Aldo Viola cuts a memorable figure: tall and wiry, with long low-intervention locks, scruffy facial hair, and skin that clearly sees plenty of strong Sicilan sunshine. Aldo is a man in motion, literally and figuratively—constantly moving, gesturing, smiling, and exclaiming, and always searching for ways to coax greater expressiveness from his inspiringly personal wines. Born in the late 1960s into a winemaking family in Alcamo, in the northwest corner of Sicily, Aldo helped his father around the winery as a boy (as children of vignaioli are wont to do), but his path to becoming an iconoclastic producer in his own right was far from straight and narrow. He was a professional footballer for several years, and he still carries that boundless energy around with him. He spent significant time in Denmark, in India, and in the Amazon. In 1996, he returned to work with his father, later studying enology in Marsala, 70 kilometers west of his home village, and becoming the first enologist of the Centopassi cooperative—an entity that utilized land confiscated from the Corleonesi mafia following the arrest of the notorious Salvatore “Totò” Riina in the early 1990s. Given the mafia’s longstanding punishment of those who make use of their formerly held turf, Aldo’s position here required steel nerves—the kind of bravery that makes the courage to ferment spontaneously and use little-to-no sulfur look tame in comparison (talk about “risk-embracing winemaking”!). Aldo’s brother Alessandro is a skilled winegrower in his own right, but instead of joining his brother to continue the family vocation, Aldo—a resolutely and stubbornly independent-minded person—has forged his own path over the years.
Aldo works without synthetic chemicals in the vineyards, harvesting everything by hand and conducting almost all vineyard work entirely manually as well.
Today, he farms seven hectares of Catarratto, Grillo, and Grecanico near his home village of Alcamo, planted on the area’s steep Timpi Rossi (“Red Hills”), named so because of the sandy-clayey soil’s high iron content. He also owns a plot of land 30 kilometers outside of town, closer to the sea, planted to Perricone, Nerello Mascalese, and Syrah, all of which thrive in the dry and scorching-hot microclimate of the area. Aldo works without synthetic chemicals in the vineyards, harvesting everything by hand and conducting almost all vineyard work entirely manually as well. He has long embraced skin maceration in the production of his white wines, not as a trendy affectation for certain cuvees but wholeheartedly; all his white wines are macerated for periods up to eight or nine months. Aldo does this because he finds that long, slow extractions produce the truest expressions of variety-plus-soil as well as the most satisfying textures—and his wines are textural masterpieces bar-none. These are not “funky orange wines” that dazzle with their exuberance despite their lack of balance or restraint; they probe they outer limits of aroma and flavor, but they do so with rigor, clarity, and harmony. His reds are produced with a similar appreciation for balance, and though they viscerally evoke their wild sun-baked hills of origin, they remain lifted, digestible, and refreshing. As with his career path, Aldo’s approach in the cellar has changed over the years: he used to employ no sulfur whatsoever, but has begun adding miniscule amounts—never more than 20 milligrams per liter total, and only in certain cases—to maintain purity of expression and to keep potentially overwhelming flaws at bay. He also experimented with terracotta jars some years back, but ceased working with them because trace amounts of heavy metals found their way into his wines, and because they weren’t large enough to adequately allow for his favored method of extraction: allowing the weight of the bunches to do the work rather than employing excessive punch-downs and pump-overs.