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Etna Wine Region. Vineyards in lava stones

Sicily is so rich in terroirs and terrains that one may say it should be considered as a whole continent of winemaking, rather than an island. In fact, Sicily has more vines than South Africa, which is by the way, world's 7th largest wine producer.


How about a DOC on a 1000 meter elevation?

Of course, I couldn't cover it all. To be fair to all the outstanding regions I'd need a month at least to do a full winery tour of Sicily. Eloro and its' Nero d'Avola was tempting, vineyards of Val di Notto are a must at least for the picturesque sites. Vittoria is Sicily's only DOCG and I was curious what's so different in there. And then, of course, I'd love to visit the famous Marsala region. But I've chosen something completely different - Europe's most furious active volcano, which hosts terraced vineyards on its' slopes, squeezed in between the petrified lava flows. How about a DOC on a 1000 meter elevation? Welcome to my Mt. Etna wine tour!

wine blogger in Tenuta delle Terre Nere Calderara Sottana vineyard with Etna volcano view in Sicily
Etna, Calderara Sottana and me

History


When talking about the history of this volcanic viticulture, we actually mean whole Italy's winemaking past. The Greeks first colonized Sicily and Calabria, and this is where they planted the first vineyards and brought a professional attitude to local winemaking.

Therefore, Sicily as a wine region dates back to 800 BC.


However, modern times of this wine 'continent' weren't always full of glory. More or less until the end of XX century local grapes were sent to mainland Italy or even France to be added to their blends (as Europe was suffering of phylloxera plague but wasn't ready to interrupt production of its' wines). But finally in the 90's it has changed. Giuseppe Benanti whose family was growing vines mainly for private consumption from generation to generation, decided to turn it to a professional and challenging venture. His wines received surprisingly (for those times) good feedback from connoisseurs and international interest arose in the area. Before you could buy land at the Etna slopes for a few thousand euros. Today it will may cost you a few millions.


the actual age of modern winemaking is around 20 years here

Therefore, the actual age of modern winemaking is around 20 years here. Before all this was land of farmers. This area doesn't have yet a fame among consumers worldwide like Barolo or Burgundy do. The wineries were established quite recently and it's pretty hard to find wines which are already aged. For example I couldn't find a wine from 2009 (and I looked hard as I needed it so badly). The production volume, if we are talking about premium Etna wines is also small - from 50 000 to 500 000 bottles a year. And these wines are so special that the wineries are challenged to leave anything for themselves. They don't really suffer of lack of demand.

Etna DOC wine pre phylloxera vineyard in Calderara Sottana in Tenuta delle Terre Nere winery with Etna volcano view in snow
130+ years old vines which overcame phylloxera


Geography


There is nothing more significant in this region's geography than the Etna volcano itself. But let's take a closer look at its' position on Sicily and the shape it forms around Etna:

- Northern East of Sicily

- overall the hottest part of Italy

- proximity of the Mediterranean

- high elevation

- half-moon shape