Giacomo Rallo, the founder of Sicily's Donnafugata and an early leader in the push for premium-quality wine production in the region, died from a heart attack on the morning of May 10. He was 79.
Rallo and his wife, winemaker Gabriella Anca, both came from Marsala-producing families. In 1983, they established Donnafugata winery in historic family cellars located in Marsala. Rallo adopted techniques to improve quality and preserve freshness in his wines. Notably he was one of Sicily's first producers to successfully utilize cold temperature fermentation for white wines, as well as to employ nighttime harvesting.
Later, Rallo collaborated with famed Italian consulting enologist Giacomo Tachis on the production of the winery's Mille e una Notte label, a bottling based on Sicily's Nero d'Avola grape blended with international varieties. In the late1990s he helped to found Assovini Sicilia, an association of producers with a mission to strategically promote Sicilian wine in global markets.
Rallo is survived by his wife and his son Antonio and daughter Josè, who manage the winery today. It includes a cellar and more than 600 acres of vineyards in western Sicily's Contessa Entellina DOC, producing a range of red, white, sparkling and rosé wines, many of which have received outstanding ratings from Wine Spectator over the years. An additional 100 acres of vineyards are planted to Zibbibo on the island of Pantelleria, where Donnafugata's esteemed Ben Ryé dessert wine is produced.