Mount Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy
This story will take you on a trip there
(since no one is going anywhere else),
and let you discover vines from …
the world’s oldest and most active volcano.
Not only that, Mount Etna keeps on growing, one layer of lava at a time…to culminate as the highest active volcano in Europe at an elevation just shy of 11,000 feet.
And where is the wine grown? Primarily on the slopes of Mount Etna reaching 3,500 feet and sometimes higher.
Home to one of the highest commercial vineyards in Europe.
So what draws people to make wine on a live volcano?
Because lava, ash, sea and climate speak in unison in every bottle of wine made from this land.
Wine production started in the 8th century BC, when the Greeks colonized the area. So, it’s not a new thing. The wines of Etna were celebrated in ancient poems and verse.
However, Mt. Etna like a lot of places in southern Italy, saw an exodus during the “Economic Boom” in the 1950’s and peaked in the 60’s with a massive migration from the agricultural South to the industrialized North. This was fueled by the Marshall Plan.
There were more and “better” jobs to be had in the cities in the north, and vineyards were abandoned.
Interestingly enough, Etna Rosso received DOC status in 1968, laying the groundwork for later years.
Then, about twenty years ago, Etna Rosso saw a noticeable rebirth in its wine industry.
Like any renewal, a learning curve was evident.
Over time some top producers emerged through consistency, and more often than not, through minimal manipulation, where winemakers take a back seat and let such terroir speak for itself.
The vines are still planted in the same fashion the Greeks introduced, called alberello “little tree”, which is a vine training method dating back to the 8th century, one of the oldest viticultural examples, rarely used elsewhere.
Each vine is staked and pruned to grow by itself.
This causes the roots to dig down deeper- while the vine benefits from unobstructed, free-flowing light and air.
This could be a lesson to us and how we should live, rooted and yet free-flowing at the top to give and receive.
The vine roots dig deep through multiple layers of accumulated and solidified lava flows.
Each of these layers bring their own historical sedimentary touch.
The plantings average an age span from 80 to 140 years.
The rich volcanic soil also contains a high amount of sand.
Soil of this variety allows for a majority of the vines to be pre-phylloxera- original and ungrafted.
If you remember from a previous newsletter, Phylloxera was the pesky aphid-like bug that nearly wiped out all wine production in Europe in the 1800’s!
The landscape’s steep terraces are difficult to access with machines and therefore much of the work is done by hand, a laborious and expensive process.
With high elevation, a Mediterranean coastal climate of cold nights and sunny days, the temperature fluctuations give the grape complexity and help it grow.
The cool evenings slow the ripening which promotes a better grape and overall balance in the wines.
The volcanic activity is part of the landscape but permeates deeper in to the heart of each inhabitant.
They know the danger is there, but, they’ve made friends with it-a way of life.
Four years ago, during Dominique’s visit, the volcano erupted.
It was a spectacular and yet safe sight.
The experience was felt through a loud thunder-like noise, clouds of ash, and a visible lava flow in the night sky. Unlike smoke, the thin particles of ash become an added compound to the soil health.
The gumption required for wine-making on Mount Etna is to be commended.
All the more reason why we join the poets of ancient Greece as well as modern critics, to sing the wines praises!
The name Etna Rosso comes from the Greek Aitne, from aithō, “I burn.”
We all burn for some Etna Rosso wine right now.