There has been a growing movement in Italy since the 1980s when the government allowed farmers to supplement their income by turning their farms into short-term vacation accommodations. This movement in Italy became known as "agriturismo," which is basically a two-word combination for agriculture and tourism.
Nestled right outside of Corleone, I had the pleasure to visit "Casa Mia" which means "My House" in Italian - a nice little agriturismo in the Sicilian region of Italy. Yes, it is very close to Corleone, the location for the famous "Godfather" movie made famous by Francis Ford Coppola in the 1970s. An interesting fact that many people do not know is that the actual footage was not filmed in Corleone but in another town a few hours away near Messina on the northeastern coast of Sicily.
Mafia myths, reality or legends still run deep in this part of Sicily. Well if you really want to get technical, in all parts of Sicily. Overlooking the rolling hills from the agriturismo the manager indicated to me that the hills had the infamous reputation as being known as a "mafia cemetery." One could only imagine how it received such a notorious distinction. Ah, but if only them there hills could talk. What a tale they could tell.
Below is a picture of the hills of the "mafia cemetery." In the picture you can see some melons in the foreground and some sheep in the background.
One of the nice feelings that you get from staying at an Italian farmstay vacation is that it brings you back to a more simple place and time. All the food is fresh and naturally grown on the premises. This is how we ate up until about 100 years ago. Nowadays with fast food and processed foods we consume in the United States we lose so much of the natural ingredients and flavors in our foods. And when you taste food the way it is supposed to be grown, prepared and served it's like your taste buds become "born again" in almost a religious sense.
Below is a picture of the appetizer we had at lunch at Casa Mia - all the items were grown or milked from the same farm.
It's also a good way to unplug and unwind from your daily grind.
This place is not so easy to find. There are a lot of Sicilian back roads that are off the beat and path, so to speak, that you need to traverse to get there. Even my cousin (who is their photographer), who has been there a few times, had trouble finding the place. I wouldn't rely on any type of GPS or MapQuest. Luckily, they will arrange for a bus to pick you up from either Palermo or Corleone. Many of their guests will come in at the port of Palermo or Falcone-Borsellino airport (PMO) and then arrange for a pickup.
Why Choose an Agriturismo in Italy
Another benefit of staying in an agriturismo is that you can see how they make various food items depending on the type of agriturismo that you choose for your Italian vacation. Some of them will show you how they make wine, cheese, olive oil, etc. In this case, I got to get an up and close personal tour of a Sicilian winery.
When people think of Italian wine they often think of the famous wines from Tuscany and the other northern Italian regions. However, Sicily, with its fertile and volcanic soil, is known to produce an excellent quality wine, especially known for marsala - yes as in chicken marsala. In fact, Sicily is Italy's third largest producer of wine after the northern regions that are home to Venice and Bologna.
Sicily is also known for other dessert wines. The process involves utilizing raisins instead of a mature grape. And of course the region also produces other highly esteemed red wines most notably the Nero d'Dvola, Corvo and Syrah along with the rich volcanic wines grown near Mount Etna.
Many people do not even realize that Sicily produces more wine than Australia and New Zealand combined! Think about that for a second. Australia has a land mass of almost 3 million square miles. It takes a few hours to fly across the country by plane. Sicily has about 10,000 square miles and it takes a few hours to drive across the island by car.
How they Make Wine in Sicily
CAVEAT - I am not a vintner, or someone who makes wine or an expert in this endeavor. There are many ways to make wine and various methods and techniques can be utilized. After all, this is a process that has been refined and perfected over thousands of years. However, below I'll show the basic process as was explained to me by my guide at Casa Mia.
Wine Making Process
The first obvious step is planting the grapes on the plantation. The Sicilian soil is very fertile and hilly and oftentimes rocky which makes it a great place for growing wine-quality grapes. There are tons of minerals in the soil that are conducive to making a high quality wine.
The grapes are then grown and then harvested. This typically occurs in mid-September through October, depending on the climate for that particular year. I was lucky that I visited in September so I got to see the wine production facility in operation.
Below you can see the grape fields just outside of the agriturismo. The grapes in the top of the picture will become some type of white wine. The grapes in the bottom part of the picture will end up becoming a Cabernet Sauvignon.
The harvested grapres are then brought in on a truck and then weighed. Below you can see an image of the weighing station.
Then the grapes will get cleaned and of course any rotten ones will not be utilized. Then they undergo a de-stemming process and are crushed. Nowadays the crushing takes place with high-tech machines although in the old days it was done "a piedi" or by foot. The stems and other remnants are then used as fertilizer for the next planting. As you can see everything is used and recycled back to nature!
Yeast can sometimes be added to aid in the fermentation process which turns the sugar of the grape into alcohol. Or sometimes there is enough natural yeast to aid in fermentation.
Generally speaking, with red wines the skin is used during the fermentation process to give the wine its red color. If white wine is being produced, the skins are not utilized in the wine production. However, the white grape skins are then shipped to Naples where they are used in the production of grappa which is an after-dinner liqueur that is very similar to moonshine.
The fermentation will occur in giant stainless steel vats.
Picture of Stainless Steel Vats used in Wine Production
Then the wine is stored in oak barrels in the cantina and it'll continue to ferment and age. The barrel will even further add to the complexity of the taste.
After the storage in the barrels it is time for the wine to get bottled. Below in this picture you can actually see the bottling plant. These machines can handle 4,000 bottles per hour. That comes down to about 66 per minute. More than one every second! Below are pictures of the wine bottling phase of the operation along with placing the label on the wine bottle.
This next picture below shows a closeup of the label. This is actually a Syrah wine. Principe di Corleone is the producer.
And then after the bottling process is complete the wines are packaged in containers and then shipped to the various markets, restaurants, etc. for consumption.
Here are the wines prior to being shipped to the purchaser:
This whole process from start to finish can take about five years before the winery sees any cash from the sale of wine. It's not a business for amateurs and it's obvious that the wine business has a lot of barriers to entry. It's amazing that we can find bottles of wine as inexpensive as they are considering the amount of labor, love and risk that goes into the production.
It was such a delight to get to spend the day at the agriturismo. To savor the delicious food and wine that is grown right in front of you is such an enjoyable experience that I'll never forget. The place is also frequented by people from different parts of the world, including the US, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, etc. It's a good place to meet people from different cultures.
If you plan on going to Casa Mia in Corleone you can call them at 091-846-2922 or 091-846-3512. Or feel free to contact me and I will let them know you will be arriving. They will welcome you with open arms. Another alternative for finding good agriturismo residences in Italy is by going through this link.
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Below you will find a couple of pictures for Casa Mia - one is a pool on the premises for relaxation and one is of the grounds.