- Sicily, Italy
“I was born in Sicily and there man is born an island within an island and remains so until his death, even living far from his harsh native land surrounded by an immense and jealous sea.”
It’s difficult to imagine that Nino Barraco would have ever made wine outside of his homeland of Marsala. He is a dreamer, but a rememberer. He is full of ideas, but he prefers clear ideas, the ones that put down roots, or the ones already rooted in tradition. Before being put into practice they are tested over time, with years of observation. It’s the vineyard that usually dictates whether something new emerges. “What can I really tell you? Our strength is agriculture,” he says.
He is the son of farmers—“not winemakers”—who sold just-fermented base wine to large Marsala houses. His parents’ and grandparents’ generations saw the steep decline of Marsala the place and Marsala the wine. Once the second-wealthiest city in Italy and one of the first to be industrialized, it has since seen its vineyard plantings decrease by 45% and its wine production by almost 40%. Of the 50,000 hectoliters of Marsala DOC produced today, only 3-4% is bottled—the rest is shipped off as bulk cooking wine for the food industry.
Nino blazed his own path starting with the 2004 vintage, rigorously organic from the start, producing single-vineyard, monovarietal, mostly white wines of real character, highlighting the sunny, but fresh and salty imprint of this seaside, high-limestone terroir. In the beginning the wines had little to no maceration. From 2008-2012, the wines became fairly orange, as Nino interpreted a different side of his land. Since then he has steadily dialed back the macerations, returning to the origins of his career. The range feels as complete and resonant as ever.
Nino has never made a Marsala DOC wine, but he is Marsalese and there is no escaping the current of history. He is among a handful of winemakers producing and advocating for a “Pre-British” style of wine, the purposely oxidative “vino perpetuo” that had been made in the area for centuries, long before the merchant John Woodhouse began fortifying it, sweetening it, and exporting it. Nino’s Altogrado, made from a single vintage and aged oxidatively for at least seven years, made its debut in 2009. It’s a seemingly eternal wine, with a million affinities at the table, from oysters to dessert. For Nino, “the future is oxidative,” and he has nearly completed a new ground-level cellar built expressly for the purpose of making and aging oxidative wines from varieties other than Grillo. These are complex and heady wines that are also culturally substantive.
Nino is also part of, perhaps the ringleader of, Halarà, a joint farming and winemaking adventure with his friends Stefano Amerighi, Francesco de Franco (‘A Vita), Corrado Dottori (La Distesa), Giovanni Scarfone (Bonavita), and Francesco Ferreri (Tanca Nica). Together they saved a 2ha vineyard of Parpato and Catarratto that Nino remembers being planted when he was four years old.
We humbly welcome Barraco to the Bowlersphere!