The Climate and Soils of Sicily

  • By Jacky Blisson MW
  • 24 Mar 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 301
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Sicily Vineyard Agrigento - Credit : Wines of Sicilia DOC

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, spanning over 25,000 square km. The region’s varied topography and geographical features, its diverse soils, and beneficial climate allow a multitude of grape varieties to thrive here.

A Hilly And Mountainous Landscape

Sicily’s terrain is predominantly hilly and mountainous, with a mere 14% of flat lands. It is home to Europe’s highest active volcano, Mount Etna, which towers above the island’s other peaks at 3,350 m.

A continuation of the Calabrian Apennines, the Sicilian Ranges cover a large swathe of northeastern Sicily. Central and western Sicily are a mix of rolling hillsides and isolated mountains. The island’s only large expanse of flat land is the fertile plain of Catania.

Vineyard altitudes range from sea level to over 1,000 m on the slopes of Mount Etna. The wide range of grapes and altitudes means that harvest season across the island can last from the beginning of August until well into the month of November.

A Balmy And Breezy Climate

Given its location, it is no surprise that Sicily enjoys a sunny Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, moderately rainy winters. Due to the low levels of summer rainfall, irrigation is necessary in many of Sicily’s lower lying vineyards.

Indeed, Sicily’s plains are its driest areas, with an average of 500 mm of rain annually. The mountainous regions are rainier, with up to 1,400 mm of precipitation per year. Vineyards in these higher altitude sites generally do not require irrigation.

Sicily’s vineyards are mainly located in proximity to the island’s coastlines. Marine breezes keep the vineyards well-ventilated, significantly reducing the risk of mildew and rot formation. This low disease pressure allows viticulturists to adopt organic grape growing practices with relative ease.

Depending on the source of the wind, temperatures can fluctuate significantly. On the southwest side of the island, the Sirocco, a hot, dusty wind from the deserts of northern Africa brings scorching summer highs.

A Complex Array Of Soils

From sedimentary sandstone and calcareous soils, through limestone and granitic rocks, to volcanic areas, the soil composition of Sicily’s vineyards is highly diverse.

Ancient seas which receded over various geological eras are responsible for the calcareous nature of many of Sicily’s vineyards. The chalky vineyards of the south-eastern zone boast some of the oldest soils in geological terms and are prized for their elegant wines. In south central Sicily, soils of marine origin dominate alongside limestone-rich areas, but there are also sites with more sand and clay.

The western provinces have sandy loam soils, as well as rockier areas with calcareous clay (and sandstone soils). Much of Sicily’s vineyards are planted on this highly fertile terrain. The northern provinces have sandy and rocky soils mix with windblown silt.

Volcanic soils are also prevalent, notably surrounding Mount Etna and the islands of Pantelleria and Salina. With multiple yearly eruptions, soil composition is constantly changing making this the youngest soil type on the island with a mix of basalt pebbles, pumice, and black ash.

Sicily Vineyard Agrigento - Credit : Wines of Sicilia DOC