DONNAFUGATA-wines - respect for heritage, nature and quality

Wines play greater roles instead of being just a drink! Wines extend as far as over 9000 years, and since then they have been with us comforting and gratifying us, greatly complementing experience with versatile food! In Sicily one can sense, taste and coexist this with enjoyment! One can relive this through wines from Donnafugata vineyards, wineries and wines. Donnafugata has a history as wineproducing Rallo family since 1851 starting in Marsala, and now fifth generation has taken the lead to develop the company. Donnafugata’s values reflect the essence of holistic touch in the winewold; sustainability, quality and joy of life!

Fleeing woman -sign, woman's face with hair in the wind, symbolise Gabriella Rallo who found ”refuge” in Contessa Entellina in 1983, when changing her career from teacher to wine business. Giacomo Rallo, founder of Donnafugata, and Gabriella, his wife, started and broadened their winebusiness in Contessa Entellina. Their focus was to invest in fine wines instead of bulk wines, and nowadays Donnafugata produces tailor-made wines focusing on small, prestigious productions from unique territories and vineyards.

These days Donnafugata is working in Sicily in five wineareas; Marsala, Contessa Entellina, Vittoria, Etna and Pantelleria. There they have totally 467 hectares of vineyards and in all wineareas they have cellars to carry out vinification and ageing process with the wines. According to their principles Donnafugata stands for sustainability, respecting environment, chemical free viticulture on vineyards, quality and creative vinification in cellars. They respect artisanal and creative impact with the wines and have 10 native grape varieties in production. One visible presence, that is Donagugata’s trademark in broader impact, can be seen through dialogue with art, concerning first labels on wine bottles and expanding to other products.

A sample of Donnafugata wines consisting of distinguished wines and their grapes, most of them indigenous Sisilian and other respected grapes. Anthìlia (grape Lucido (Catarratto)), Bell’Assai (grape Frappato), Sul Vulcano Etna Rosso (grapes Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio), Mille e una Notte (grapes Nero d’Avola, Petit Verdot, Syrah and others), Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria (grape Zibibbo/Muscat of Alexandria).

                                                            CONTESSA ENTELLINA

Contessa Entellina welcomes vistors in beautiful and colourful courtyard, where they can have first perception about winehouse and taste small tidbits with Donnafugatas sparkling wine. Daintly entrée!

Contessa Entellina is the place where Donnafugata was born in 1983, continuing and developing old family winesaga starting in 1851. Vineyards are situated in the heart of south-western Sicily, among the hills of Contessa Entellina. The climate is Mediterranean, dry and windy summers, mild winters and strong temperature variations between day and night. Terrain in hilly, altitude between 200 to 600 meters. Soil is loamy-claye and partial limestone consisting of nutritious elements. Annual rainfall is 670 mm, concentrated in autumn and wintertime.

In Contessa Entellina visitors have opportunity to learn more about viticulture and vinification by lead of the winemaker. In the beginning winemaker gives breaf introduction inside winery about vinification. Outside in the vineyard discussion and briefing continues about vines and grapes. One interesting detail about Donnafugata’s activity concerning environment and its welfare is to see company’s solution for integrated pest management and precision viticulture. For that they gather realtime information about climatic parameters (precipitation, temperature etc.) combined with information from pheromone traps. So they can minimize the use of crop protection products and protect the plant and animal biodiversity in the vineyard.

One essential part of winery visit is to taste some company’s wines. The selection varies according to season, grapes, vintages or novelties. In tasting La Fuga (grape Chardonnay), Chiarandà (grape Chardonnay), Sherazade (grape Nere d’Avola), Mille e una Notte (grapes Nero d’Avola, Petit Verdot, Syrah and others), Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria (grape Zibibbo/Muscat of Alexandria).
     In Contessa Entellina the winearea is totally 322 hectares in 9 different contrades, differing in soil, altitude, exposure and microclimates. Making it possible to have different kinds of wines using and utilizing the background and variations of their 19 grape varieties from different contrades.


Acate in Vittoria is a special kind of valley where vines have benefit against heat through thermal breezes. Tommaso Bellisola from Donnafugata illustrates how thermal breezes arise, become apparent and vary.

Donnafugata’s winearea in Vittoria is located in Acate, south-eastern Sicily. Investing in Vittoria in 2016 gave Donnafugata opportunity to expand their production with soft red wines. Climate condition and terroir on the area give optimal conditions for vines to produce fruity grapes rich in nuances. Altitude is quite low varying from 120 meters to 150 meters. Terrain in semi-hilly and slopes are exposuring south-east. There are 4-5 different kinds of soils; sandy, clay, calcareous giving porous and fertile substance to the ground. Temperature is warm and quite windy. Average rainfall is around 430 mm per year.

The vineyards in Acate area have favourable position towards the wind. Situated between the sea and the Iblei mountains there exists a kind of ventilated tunnels, where vines benefits from fresh, cooling winds. These thermal breezes occurs when there is a significant temperature difference between the cooler surface of the sea and the warmer land. The warm air is lighter than the cold air and will rise, and the maritime air will replace it. Thermal wind changes during the day according the rotation of the sun, and it is more obvious on the south exposed coasts.

Donnafugata has new winehouse in Acate, Cantina di Vittoria, built according to sustainable architecture. That opens opportunities to better and quality vinification as well as wine promotions and tastings. In tasting with Bell’Assai (grape Frappato), Contesa de Venti (grape Nero d’Avola), Mille e una Notte (grapes Nero d’Avola, Petit Verdot, Syrah and others).

In Acate Donnadugata have 42 hectares under vines in three (3) different districts. They have two grape varieties to plant, namely Frappato, Nero d’Avola. Those two grapes made the basis for Vittoria area when it got the first and only DOCG-classification in Sicily; the Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The wines under DOCG must have the combination that contains both Nero d’Avola 50 ─ 70 % and Frappato 30 ─ 50%.

The Etnean Alberello training system is old, historical uniqueness in Etna that is starting in use again.

Etna wine area was Donnafugata’s expansion to Eastern Sicily in 2016. They find original and natural place in Randazzo on the northern side of Etna. Area is protected from cold winds by the natural barrier of the Nebrodi mountains. Soil is sandy and volcanic due to black sciare, which are lava accumulaitons during volcanic eruption. It takes very long time for lava to alter into the soil through chemical prosesses and make that special micro-territory unique for vinegrowing. This interaction between soil and climate gives grapes special texture and minerality. Altitude where vineyards locates varies between 730 – 750 meters. Climate is continental where its raining and snowing during autumn and winter. Temperatures are mild in spring time, but during summer the variations between night and day are strong, giving freshness and aromatic texture to grapes.

Vines grow on terraces where excisting microterroirs make optimal conditions for vine growing. One of the pecularities concerning the vines is the Etnean Alberello training system. Most of the vinegrowers use still common Guyot system, but the old traditional training system is taking place again. Etnean Alberello is seeking for equilibrium where a vineyard can survive on its own with nutritious, water and energy. Vines are planted in quincunx rows close to together in Vertical Shoot Position, where vine shoots are trained upward in a vertical, narrow row. This gives every plant enough sunshine allowing maximum exposure to direct and indirect sunlight, coming from the refraction of the ground. In the Alberello vineyard leafs are on the top and the fruiting zone, grapes, below. With the traditional Alberello system vines are forced to push roots deeper and thus take advantage of the mineral constituents as well as water found in the deeper layers of the soil. In the Alberello vineyard traditional materials are used in the training, like chestnut posts tyed together with vines to support them.

Etna gives unique and strong impact to wines that have been made in the area. Donnafugata have 35 hectares under vines in seven (7) different contrades. Grapes that are familar to Etna Nort are being used, like Carricante, Nerello Mascalese, some of them from over 80 years old vines. In tasting with Fragore (grape Nerello Mascalese), Dea Vulcano (grapes Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio), Sul Vulcano Etna Bianco (grape Carricante), Sul Vulcano Etna Rosato (grape Nerello Mascalese).


Conche and lava stones walls on teracces are essential for cultivating vines in Pantelleria.

Pantelleria is an island of sun and wind in the Mediterranean sea, between Sicily and Tunisia. Originally name has arabic meaning, standing for ”daughter of winds”. Winearea is low mountainous terrain within 20 ─ 400 meters, soil is sandy and volcanic origin with limestone. Island is known as Unesco World Heritage concerning for recovered dry lava stone walls, which are used to border and shelter plantations against extreme heat conditions and sirocco wind. Climate is generally mild with gentle rain, some 460 mm per year.

In pantelleria viticulture, work with vines, is varied. One speciality is low bush vines (alberello pantesco), which are cultivated inside ”conche”, a kind of low hole which can gather some humidity during day and night. Vines are cultivated on small terraces that are bordered by lava stones. All this means that all work in vineyards is done by hand.

At the end, as a result, dry, dried Zibibbo-grapes reward hard work through very intense, aromatic and fruity bouquet of sweet wine.

Since 1999 Donnafugata have had vines under 68 hectares in 16 different contrades. Zibibbo, Muscat de Alexandria, is the only grape and there are several ungrafted zibibbo plants that are over 100 years old. Grape is originated from North Africa and it is used to make natural sweet aromatic wines. Zibibbo is Zabib in arabic language meaning dry grapes. During the drying process outdoors grape loses water over half of its weight, and instead will have great concentration of sugar and profound aromatic nyances. Donnafugata has two wines cultivated in Pantelleria, iconic Ben Ryé and fruity Kabir.


Donnafugata’s premises in Marsala are the starting place for Rallo’s family business in 1851. Before wines they produced Marsala liquors. Nowadays the property preserves and reflects the typical Mediterranean house layout. On the other hand historic family cellars are in real use for excample refining the wines that come from company’s other estates. In winery they have opportunities for winemaking through different ageing methods; bottles, concrete, steel and wood, depending on grapes, vintage and aims. In Marsala Donnafugata complies with their principles in sustainability, reducing energy, water and CO2 emission. One visible sign is underground barrique cellar that was built in 2007 and carved into the calcarenite rock. It helps reducing energy and helps with controlling temperature and humidity.

Text: Heikki Remes, wineman from Finland, borrowing some text from Donnafugata pages
Photos: Donnafugata, Miriam, Heikki Remes, Juhani Kainulainen

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