This is part 2 of a 3 part post of my favorite memories from my last trip to Sicily. You can find Part 1 here.
As I walked between the alberello vines at 1200 meters my heart raced like a child waiting to jump out of bed on Christmas morning. It’s no secret that I love natural wine makers. I’ve wanted to visit I Vigneri on Etna for years and I was finally there.Let me take a step back. I met the founders of The Etna Wine Lab, Benjamin Spencer and Valeria Carastro, at the Digital Wine Communications Conference in 2013. Their line up of Etna wine producers ranged from traditional vineyards like Scirto to the historic Benanti. As I tasted and talked with Ben and Valeria, I was transported to Etna. The unique wines like their tours reminded me of a quote on The Etna Wine Lab Website. “We create memorable excursions focused on the history, traditions, and contemporary trends found on the mountain.” They did just that for my family.
Our full day tour started in Giarre. Ben and Valeria gave us an introduction to the history of wine production in the Etna zone before we hopped on the Circumetnea train (that’s a very jet lagged Ben in the black shirt and Valeria in the #winelover t-shirt). Our tour would include visits to I Vigneri, Feudo Vagliasindi and Planeta, giving us a glimpse of the history, tradition and contemporary trends on Etna.The train circled Mt. Etna and we took in the changing landscape, vegetation and vineyards.
Our first stop was at I Vigneri’s Vigna Bosco vineyard. Salvo Foti and I Vigneri are a point of reference for Etna wines, organic viticulture and traditional farming (for more about Salvo Foti and I Vigneri click here). Maurizio Pagano, manager of the vineyard workers, greeted us when we stepped off the train. Maurizio’s passion for viticulture and love and respect for each alberello vine was evident. He said “A vineyard that is 130 years old is like a 90 year old person. You must respect it like you respect your elders, not forcing it to be something that it is not but appreciating it for what it is.” The second vineyard we visited was the Vigna Centenaria. We stood on a turretta (little tower) looking down on the expansive 240 year old vineyard. Maurizio and Valeria pointed out the main grape varieties planted here, Nerello Mascalese and Alicante. Each alberello was beautifully crooked and distinct. Traditional alberello vines have graced Etna since ancient times. I am deeply in awe of their uniqueness and grace. Maurizio half jokingly asked if we’d like to grab a hoe and start working amongst the vines. Using his 60-year-old Sicilian dialect, my dad quickly told him he’d hoed enough in his life already. Apparently there were no volunteers. It was lunch time and time to taste. A feast of bruschetta, local cheese, fusilli pasta with le sparacogne (wild asparagus), sausages and more awaited us. Angelo di Grazia, a young enologist, who works with I Vigneri presented five wines to us. Vigna di Milo 2012 made from Carricante grapes was fresh and spoke of the sea and orange blossoms.The light-ruby colored rosé, Alnus Etna Rosato 2012 smelled and tasted like strawberries and raspberries. Vinudilice Rosato 2013 was salmon pink in color – a vibrant blend of Alicante, Minella, Nerello Cappuccio and Grecanico. Wild raspberries jumped out of my glass. I’m a huge fan of rosé wine and Alnus and Vinudilice were intriguing. Both were lovely with the appetizers and pasta.The red cherry taste and lively acidity of VINUPETRA were fabulous partners for the grilled sausage. The wines were vivacious, a true expression of the ancient vines, volcanic soil and I Vigneri. We ate, laughed and drank nourishing ourselves. With mom to my right and dad across from me the day could not have been more perfect. I wanted to freeze this moment in time. Sadly it was time to drive to the next vineyard. At that point Maurizio could have easily put me to work in the vineyard but instead he handed me a bottle of wine as a gift and asked my dad when he was going to teach me to speak Sicilian. Another thing to add to my bucket list.
to be continued…Sicily Part 3 – On Etna with The Etna Wine Lab