The tree bush, an agricultural practice ‘creative and sustainable’ and therefore worthy of international recognition.
Professor Pier Luigi Petrillo
A new and worthy symbol of Italy is the head-trained bush vines of Pantelleria, recognized on November 26, 2014, as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO at a meeting in Paris. It is one of very few examples of an agricultural practice deemed to be an intangible and cultural asset, a wonderful recognition of its value and significance. The island’s bush vines (“vite ad alberello” in Italian) are praised as a model of sustainable viticulture that should be protected, promoted and studied. It is a type of cultivation, introduced here by the Phoenicians and then perfected and passed down over centuries, capable of producing splendid fruit even in extreme conditions, notably frequent powerful winds; in fact, the island of Pantelleria was once called Bent-el-Rhia, an Arabic word that means “daughter of the wind.” In addition, despite scant annual rainfall, the vines here flourish due to regular humidity. For all its rough terrain, the cultivated walled terraces omnipresent on the island’s hillsides have proven to be a masterful way of growing these specific types of vines in this environment, as history has shown.
The “alberello Pantesco,” a phrase referring to the special Pantescan vines and their legacy, was coined by Professor Pier Luigi Petrillo in his report to submission for UNESCO. That phrase is now used to distinguish a creative and sustainable practice, a worthy designation that has since been recognized internationally. Creative because it is based on the “conca,” the cradle of land excavated to in order to accommodate the vines, protect them from the wind and make sure they are nourished by the nightly humidity in a design that gathers moisture and prevents it from dispersing. Creative because the pruning system trains the plant to grow horizontally (instead of upward), allowing the vine to continue its natural growth but in a way better adapted to survive the constant battering of the island winds. It is a sustainable practice because cultivation is completely manual; because the terraces are supported by dry walls delineating the landscape of Pantelleria; and because this layout protects from erosion. The Zibibbo is the principal grape of Pantelleria, used to produce the island’s celebrated passito as well as Pantelleria white wines, both still and sparkling. Zibibbo is a precious vine that is worth the effort and its high price (it costs three times as much as a Sicilian vine) as it is just this vine and this practice of viticulture that contribute to the legacy of this special alberello Pantesco. The inclusion of of the alberello Pantesco as a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity is, for the world of quality wines, an homage to Zibibbo and to wine cultivated with incredible love and energy; but above all, it is an homage to the flagship product of this island of sun and of wind: the passito of Pantelleria.