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Sicilian wine legend Diego Planeta dies

Many tributes have been paid to Diego Planeta, a pioneer of modern winemaking in Sicily, who has died.

Sicilian wine has lost one of its ‘founding fathers’, said regional councillor for agriculture Edy Bandiera, following news that Diego Planeta has died aged 80.

Planeta will be remembered as a key figure in modern winemaking history in Sicily, helping to improve quality and significantly enhance the reputation of the island’s wines.

Massimiliano Giansanti, president of Italian farming confederation Confagricoltura, described Planeta’s death as ‘an unbridgeable loss, not only for the world of wine, but for all those who believe in the strength and courage of entrepreneurship’.

He said that everyone was with the Planeta family ‘at this sad moment’.

Born in Palermo on Sicily in 1940, Planeta started working on his family’s agricultural lands in 1960 after having gained a degree in oenology.

From there, he played a central role in the emergence of the Settesoli wine cooperative, eventually serving as president of the organisation from 1973 right up until 2011.

During this time, Planeta worked to rejuvenate and modernise viticulture and winemaking in Sicily, having also sought advice and help from Giacomo Tachis, another key figure in the development of Italian wine in the 20th century.

In a story that is as much about economic transformation as winemaking skill, Settesoli today encompasses 2,000 winemakers and 6,000 hectares of vineyards.

‘Thanks to his guidance and intuition, today, in this strip of coast of Sicily, there is a unique story to tell, made up of men, vineyards and ideas,’ said Settesoli in a tribute to its former president today (22 September).

Planeta also worked to create wines at his family estate; a winery was completed in 1995 and the first wine launched was Chardonnay, highlighting Planeta’s interest in testing international grape varieties in Sicily.

From 1989, Planeta had recruited help from Italian winemaker Carlo Corino, who had experience of working in Australia and was subsequently considered instrumental in both the Planeta winery project and improvements at Settesoli.

While the Planeta family wine estate was in its infancy, Diego also served as president of the Regional Institute of Vine and Wine from 1985 to 1992.

To mark his contribution to both private enterprise and collective wealth, he received an honorary degree in agricultural science and technology from the University of Palermo in 2004.

‘An award given to the farmer, not to the businessman, the knight or the noble man,’ said Settesoli in its tribute to Planeta this week.

‘It was how he felt, how he defined himself. This showed his respect for the land, for the men who cultivated it with hard work and pride, his muddy car, his emotion at the first load of grapes arriving in the cellar, his ability to listen to the rhythm of the seasons.’

Planeta was also awarded the Cavalieri del Lavoro, or ‘Order of Merit for Labour’.

Giuseppe Bursi, president of Cantine Settesoli, said, ‘Today Cantine Settesoli has certainly lost a charismatic figure and an important chapter in its history, because Diego Planeta represents the history of this winery. His teachings and his intuition are the roots and the outline of our future.’

Planeta remains a family-owned wine group, having expanded to include several wineries across Sicily. It has also increased its research and promotion of indigenous Italian and Sicilian grape varieties, from Nero d’Avola to Carricante.

Charting its family history, the group says on its website, ‘Diego contributed as chief mover in the wine making renaissance of Sicily, transforming it into a huge experimental laboratory with illustrious advisers such as Giacomo Tachis, Carlo Corino, Giampaolo Fabris and Attilio Scienza.’

See also: 

Italian wine ‘father’ Giacomo Tachis dies (2016)

Etna: A rising force (Premium)

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