It takes guts to uproot yourself and start a new venture in a secluded and remote location—a desert, no less. But that's exactly what Christian Giacometti did in 1987. Purchasing vines planted in northern Corsica in 1966, he founded a winery within the arid Agriates Desert, a protected site bordering the Mediterranean Sea practically untouched by human development. Benefiting from cool sea breezes, the vineyards thrive without chemical fertilizers, and are hand-harvested. Domaine Giacometti is the only estate in the Patrimonio appellation where Sciaccarello coexists with Nielluccio, Grenache, and Vermentino. Challenged by hot, arid conditions, these vines seek nutrients deep underground in clay and rocky granite soils. 

Today, Giacometti works the estate with his children, Sarah and Simon, who will gradually take over the reins, continuing the tradition of crafting quality Corsican wines. Sarah Giacometti stopped by Grape Collective to chat about making wine in such a rugged and isolated environment.

Lisa Denning: Merci for joining us today. Can you give us a brief history of your winery? 

Sarah Giacometti: We live in the village of Les Agriates in the north of Corsica. We work as a family. My father is still there, and my brother Simon. I think my father will always be there, even if he is retired. Then we adopted two others, Maëlle, who works in the cellar with Simon, and Erwan, who works in the vineyards. So we are four people working together.

What is the philosophy of winemaking at the estate? 

We started working on organic winemaking a few years ago. We have a land that deserves it, and it is important to preserve the wealth of the territory. "Les Agriates" is a very rich place. It is a historical place of Corsican culture. But above all, it is very natural. The sea is right next to it. As the crow flies, we must be about 3 km from the sea. So, it seems normal to work in organic agriculture to preserve our lands. And anyway, nature does things very well. There is a lot of wind, and the soil is very dry, so there is no point in working otherwise than in organic agriculture. It is important for us. 

Can you tell me about the terroir of Corsica as a wine-producing island and then specifically about your vineyards? 

The terroir on Corsica is very diverse. Corsica is a small island, but there are mountains and the sea. We have many very different terroirs. We have a lot of granite. We have a little bit of schist on some plots. We also have a plot that is a little bit clayey. The richness of Corsica is precisely that. These terroirs can be totally different, at very little distance. 

Near us, in the Cap Corse, there is a lot of wind. There is a little less on the plain of Corsica, but at home, we have a lot of wind, which helps control diseases of the vine. So, we have very little preventive treatment. It's pretty good, but maybe there could be a little less wind as sometimes it can be a little too much. 

Can you tell me about the grape varieties that you cultivate? 

In our vineyards, we mainly have Nielluccio. It is the dominant grape variety of the AOC Patrimonio. It makes all our reds in the AOC. We have 90% of Nielluccio for the reds and about 70% for the rosés. Then we have Vermentino. Then we have a lot of  Sciaccarello, which my grandfather had planted. At the time, he vinified it as a red, but now we do a lot of rosés with Sciaccarello. We have a particular wine called "Sempre Cuntentu" with 100%  Sciaccarello. We also have a little bit of Grenache, which we make cuvées with, depending on what the grapes give us. My father planted Syrah a few years ago because he loves Syrah a lot. He wanted to see what it gave on our terroirs. It wasn't easy in the first years, but now it's starting to produce well, and it's been planted well. But we see that Syrah wasn't necessarily the seedling that was present in Corsica. We see it's a seedling that we brought back because it had much more trouble than the others.

I've heard that the trend in Corsica is to rip out many of the international varieties planted by previous generations and replant them with indigenous varieties. Can you tell me about your experience?

It's quite different for us because we've always had old seedlings. The seedlings we have now are old Corsican seedlings. These are seedlings that have been forgotten for a while. There are a few that are back in fashion. At the moment, we work with native seedlings like Nielluccio or Sciaccarello. We don't plan to plant other seedlings. For the moment, we'll stick to ours. But it's true that some seedlings that have been forgotten for a while are coming back. They're still Corsican seedlings.

What do you think makes Corsican wines different from other island wines? 

In Corsica, we have similarities with the other islands' seedlings. For example, in Italy, in Sardinia, we can find similarities. The advantage on an island is that we have a lot of diversity. That's the advantage of Corsica. It's the diversity that we can have. In a few kilometers, everything can change. For example, in our region, the Sciaccarello has a well-defined expression that will be completely different in the south of Corsica. I think that's what makes us rich. It's what makes us different from other great terroirs, like Bordeaux, where there is a little less diversity than in our region.

How would you describe the style of your wines to someone who's never tasted them before? 

It's been a few years since we've worked with my brother. We chose to work with indigenous yeast. It's the terroir that expresses itself. Our wines have no additions; it's only the work of the vine. That's what makes the difference. The terroir expresses itself through the grapes. Since we practice organic agriculture, we let the terroir express itself through the grapes. It's important for us to preserve the richness of the terroir and to make it express itself as best as possible.

Can you tell us a few Corsican dishes that go well with your wines? 

We're lucky to have different grape varieties so we make wines that are very different from each other and can have quite varied dishes. With Vermentino, of course, we eat more fish. Surprisingly, we don't eat as much fish despite the fact that it's an island. We have more structured wines, with a little more tannin, like the "Cru des Agriate" or the "Cuvée Sarah," where we're going to be able to eat meat, red meat, or saucy dishes that are a little stronger. Or with the Sciaccarello, also in red, our Cuvée "Sempre Cuntentu," where we're going to be able to eat meat that's a little lighter, white meat, for example, like chicken, or even lamb, or meat that's a little less strong. So, at the end, on our range, we can have a lot of different dishes to associate with our wines, since we have different grape varieties and wines that are expressed differently.

Read more by Lisa Denning on Corsican wine: "Domaine D'Alzipratu and The Unique Wines of Corsica."

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