Since he was a boy, Francesco Spadafora farmed the land near Monreale, Sicily, helping his father raise grapes that were sold in the local co-op. But some 30 years ago he made the bold move to use the family production to make his own wine.
Today the 61-year-old produces some 220,000 bottles of Dei Principi di Spadafora wines, all organically raised and processed, for sale in domestic and international markets.
“I chose organic wine and totally abandoned chemistry in all steps,” he says. “It’s easy to grow grapes and difficult to produce wine, but I decided to make the ethical choice of completely organic wine.”
He even goes through the arduous process of certification that his wine is entirely natural without a trace of artificial substances in its cultivation or production. “You must have a special relationship with the countryside, a love for the land,” he says. “You cannot do this for only economic reasons.”
Guided by his passion and expertise, Francesco spares no effort or expense to produce the finest wines each vintage offers.
His journey from cultivation to actual production started with 10 years of involvement with IRVOS (Istituto Regionale Vini e Oli di Sicilia) to study experimental methods in growing grapes. Francesco’s estate was a laboratory for the organization as he continued to perfect techniques.
Dei Principi di Spadafora now produces white wine from Cataratto, Grillo and Chardonnay grapes, while its reds are made with the Nero d’Avola, Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot varieties. Some 10 workers tend the vines, two work in the cellar and four in the office with General Director Giuseppe Natoli. “It’s top-notch teamwork,” says Francesco.
Handwork, local soils and attention to detail ensure its vintages have a distinctive Sicilian appeal.
The production is bottled and shipped to markets, with one-third of consumers in Sicily, a third in the rest of Italy and a third for export. Its largest overseas markets include Germany, Canada and Russia. Francesco says he would like bigger engagement with American wine aficionados as well.
Dei Principi di Spadafora wines have personality: They are earthy with a taste of the land. “They are strongly linked to the raw materials with a fresh, intense mineral taste,” he says.
And they have won many prizes, confirming that Francesco’s passion, and love of the land and nature, have harvested fine results.
With the Cataratto variety as a base, Dei Principi di Spadafora produces about 70,000 bottles of white wine annually. Its top red is the precious Sole dei Padri vintage of only 7,000 bottles made with Syrah grapes.
Certainly, the estate produces a wide range of quality white, red, rosé and sparkling wines that offer excellent value. The Don Pietro is a classic of the house: a velvety and fruity red full of character, structure and expression. “We focus on quality not quantity,” he says.
The estate is situated on a hill from 250 to 450 meters above sea level whose allure was so strong even ancient Greeks farmed it. Its modern stewards still find testaments to its ancient past, including Byzantine and Roman coins.
The 180 hectare property has 95 hectares of vineyards and 20 hectares of olive trees. “This is an unbelievable place set between Alcamo and Camporeale in the comune of Monreale,” says Francesco.
Monreale, a part of greater Palermo, is noted for its Byzantine-style UNESCO listed cathedral and profound history in ancient, Arab and Norman times. Francesco’s family traces back to a Spanish prince of the 13th century, a baron and a duke who founded the Sicilian lineage and the little town of Spadafora in the province of Messina, hence the name of the wine: Spadafora Princes.
On the estate’s cascading vineyards, the process of picking and selecting grapes also exerts a strong influence on the final taste. “Different locations give the grapes different characteristics,” says the oenologist. Careful curation and attention to detail is reflected in vintages that truly manifest the land itself.
The wines represent the genuine taste of this area of Sicily, expressed through its special terroir, character and historical significance.
And it is the land that continues to draw Francesco. “I don’t take many holidays because the land is always evolving, always changing. Nature never stops talking. It’s intelligent design, continuous life. You cannot shut off nature, like you do with a smartphone. It’s incredible to experience.”
Every year, Dei Principi di Spadafora wines are a distinguished presence at the Vinitaly, Italy’s largest wine trade fair. Wines are available for taste at the FIVI (Italian Federation of Indipendent Winegrowers) pavillon that gathers high-quality and multi-awarded wines
As well, Francesco is a habitué of the Prowein international fair in Dusseldorf.
With a dedication to the unique terroir of his vineyard, the mission of Francesco Spadafora is to create wines that will not only prove worthy of aging, but will also inspire, delight and bring joy to the senses. His wines boast a steady track record for high quality expressions of Sicily’s most important grapes.
To him, wine is a living substance with no preservatives that speaks to all the senses: the eyes, the fingers, the tongue.
A sensory artist, he is a “painter” whose pigment is drawn from the vineyard, his brush from an oak barrel and his entire holistic approach made with great care. There are never two identical wines. “I work to transmit sensations to wine lovers and connoisseurs,” he says.