Giusto Occhipinti of COS is a benchmark producer in the Vittoria appellation of Sicily, and certainly one of the most important and influential producers in all of Sicily if not Italy as a whole. The winery was founded in 1980 by three friends, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano. The initials of their last names form the winery’s name.
The winery itself dates back to the 1880’s during a period in which there was huge demand for Sicilian wines. Phylloxera had already devastated many of the world’s top wine growing regions but it had not yet reached the island. Sicily has a long history of winemaking, dating back to the 8th century BC when the Greeks first planted grapes in the eastern part of the Island. It is only more recently though that true top quality wines and winemaking have arrived there. It was through the hard work and dedication of producers such as COS who showed the potential of Sicily’s terroir and drew attention to the island, especially its ability to produce complex, pure and fresh wines, despite its location at the very southern tip of Italy.
This freshness and balance are helped by the soils in the Vittoria region which are blessed with limestone substrates under 1-2 feet of red clay. For Giusto, “the vineyard is like our life’s savings in the bank, so we must protect it.” Protecting it means that they work organically and biodynamically in order to support the health of the soil. In fact, they have never used any synthetic or chemical additives in the vineyard since the outset in 1980. Officially, the winery was an early practitioner of Biodynamic viticulture starting in 2000, and were certified (Organic) as of 2007. The climate of Vittoria is also generally warm and dry making it well-adapted to organic & biodynamic viticulture. Giusto and his vineyard team also prepare many of the Biodynamic treatments in house, though a few are purchased elsewhere from small, reputable sources for these important products.
As a goal, Giusto seeks to have the transparency of the soil conveyed into the wines themselves. To that end, he did extensive research on aging vessels and eventually decided on a combination of 440-liter clay amphorae sourced from Spain, large neutral botti and concrete tanks (used mostly for the Frappato). Clay is porous like oak but has the advantage that it imparts less flavor to the wine than do even large, neutral casks. All aging at the winery is done in one of these vessels. Stainless steel is used only for assembling wines prior to bottling. Extended skin contact is used for many of the wines, including whites. Giusto believes that the skins act as a natural preservative thus permitting the use of lower doses of sulfur. Little or no sulfur is used in the vinifications with only a minimal addition at bottling.
COS is probably best known for their Cerasuolo di Vittorio as well as the Pithos Rosso, a Cerasuolo di Vittoria aged exclusively in amphora instead of oak. They also make a single-vineyard Cerasuolo from the best parcel, Della Fontana. Pithos Bianco, made from the Grecanico grape, a local variety of Garganega (of Soave fame), aged and fermented in amphora, is unique.