In The Vineyards With: Patricia Toth (La Planeta, Sicily)

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This series is normally the result of an afternoon or day spent in the vineyards with the winemaker. I always want to go, see and touch the vines for myself. This is, of course, all well and good… unless the winemaker in question is suffering from a twisted ankle and can only barely hobble!

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Patricia has been working for La Planeta since 2005. She is their chief winemaker and implements their sustainable development vineyard programme.

It is also rather difficult to say “a day in the vineyard with…” in this case as the La Planeta company own six different vineyards, in each corner of Sicily. Nonetheless, to spend a few hours with Patricia was fascinating. She is imbued with a natural charm and boundless energy! I was honoured that took the time out to meet Jean-Luc Etievent and I between appointments and despite her sore ankle. We meet in the main square of Passopisciaro and get in her car to go up to the vineyard. It brings a smile to my face to notice that she has a suitcase permanently in the back of her car and, on this particular day, a half-eaten yoghurt pot by the driver’s seat!

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Piazza di Passopisciaro

We arrive at the Feudo di Mezzo vineyard; a fairly young vineyard at around 960m above sea level. La Planeta have been working here and at two other sites on Etna since 2008. Patricia herself had actually just come back from a stint in California and she starts by talking about her amazement at their usage of cover crops.

“We tried to do the same thing here,” she says, “because here, especially on the volcano, conserving all available water is essential. We therefore tried experimenting with cover crops. They formed an impenetrable mattress and consumed all the water. After just a few months, our vines were dead.”

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La Planeta Etna winery

We arrive and start the tasting: Carricante IGT Sicilia 2011, Etna DOC 2014, Frappato Vittoria DOC 2013 and Nero D’Avola Nocera Sicilia DOC 2014.

Patricia knew that we were there in order to try the most typical, most indigenous expressions from this volcanic island… and effettivamente, we were spoilt rotten!

Interestingly, it was the Etna DOC 2014 – straight carricante – that Patricia chose to have with lunch.

She talks more generally and we learn that she returns to her native Hungary every 4 or 6 weeks. She has enchanting, dazzling green eyes. She speaks fluent English and has an easy, affable way of making conversation. Unsurprisingly, her telepone is always ringing; a continuous stream of people asking for appointments.

When asked about organic farming, Patricia claims to prefer to look at the larger picture. For her, the option is between using a herbicide just once in the springtime or ten natural treaments during the course of the season. Once you have considered the extra gasoline and petrol fumes for the extra work in the tractor, for Patricia, this outweighs the benefits of natural agriculture. She also explains that the very dry soil on Sicily tends to become as hard as nails if a heavy tractor has to pass through the vines on a regular basis. One treatment early on is better for the overall health of her vineyards apparently.

As for what she looks for in making wine, Patricia doesn’t like her grapes to reach an state of over-ripeness. “Wait just a day too long to harvest the grapes and you find yourself with nothing left to work with!”


As I’m writing this post back in Paris, I’m drinking a bottle of the La Planeta Carricante Sicilia IGT 2011. Despite the name, there is actually 5% of riesling in this wine which gives it a delicious onctuosity. I’m going to be making a basil pesto for dinner this evening… this will be perfect!


DSC07177aSee other blog posts from my visit to Sicily:

Benanti Winery’s use of selected natural yeasts.

More to come… use this tag.

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