Financial Times – Etna Wine

financial_times_logoUn interessante articolo della prestigiosa testata sui vini dell’Etna. via Financial Times
A seismic shift in the Mount Etna wine region

Jancis Robinson
Etna was about to be engulfed not by molten lava but by an influx of wine producers Italy has no shortage of wine denominations – 575 at the last count – but there is one that has recently been exciting more interest than any other: Etna in eastern Sicily. The slopes of this active volcano constitute some of the strangest wine country in the world. Etna itself is omnipresent, whether via the dramatic lava flows, the warning booms that could be heard throughout this summer (heralding a great vintage for Etna, perhaps Italy’s finest in 2014), the cone itself – snowcapped in winter and spring, plumed with cloud in summer and autumn – or the terrain. The land is dotted with strange dark crusts of dried magma, in shapes no designer could create, and with torrette, towers of lava stones amassed by smallholders after clearing space for a field or vineyard, between the outpourings of the volcano. The land has been so twisted and turned that large plots do not exist and there is massive variation between each small one. The best vineyards have been painstakingly terraced, often with lava stones. Many vines are centenarians. These vineyards demand workers who understand the special land that is Etna. Michele Faro’s grandfather owned two hectares of vines south of Etna and one of lemons – enough for a family to live on then. His father Venerando built up a business selling Mediterranean plants in this warm, wet corner of Sicily. But by 2004, Faro realised that Etna was about to be engulfed not by molten lava but by an influx of wine producers, and the Faros made their move. They managed to acquire some particularly favoured 40-, 80- and 100-year-old vines for their Pietradolce wine project in the late-ripening northern vineyards that are so suitable for red wine production. Their tiny Barbagalli vineyard in an amphitheatre almost at the upper limit of the Etna DOC is a haunt of butterflies, cactus, wild cyclamen and fennel. Crossings on the single-track Circumetnea railway are still hand-operated by men who sit in cabins with their feet up, waiting for a phone call from the previous station. “Fifteen years ago,” Michele Faro explained after pointing one of them out, “there was no reason to come here. There were perhaps five wine producers in total.” Now, Etna wines have become so fashionable that he regularly shows representatives of the big northern Italian wine companies round his Etna vineyards. But they tend to retreat, shaking their heads at how hard it is to work the tiny plots of such uncompromising land, with ancient vines that might yield just half a bottle each. Nevertheless, most of Sicily’s notable wine companies – Cusumano, Duca di Salaparuta, Firriato, Planeta, Tasca d’Almerita – have all recently invested in land on the mountain, some even building wineries. There are now about 60 growers of whom a good 20 also make wine. There have always been smallholders and vine growers who would either make wine for themselves or sell to the small local co-op or one of the region’s few wine producers: the old Barone di Villagrande family based in Milo, on the eastern slopes of Etna, Murgo and Benanti. The Etna revolution began with 2001, the first vintage for Passopisciaro, a groundbreaking estate founded on ancient, high-altitude vines by Andrea Franchetti of the Tuscan estate Tenuta di Trinoro; for the Belgian wine broker and wine fanatic Frank Cornelissen, who makes small quantities of defiantly natural wines; and the first bottled vintage of I Vigneri, a loose association of Sicilian fingrowers whose wines are made by the quintessentially indigenous Salvo Foti. Italo-American wine broker Marco De Grazia followed hard on their heels and his Terre Nere is now one of the best distributed Etna labels. Until three years ago, Foti was Benanti’s oenologist but, helped by Gino the old mule, he has long tended his own small patch of lovingly raised, geometrically planted gnarled vines, a field blend of traditional Etna varieties Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Grenache, their leaves orange and yellow in the autumn sun. (Most producers concentrate on the first of these today but few of them can boast 200-year-old vines.) As we picked our way between vineyard plots along the rough, stony paths on top of carefully built walls, he pointed dismissively at the bright green vines of a neighbour advised by a Tuscan oenologist, the last two words pronounced as though profane. Black irrigation tubes snaked along the wired rows of vines. Rainfall is high on Etna but the water runs off rapidly into the fertile loams on top of the volcanic rocks. Irrigation keeps roots close to the surface. Not the Etna way, said Foti. There could hardly be a greater contrast between the vineyards of the old hands and those of Duca di Salaparuta, owners of the Corvo brand. They bought a nine-hectare vineyard just over the hill from Pietradolce’s most favoured vines, at the propitious altitude of 700m, and re-landscaped the terrain so that it is now virtually flat with high-trained rows of Pinot Noir vines looking as though they had mechanisation in mind. I was assured all grapes are picked by hand but found it hard to see much Pinot character in the result. The warm, earthy, tangy traces of the mountain impose themselves in most Etna reds – whatever the variety – although some oenologists seem determined to smother these characteristics with new oak. In stark visual contrast to this was what Cusumano, another big producer from central Sicily, had done to a top-quality vineyard they bought from Benanti, who had pulled out its vines two years ago. Here they had painstakingly reconstructed the terraces and planted a forest of individually staked vines on them – perhaps helped by a government grant and access to workers on their other 600 hectares of vines on the island. The vines looked ultra-traditional to me but Foti pointed out that they do not conform to the traditional pattern known as quincunx. He insisted that only local Etnese really understand how to grow vines here. “But Etna people don’t understand that they have their fortune at their feet,” he added.

By | 2016-12-09T10:36:54+00:00 20,novembre 2014|Commenti disabilitati su Financial Times – Etna Wine