“Can you even have a good Italian wine list anymore without having wines from Arianna Occhipinti?” a sommelier wondered out loud the other day. The verdict: probably not.
Occhipinti, now 36, has been making wine in Sicily’s southeastern Vittoria since she was 22 years old. And nearly since the beginning, her wines, made from indigenous grapes like frappato and zibibbo, have had a following around the world. Here was this young, brazen, funny and curious winemaker who was producing a whole new breed of dynamic, elegant natural wines that no one had ever seen from that part of the globe.
So much of her career has been built around showcasing her little corner of Sicily, a region that’s garnered far less attention than, say, Mount Etna in the north. For Occhipinti, there is real importance in representing her territory with as much transparency as possible. “My approach is to make wine that’s juicy and pure—I don’t want to change the potential of this place.”
She makes a number of different lines of wine. Her flagship SP68 blends, single variety reds and a more affordable line, called Tami—each marking an evolution in her style. “Now I need to express wines coming from a specific place,” says Occhipinti of the new line of Vini di Contrada (single parcel wines) she started producing in 2016. She realized that she had three single parcels that produced frappato with three distinctly flavored wines. The vines for these bottlings range in age from 16 to 55 years, but there’s a range in soil, too. “What I was seeing in the vineyards, I was seeing in the wines,” she says. The idea was to represent one vineyard that’s all orange sea sand alongside one that’s half sand, half limestone and a third that’s entirely limestone. “Sand gives a smoother wine, with soft tannins and fruit,” she says. “And limestone makes wines that are more austere.”
While most of Occhipinti’s focus is on growing grapes and making wine, her predilection for plants, both cultivated and wild, has the winemaker growing and pressing olives for oil, planting oranges and pear orchards, harvesting wild capers in the mountains and packaging those for sale, too. She’s also been raising an ancient Sicilian wheat, called tumminia, and working with a chef named Giorgio Minardo in Modica to produce pasta.
All of this comes with the desire to not only elucidate the place she’s from, but to find ways to infuse everything she does with energy. “It’s important to come back to the idea of taste—not just in food, but in wine, too,” says Occhipinti. “It’s a pleasure to drink, we are coming back to the sense of taste.”
Here, Occhipinti tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share her waning relationship with social media, her extremely Italian hangover regiment and the best thing she ever drank.—Megan Krigbaum
What do you want to be when you grow up:
I would like to be a farmer, like I am now.
Best thing you ever drank:
Many years ago, when Marco De Bartoli was still alive, he brought a bottle of his 1904 Reserve Marsala to a wine tasting with 10 or 12 natural winemakers in Vittoria. Obviously, Marco wasn’t making wine in 1904, but what he did was he went around to the cellars of older farmers who still had wine in the bottom of old barrels and collected the old wines to use as the mother for his Marsala and blended them with younger wines. Of course, it was made from 100 percent grillo and wasn’t fortified, as marsala is now. The wine, to me, represented the Sicilian taste of an old wine with a deepness that was amazing.
Worst thing you ever drank:
I have had some of the worst coffee while traveling in places like Germany and France.
First time you ever got drunk:I was born in Marsala and my grandmother lived there. I’d go stay with her in June when school closed every year. My friends there started drinking early and once, when I was 15, I was drunk and slammed a cupboard and a pot fell on my head.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, No More Shall We Part.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
Social media. It’s weird and it is boring me a bit.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Something more about me. If I’d started working on it before, it would have been better.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Definitely something from a very young age but now I don’t remember.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
I like to explore nature.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
A Cerasuolo di Vittoria White.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Maria Grammatico in Erice in Trapani. Go in the afternoon and eat the Genovesi.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Unexpectedly, last Saturday, my mom made me a plate of raw red shrimp and fried anchovies and cuttlefish with a bottle of catarratto by Nino Barraco.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
A dry cocktail. I like when a good bartender will experiment for me.
I always choose different wines, of course only natural.
In a dive bar?
A lambic, when I find one.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Eggs, mozzarella and olives.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
When on a wine list the wines are listed without specifying the type, the producer, the grape and the vintage.
The last text message you sent:
“I am happy for you, you see that things gradually progressed in the right direction.”