The delicate balance between man and nature narrated by wine: the story of Etna and its characteristic vineyards.
Sicily is strategically situated at the heart of the Mediterranean and this has contributed to the fact that it has always been the object of conquest by many nations. A region that presents significant differences in climate depending on where you are: African heat in the Southwest, in the Capo Passero area, and an alpine climate on active Etna, which has recently reached 3,350 metres in height.
On the ‘Muntagna’ – as the volcano is known in dialect – viticulture has been practised on terraces supported by black stone walls since the time of the Greeks, producing wines of rare elegance and personality.
Curiosities and history of the wine culture on Etna
Viticulture on Etna dates back many years: in 1435, in Catania, the Maestranza dei Vigneri (Winegrowers Guild) was established as an association for experts of Etna viticulture, who were given the task of codifying practices and sanctioning the professionalism of the workers. Even today, many companies work according to these principles: management of the vine cultivated strictly from saplings, hoeing and manual harvesting, use of limited quantities of copper and sulphur. Plenty of sweat and plenty of passion for ever-perfect, healthy grapes and an excellent wine – because “u vinu si fa cu a racina” – say the farmers, which translates as “the grape makes the wine”. This has therefore pushed Salvo Foti – a renowned and enlightened Etna producer – to establish a new Vineyard company, so as to remain faithful to ancient, good practices.
The volcanic soils – rich in sand – are inhospitable to phylloxera, the devastating nematode that brought European viticulture to its knees at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century: these worms, in fact, are unable to survive and damage the roots of plants. Subsequently, centuries-old vines can still be found, with saplings still ungrafted.
The most renowned zones and native vines in the Etna area
The area dominated by Etna boasts unique climatic and environmental characteristics, which are favourable for premium-quality wine production. What wines are produced in this particular area?
- Black-seeded grapes are cultivated especially on the northern side, whilst the west is home to Nerello Mascalese – an ancient variety selected by peasants in Mascali in around the Seventeenth Century: the wines, with cherry, red berry and violet aromas, are able to perfectly embody the differences between one area and the next.
- In and around Randazzo – a town renowned for its wine – we find some of the most prestigious districts, which can be indicated on the bottle label, including Santo Spirito, Calderara, Feudo di Mezzo, San Lorenzo, Guardiola and Moganazzi.
- The most important white-seeded variety is instead Carricante, which grows on the eastern side, overlooking both the Strait of Messina and the sea: a prestigious area located close to the Comune of Milo where Doc Etna Bianco Superiore is produced. The wines are characterised by their strong acidity with good ageing potential: after a few years in the bottle, they develop hydrocarbon aromas, which are added to the already present notes of chamomile, honey, hay and white fruits.
- Nerello Cappuccio is a variety mostly used blended with Nerello Mascalese to produce Etna Rosso Doc, contributing its fruity and spicy aromas.
- Minnella, on the other hand, is the white grape variety that is most frequently encountered in ancient vineyards, together with Carricante grapes, given that, at one time, the idea of a single-variety plant was not taken into consideration for economic reasons: being grape varieties that perform differently, it was always possible to guarantee both a harvest and a livelihood for the family.