraction. Until now, indeed, no country has managed to include an agricultural procedure in the List». Agricultural Policies Minister Maurizio Martina will personally take part in the last days of the negotiations, with the very purpose of underlining the importance of this historic candidacy.

«Through the promotion of this natural passito – the mayor of Pantelleria Salvatore Gabriele says – we have the goal of giving value to the civilization of the vine in every aspect: agronomic, cultural, scenic as well as sociological and economic. In a context in which the architecture of the countryside landscape expresses one of the most precious and delicate territories in the Mediterranean basin, we want to affirm the value of an heroic viticulture based on the work of the farmers of Pantelleria and on the capacity of managing environment and nature in harmony and balance. Sustainability, preservation of the landscape, profitability of vine growing are the fundamental elements we would like to be defended».