Count Lucio Tasca d'Almerita, a leader of Sicily's wine renaissance who helped to bring the island's wines to the world stage at his family winery Tasca d'Almerita, died July 25. He was 82.
"Lucio Tasca d'Almerita was one of the main protagonists of Sicilian and Italian viticulture," said Antonio Rallo, CEO of his family's Donnafugata winery, based in western Sicily. "He was undoubtedly among the first to believe in the potential of our island."
Born Jan. 9, 1940, Tasca d'Almerita achieved early success at age 20 as a member of Italy's equestrian team at the 1960 Olympics. But ultimately his studies, including degrees in the classics and in business and economics, prepared him to work with his father running the family's agricultural endeavors on their expansive Regaleali estate, located in north-central Sicily, about 60 miles from Palermo.
Grapegrowing and wine production was a part of Regaleali since its founding in 1830. But the first of the modern-day vineyards were planted in 1954 and young Lucio was a part of some of the winery's early successes during the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1979, after traveling to fine wine regions around the world, he secretly planted four rows each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Tasca d'Almerita's father was adamantly against the production of international varieties—believing instead in Sicily's native varieties. But after a blind tasting of his son's early efforts, the elder Tasca d'Almerita relented, and 1988 was the first vintage release of the winery's Cabernet Sauvignon San Francesco (the latest vintage, the 2017: 92 points, $60).
Thanks to Tasca d'Almerita's secret plantings, he is credited as the first to bring international varieties to Sicily. And he furthered his belief in the potential for high-quality Sicilian wine production by working closely in the coming years with two other Sicilian leaders, Donnafugata's Giacomo Rallo, and Diego Planeta, of his family's Planeta winery.
The trio worked tirelessly to promote the wines of Sicily, but also to improve their quality. The production of quality versions of international varieties from Sicily gained attention in the larger world of wine in the 1990s, but it also allowed Tasca d'Almerita, Rallo and Planeta to better understand how to grow and produce wines of similar caliber from the island's native varieties.
Today international varieties still play a role in Sicilian wine, but many producers have returned to local varieties, and Tasca d'Almerita is particularly well-known for versions from Sicily's Nero d'Avola grape, including the Nero d'Avola-Perricone blend known as the Rosso del Conte (2016: 91, $70).
In 1998 the three friends founded Assovini, a successful organization of wine producers for the promotion of Sicilian wine. And in 2012 these three men, as well as Assovini as a whole, were instrumental in the promotion of the Sicilia appellation from IGT to DOC status.
That same year, Tasca d'Almerita assumed the role of president of the family company. With the help of his sons, Giuseppe and Alberto, the company expanded from the historic Regaleali property to four additional estates spread across Sicily: Capofaro, Tascante, Whitaker and Sallier de la Tour. And throughout his life, Tasca d'Almerita served in leading roles of associations that advocated for Sicilian and Italian wine, receiving numerous accolades and honors for his work.
"Lucio was a gentleman of another time, who knew how to combine beauty and love for this land," said Diego Cusumano, co-owner with his brother Alberto of their family winery, located near Tasca's Sallier de la Tour estate. "Beauty in his way of doing things, beauty in his way of being, beauty in dealing with other producers, [and] love expressed through his wines. [He was a] visionary and one of the lead players in the rebirth of Sicilian wine."
Tasca d'Almerita is survived by his wife, Tea, his four children and eight grandchildren.
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