The Mountain

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I allowed myself a small work vacation on the slopes of Mount Etna and I wanted to share all the wonders of this land with you. The Sicily of Catania is a bit of an atypical Sicily because everything has been conditioned by, as the locals call it, the Mundagna. Here at 1,000 meters above sea level, you can find hundred-year-old vineyards of Nerello Mascalese – a vine variety cultivated by gobelet pruning or cordone training which can give wines an extreme finesse.

Nerello Mascalese bunch in mid-July

Nerello Mascalese bunch in mid-July

Their wines get incredibly close to our best Barolos, for elegance, distinctiveness, and refinement – in particular on the northern slope, near Randazzo, Passopisciaro, Castiglione, etc. I won’t talk too much about the DOC question because it doesn’t interest me much. I’d like to use this occasion to reaffirm that titles in Italy serve little and are created with principles contrary to the natural potential quality of grapes. It’s definitely more fascinating to study the various facets of the viticulture of Etna.

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A healthier and more organic agriculture is easier here because the union of sea, old vines, altitude, wind, and the sandy/stony volcanic terrain are ideal for cultivation. Less problems and therefore less treatments. All of this needs to be understood by whoever manages the company. He needs to have the perception and the mind to figure out how and when to intervene. This was a backwards viticulture area until 2000 when it underwent a constant and continuous acceleration thanks to a few pioneer producers who began to work with intelligence and started bottling high quality wine. Arriving late compared to other areas in Italy was lucky. Moreover the addition of rival vineyards is blocked by the presence of Etna Park. The current vineyard zone is small and producers have been more timid in the past to jump into the adventure of selling bottled wine. Things are rapidly changing, however, as the interests of Sicilian producers outside Etna as well as other Italian regions are increasing and soon everyone will be fighting over tiny plots of volcanic soil.

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Earlier I was explaining that everything is tied to the volcano. The giant mountain accompanies the days of whoever lives nearby. At 3,000 meters you can admire a great distance. Etna is always moving – magma, lava, sulfur, new craters form and disappear. I took a trip to the highest point and the trail is surprising. It is characterized by black sand, yellow sulfur oxide, and red-iron compositions. At the same time though, you can understand the power and unpredictability of nature. Geysers of sulfur rise above the ground and sometimes gusts of wind take your breath away and burn your eyes and throat. Even the guides who climb up there every day talk about the daily changes of the volcano and I saw faint worry for the great activity of Etna which has been unusual, constant, and continuous for the last two years – without a moment’s pause.

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Returning to wine, I had the fortune to have Paolo Repetto of Vinifera as a guide, who as always allowed me to see some established institutions of producers first-hand such as Passopisciaro and Terre Nere or smaller perspective entities such as Giovanni Raiti of Vino Quantico.

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We would have visited at least four to five other producers, but the wonderful sea of Taormina called to us – we couldn’t resist a few more quick dips than planned. I’ll definitely return there to complete my missed visits. I already have nostalgia for the smells of citrus fruit, that taste of fresh fish, and the smiles of Sicilians. See you soon, Trinacria!

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