Earlier this year we visited an exhibition in Chambéry of wines from mountains and steep slopes, so it was exciting to have the chance to visit the lofty vineyards of Mount Etna, Sicily.
At 1300 metres above sea level and on the North West slopes of Mount Etna this small haven of peace is surrounded by old forests full of oak, chestnut, and juniper trees.
With vines aged from 80-140 years old the vineyard had been neglected until the Etna wine guru, Salvo Foti, discovered it a few years ago. It has been rejuvenated with great attention to detail, using the traditional alberello (bush vines supported by chestnut posts) training of a mix of vines co-planted, as is typical in the old Etna vineyards.
The vines are not grafted to American rootstocks as the volcanic, sandy soils inhibit phylloxera, and they are propagated by layering.
Maurizio Pagano, the viticulturalist who looks after this vineyard as well as others owned by I Vigneri, told us how all the work is done by hand, with the help of a mule! I’ve not seen a vineyard in such a good condition – a tribute to all the considerable care and attention. We all joined him in having a nibble of the ripening grapes, which won’t be picked until late October or even early November.
The red grapes are Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Alicante (aka Grenache); the whites are Carricante, Malvasia, Visparola, Minnella, Grecanico. Planted at a density of 9000 – 10000 vines per hectare they produce an average of 1 – 1 1/2 kilos per plant.
Giampiero Nadali, one of the organisers of this excellent tour, listens attentively to Maurizio.
In the bosky shade we tasted the wine made from the Vigna del Bosco vines. And we were intrigued and challenged by its ‘naturalness’…
Cloudy pink. Musky peachy cherry, dry, good acidity, some fine tannins with a luscious finish.
As Salvo Foti described this wine to Giampiero: “Vinudilice is a wine we do for friends, a few bottles, often rifermenta in the bottle and it comes out sparkling.”
Suitably hatted we return to the bus to meet Salvo Foti on his lava tower…
This was one of many interesting visits and walks in the high altitude vineyards of Mount Etna, a proud ‘island’ within the island of Sicily, where we met heroic winemakers with vertically challenging vineyards!