An interview with Antonio Rallo, President of Consorzio di Tutela della DOC Sicilia
Antionio Rallo has been immersed in Italian vineyards since he was three years old. From doing his homework in a winery, to becoming President of Consorzio Tutela Vini Doc Sicilia, Antonio Rallo has a lifetime of experience in the Sicilian wine market.
Can you tell us a bit about your career journey?
I started my experience as a three-year-old accompanying my grandfather to the vineyards and cellars. At the age of six I did my homework in the main building of the Marsala winery, coincidently where I have my office today. I was allowed to walk around the cellar and talk to the cellar master once I was finished. Then, between the ages of 12 and 15, I started to spend my afternoons in the vineyards helping to prune and harvest – experiencing the winemaking process for the first time. It was therefore a natural decision at age 18 to study Agronomy and Winemaking at the University of Palermo.
During this time at university, I was lucky enough to gain a lot of experience abroad in Germany, Switzerland and England, as well as the United States, Canada and Japan – where I met with leading figures in the wine trade and some of the best international wine critics. Before immersing myself completely in winemaking for Donnafugata, I also lived in Germany for one year, developing my skills by working for an importing company and broadening my knowledge of wines from around the world. Today, together with my sister José, I am the CEO and co-owner of Donnafugata, the company founded by our parents, Giacomo and Gabriella.
Outside of the company, I have held different positions including Chairman of Assovini Sicilia (2011-2014), an association of the most important wine producers in Sicily, Chairman of the Federazione Nazionale Viticoltori e Produttori di Vino (2013-2016, Italian Federation of Vine Growers and Wine Makers) and president of Unione Italiana Vini (2016-2017), the main national association of wine sector companies. In 2012 I was also elected Chairman of the Consorzio di Tutela della DOC Sicilia (consortium for the protection of DOC Sicilia): a position I still hold today. Growing up amongst vineyards and wineries, I have always been driven by a passion for Sicily, and the desire to implement an innovative interpretation of the wine-growing potential offered by this land.
What would you say is special about Sicilian wines and what do you think makes Nero d’Avola, Grillo and the other varietals attractive for international wine markets?
The strong regional appeal and very good price to quality ratio of Sicilian wines allows us to reach new, young and educated consumers in markets where the consumption of quality wine has only recently been introduced. Since there is an increasing demand for regional wines and indigenous grape varieties, Grillo and Nero D’Avola are very popular, as are wines coming from volcanic areas like Etna or Pantelleria. Consumers want to recognise a name whether it is through strong grape-related characteristics or through regional influence.
Can you tell us a little about the mission of the Consorzio and why the Sicilian wine industry has created a regional appellation?
The Consorzio DOC Sicilia has been committed to the promotion of the Doc Sicilia brand since its establishment. We are confident that, in order to compete with the challenges of a global market, it is necessary to inform consumers and experts in the wine sector about the origins, characteristics and individualities of Doc Sicilia wines. Since the main strength for the island’s producers is the name Sicily, known to most global markets, Doc Sicilia has become the common denominator for the island’s most famous DOC wines and for all Sicilian wine companies. In addition, the DOC allows producers and consumers to benefit from the quality controls that are implemented on all our wines.
Consorzio DOC Sicilia has been investing in promotional activities in the US market for the last few years. What were your reasons for this?
The Consorzio invested in promotional activities in the US because it is the largest market in the world for wine consumption, yet Sicily was not well known as a wine-growing region by its consumers.
What are the next steps of your Consorzio? Which markets seem to be interesting for Sicilian wines, according to your experience?
We aim to strengthen our presence in the most important markets and to pay attention to those where there are encouraging signs of growth.
Primarily, the target market remains the US. However, a lot of our focus will remain on China, which despite being a relatively young market shows great interest in our wines. Recently, we have participated with Ice Pechino and Vinitaly International Academy (VIA) in Tasting Lab and masterclasses in several Chinese cities. From 2020 we will also start investing in Canada.
Finally, what is your favourite wine and why?
Sicily is a real wine continent, capable of developing a varied range of flavours, aromas and fragrances that can satisfy all palates. I personally love both the intensity of some of our soft and elegant red wines that have made Sicily an icon of style in the wine world, and fresher and more rounded whites which make ideal dinner companions. Particularly Nero d’Avola, Frappato, Grillo or Catarratto also known as Lucido.
Please contact Pierpaolo Penco, Italy Country Manager, for further information about this interview or any future projects.