The ruins were of Baglio Musciuleo. Once a thriving outpost of one of the historic founders of the marsala wine industry, Benjamin Ingham. Englishmen, adventourus entrepreneurs to a man, including John Woodhouse and Ingham along with Vincenzo Florio from Calabria laid the foundations of the wine industry in this corner of Sicily and became rich men in the process. Across the road, which is more of a country track, lies Baglio Donna Franca where I was staying. It was built by Florio before ebing into ruins and later experiencing a rebirth as a hotel and winery just a few years ago.
The poppies were vibrant and magnificent after the overnight rains. I wandered. Back up the Donna Franca main driveway with Nero d’Avola vines on my right and, over a crumbling wall, Grillo to my left. I read somewhere that the tower here was built by the Saracens as a watch tower in the 11th century. Useful for scanning the not too distant sea for pirates and other such villains. Baglios are defensive structures built around a courtyard, useful in more violent and dangerous times.
Donna Franca was once known as Baglio Florio but when the current owners rebuilt they remained it after Franca Florio the ‘vivacious and stylish wife of Ignazio Florio III’. On one of the inner baglio walls is a large image of Franca. I thought it looked rather out of place and adventitious, but then they have a smashing old car in the opposite corner of the courtyard, so boundaries of taste are personal I suppose.
Baglio Donna Franca Sicily
If you stay at Baglio Donna Franca Sicily, rather than just visit the restaurant, a tour of the little winery and a wine tasting is available. They make just a couple of wines – the red Cipponeri, the white Abbadessa and a sweet passito, the Aruta. The big draw of course being that the grapes for these humble wines are grown right outside your rooms window. The wines are the only wines served in the restaurant.
Between my room and the courtyard proper, past a garden bursting with local flora is the winery. In one corner of this modest room, small but packed with the accoutrements of wine making (tubes, pumps, rubber pipes, stainless steel tanks, filters and oddly two bicycles), sits a large wooden barrel. Which has a door! It is opened with some ceremony revealing a metal spiral staircase down to the barrel room. All quite excitingly theatrical.
The barrels down here include ‘perpetual wines’; tiny quantities of wine from around the region. Somewhat akin to the solara system, older wines and used to top up younger wines. Wine makers in Masarla call vintage wines lieviti, the plural of lievito.
What is removed from each barrel of lievito may be topped up with wine from the same year, if available, in which case it remains a lievito. Alternately, the winemaker may top up the lievito with a younger wines, sending it in the direction of a vino perpetuo”. The World of Sicilian Wine, Bill Nesto MW”
Tasting these is a true vinos highlight. The depth and complexity of these uniquely special wines, is totally enhanced by the story. When told by the owners while standing next to an old barrel in the depths of a cellar they take on a magnificence importance. The story is told with passion and enthusiasm, more than I can encapsulate in words.
“Visiting our winery is equivalent to taking a voyage through a true museum of wine. Thanks to the knowledge and kindness of our staff, it will be like completely emerging one’s self into wine culture.” Baglio Donna Franca Sicily
My visit to Baglio Donna Franca was organised by Esplora Tours and comes highly recommended. See also #EsploraSicily on Lumination, my photography blog. A visit to Baglio Donna Franca Sicily comes highly recommended, as does the Esplora Tour company.