Grapes for “A‘Culonna” grow in a vineyard at 600 meters above sea level, in Contrada Feudo di Mezzo, where the soil is rich in pumice and also quite stony. The vines here also average 80 years in age and the makeup is similar to their other rosso with approximately 85% nerello mascalese and 15% nerello cappuccio cofermented each year. As with all wines the fermentation is spontaneous, with an extended maceration of 3-4 weeks before an elevage of 18 months in large 2000L Slovenian oak barrels. No sulfur is added at bottling and no fining or filtration takes place at any time.
ool climate wines from a Mediterranean island on the latitude of Tunisia? Yes. Welcome to Etna. Here, on the northern slopes of Sicily’s epic volcano, Giuseppe Scirto and Valeria Franco tend a true polyculture: 4 hectares of vines and 1 hectare of olive, nut, and lemon trees, all at 600-1,000 meters [1,900-3,200 feet] above sea level. Carricante, nerello mascalese, and nerello cappuccio planted between 1900 and 1930 in black volcanic sand and pumice soils work a slow magic. The vines can only extract nutrients over the most gradual timeframe, extending the life of the vine and concentrating a range of savory, mineral elements in the grapes and the wines. Giuseppe and Valeria’s personal history with the land coupled with the tiny, two-person scale of their farming give them a visceral grasp of grape and terroir. Working organically in the vineyards and with radical minimalism in the cellar, they bring forth wild and lively wines. Even as the wines flirt with funkiness, this is never allowed to obscure terroir expression. Giuseppe and Valeria have no formal wine schooling, but are guided by their own intuition, the teachings of Giuseppe’s grandfather, and a primal respect for their untamable terroir. The excitement surrounding Etna wines is in part the thrill of discovering a lost world, with so much of its territory and tradition intact. But for Giuseppe and Valeria, there is no rush to rediscover. They’ve been connected to this place all along.
The vineyards Giuseppe and Valeria work today belonged to Giuseppe’s grandparents, who produced bulk wine, “as everybody was doing on Etna until about 20 years ago,” Giuseppe points out. When Giuseppe’s grandfather, Don Pippinu, died in 2005, it was at a time when small vineyard owners on Etna had begun to sell off their holdings. “Ours were particularly requested because they are in a highly valued area. But I was very close to the vineyards because from a young age, I spent all my summers there together with my grandfather. Walking in those vineyards, I revived a memory. I could never sell to others the sacrifices of my grandfather, also because no price could repay a bond like that between me and him.”
“In 2009, we started to work the vineyards. 2010 was our first vintage. The idea from the first day was to work the vines and make the wine just like Grandpa did: with minimum intervention and zero chemistry. We did not study enology. Perhaps our own ‘ignorance’ initially allowed us to make this choice. Having a great passion, being connected with many other producers, and being self-educated has helped us to know more deeply the vines and the wine. In the vineyard and in the cellar, we work, just the two of us.”
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