Since I ever visited Etna I couldn't get this terroir with black vineyards covered with rocks out of my head. Now several years after my first visit to the wineries of Etna volcano I created a collection of my favourite producers and presented them in Amsterdam on May 8th on an Etna dedicated wine and food pairing event. Continue reading to learn more about the 6000 years of winemaking on Etna, its' geography, DOC system and the wines we tasted on this wine & food event in Amsterdam.
Etna Wine - 6000 Years of History
Sicily as a whole has always been a strategic point in the Mediterranean and attracted an invader after invader, continuously remaining in a state of change. So is Etna – even though it seems like it’s a volcano that has always been there, Etna never stops changing. Including its’ viticulture that dates back 6000 years. Winemaking on Etna had its’ ups and downs, and long periods of neglect.
Thirty years ago, you’d barely find ten wineries that were making wine regularly. Today, they’re over a hundred wineries and prices for land are competing with the priciest Italian vineyards of Piemonte and Tuscany. But let’s get back to the beginning of (wine) times on Etna.
Archeological evidence suggests that winemaking exists on Etna for about 6000 years. The first wines were made from grapes macerated in recesses of wood and rock, in simple basins of large rocks. With time, low treading areas were carved at the top of massive rocks, next to it a “vat” was cut deep into the same stone. The juice would flow there from the pista (treading area) by gravity.
As wine was becoming more important in people’s lives, they started to build homes and plant farms around these “fermenters”. These places became Etna’s mystical places and you can still find them today.
From the Greek period on Etna (8 century BC) vines were trained upward with the support of a wood stake. So, they’re today and we call this classical method “alberello” (little tree), as that’s what these vines resemble.
Modern farming arrived to Etna in 1100 CE with Benedictine monks. They would plant the vineyards with 5-6 grape varieties. As fermentation here is quick (due to temperature) a mix of grapes would ensure the wine would get enough of acidity, colour, tannins, alcohol and be more balanced. Today we call such wines “field blends”.
By 1770 the port of Riposto was a thriving community built around winemaking and wine export. At the end of the 19th century when phylloxera arrived to Europe Etna had to increase production to meet the demand. Foot treading was no longer efficient. Roller crusher, destemming bin, basket press replaced the manual process. The ceremony of making wine was gone but the quality of wine (less oxygen contact, more hygiene) increased, of course.