Elemental. That’s what I call Pantelleria. All 32 sq. miles of it all on it’s own in the Sicily channel between Trapani and Tunisia. Swept in wildness from constant strong winds, it breathes the scent of all things Medditeranean; fennel, rosemary, mertle, caper, fig, olive, cactus, lavender and grapes. Everything here grows low to the ground as if taking cover..hiding to survive. ‘The island is ‘strong’; what the Italians mean by ‘forte’. A person can be ‘forte’, but it’s said more in context of personality. The island dictates what you do. We are subordinate.’ says Giovanni Matta. ‘It decides what you do and what you don’t do. The wind will chew you up and spit you out. If you can handle it, then you can stay’.

Once out of range of the wind, plants are nurtured in the rich volcanic soil. The roots drink
up the night’s humidity and survive without even being watered. An ancient tradition covers small vulnerable plants with cactus leaves, creating protection and a succulent environment for the plant to thrive. It’s a tough love approach, but the concentrated flavors speak for themselves. Vines are dwarfed and olive tree branches are trained to hang low weighted by rocks tied on strings. Stone walls terrace the land and within these borders, ancient agrarian customs still live. There is no fishing.

I don’t profess to understand anything, but what I picked up on my sense radar by spending 5 hours roaming around with a friend of a friend. He took very good care to show me the best views of the island such as the lake ‘specchio di venere’ (mirror of venus) with the sea beyond. It wasn’t hard to appreciate her beauty. She’s like a woman who doesn’t shave her legs. She’s a bit wild but her essence is pure. I have been a fan of her wine for years. Grapes are dried to raisins, then pressed into what’s called a ‘passito’. ‘Passito di Pantelleria’. It’s a bit like a kiss on the lips. Sweet, but soft and smooth like honey.

I saw caper bushes that looked like bonzai trees.I had only seen them growing out of rocks and sides of mountains; never cultivated. The caper is a plant with round sturdy leaves and
plump buds before flowering. It presents itself usally cascading from a rock wall. Once the buds are harvested in can be brined or left in salt. The sea air and particular climate of the island makes for coveted capers. No Mediterranean dish would be the same without it.

I had taken an early flight from Pisa to arrive in Trapani at 7:30 am. I took the 8:45 to Pantelleria and stayed for half a day and caught the last flight back. It was rather dream like but I travel willingly in an out of strong territories without much a do.

I fall in love easily. But it’s not hard when the essence of a place is so tangible it practically welcomes you with open arms as if it was waiting for you. I ingested it through my eyes and through my feeling body..but I left without even tasting a thing. The sea air and smells of fresh herbs stimulated my appetite but there was no way to stop and eat anything even though we had an invitation from a wine producer. The timing was off. Instead we roamed
the small island dotted with stone houses and breathtaking views. I left hungry to return and hungry to eat something!

Wine maker Francesco Spadafora, picked me up and took me to Virzi; his estate with 600 acres of vines an hour west of Palermo. He brought me a grilled prosciutto sandwich with a sprinkle of aged pecorino and a dash of lemon. It was presented in a pot with a lid so it would stay warm. A proper glass was brought to drink water from. Hail to the virgo Prince!

I crawled into bed for a late afternoon rest to sleep off the lack of sleep the night before. I hardly remember closing my eyes. I awoke to spendor and a glass of Francesco’s first ever single variety Grillo. It grabbed my attention like that of a Monarch. Rich..elegant… I bow to Francesco for his great effort of leaving things be and listening to what his wines want to be instead of forcing them.. and to introducing me to Giovanni for an afternoon roaming the wilds of low-lying Pantelleria.

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