Our memories of Giacomo Rallo
This morning, the world of wine is mourning the sudden passing away of Giacomo Rallo. He was a leading figure in Sicilian vinegrowing and winemaking, not just because of the old family tradition in the sector in Marsala, but mainly for having set up that little gem Donnafugata with his wife Gabriella, in 1983. The winery immediately became a reference point for quality Sicilian wines. The funeral will be held in Marsala Cathedral tomorrow, 11th May, at 4 p.m.
Giacomo Rallo before Donnafugata
When I met Giacomo Rallo, in March 1981, the Donnafugata adventure was yet to begin. The occasion was the “mass transfer” (over 150 people), promoted by Pino Khail and Civiltà del bere, of much of the Italian wine world to New York for the opening of the Italian Trade Commission’s new wine shop on Park Avenue. At the time, Giacomo was trying to work out how to start again independently after the transfer of the historic family brand. A later trip to California was useful for learning new methods for producing quality wines, especially in hot climates like in Sicily, including cold technology and the use of barriques. Thanks to his wife Gabriella’s winery in the Contessa Entellina area, Giacomo decided that the time had come to dive into this new adventure. Since then, the path Donnafugata has followed has been littered with success, also thanks to his daughter José and his son Antonio entering the winery, with high-quality wines produced both at Contessa Entellina and Pantelleria, where the winery went ashore in 1989 and created the extraordinary natural dried-grape wine, Ben Ryé.
Always looking to the future
Born in 1937, a law graduate and Cavaliere since 2006, Giacomo Rallo was a typical Sicilian: cultured, ironic, friendly, open, impossible not to be his friend.
In the past 35 years, since that time in March 1981 in New York, we have met several times at events in Italy and abroad, and the conversation would inevitably turn from wine to Sicily in general; Giacomo knew that, though I am Tuscan, I always had a special affinity with his island. I would like to remember him here, with his enthusiastic intervention in defence of the bush vine training system in Pantelleria at a conference at Passitaly in October last year, and with a hug a few weeks ago at Vinitaly. It is a huge loss, because Giacomo Rallo was one of the pioneers of the modern Sicilian wine business and a man who knew how to perfectly combine tradition and innovation in an environment that had been tied to the past for too long. With José and Antonio, Donnafugata will continue in good hands, but Giacomo’s death will deprive the whole Sicilian production sector of a mind that always looked to the future.
Photo taken by Fabio Gambina