The Terroir of Etna,an international resonance.
The Terroir Of Etna is a particular terroir with a strongly oenological vocation, thanks to its properties and characteristics. It is therefore under the attention of sector specialists, like the most well-known French and Italian terroirs.
Our way of understanding the word terroir is the combination of soil, microclimate, grape varieties and wine-making traditions present in a given territory.
Terroir, in this sense, determines the character, sensory uniqueness and organoleptic quality of its wine.
Characteristics of the Terroir of Etna
The peculiar aspects of the Terroir of Etna on which the oenological vocation of Etna is based are
Un microclima unico: fattore importante per i vini eleganti dell’Etna, ma che può diventare uno scorbutico compagno di viaggio. Ci troviamo ad una latitudine africana ma con un’ altitudine estrema per la viticoltura. Catania è, infatti, alla stessa latitudine della punta settentrionale della Tunisia e la vite sull’Etna arriva fino ai 1300 m di quota. Questo si traduce nella coesistenza, in un’area molto ristretta, di clima mediterraneo e di montagna. Si registrano temperature medie più basse rispetto a quelle dell’isola. Specie nel versante nord, in inverno e nel periodo dell’inizio germogliamento, non di rado scendono sotto lo zero. Le temperature massime in estate, invece, superano anche i 40°C registrando un’elevata escursione giorno-notte (escursioni termiche anche di 30°C) nel periodo primaverile-estivo.
The rainfall depends on the slope and is much higher in the eastern part of the volcano than in the north and south. The rains are mostly distributed in the autumn-winter period and, not infrequently, in conjunction with the harvest period. This, in some vintages and for certain areas, can be a limiting factor in the ripening and health of the grapes. In some cases hail threatens crops severely.
A variegated soil with precise characteristics like the canvas of an impressionist. Every single lava flow, of the thousands that have followed over time, and every single explosion that produces ash and lapilli, (so-called ripiddu) from the top or side craters, have different physical and chemical characteristics. When they spill over an area of the volcano, normally very limited in terms of surface area, they create the conditions to have, after a few hundred years, very different soils. Moreover, since all the exposures and different levels are present, the final result is extremely varied.
From here we can necessarily understand the concept of the districts or even micro-zones, to which correspond, if man indulges the territory, wines of unique identity. In general, however, it can be said that the soils of volcanic matrix are of medium dry and sandy mixture, with very high drainage capacity, sub-acidic reaction, rich in micro-elements, iron and copper, medium endowed with potassium, phosphorus and magnesium, poor in nitrogen and carbonates.
The vines of Etna’s Terroir are almost all autochthonous. The prince of the native red vines is the Nerello Mascalese. Originally brought by the Greeks, this grape ripens in the third decade of October. It lends itself to long macerations, and expresses its best when the wine is aged for many years. The wine that originates from it is fine and elegant, colorless, sapid and with silky tannins. The scents of small red fruits are typical when the wine is young, like in our Rossobrillo. Nerello Cappuccio accompanies Nerello Mascalese in the Etna DOC in small percentages and gives it mainly color. Very rarely it is vinified also in purity.
Relatelively more complicated is the question of white grape of varieties. Certainly the best known is the Carricante, which the Etna DOC regulations indicate as the main grape variety of deonomination. This vine, also late in ripening, gives the wine a straw-yellow colour and very distinct mineral tones. Surprisingly, for a white wine it lends itself to ageing even longer than ten years, a characteristic that makes it ideally close to Alsatian Rieslings.
The Carricante, which in the south – east side is almost the only vine present, is often accompanied by other vines on the other slopes of Etna. In the north and south-west side from which we produce our Biancopiglio there are also, in addition to the Carricante, also the Cataratto, the Grecanico Dorato, the Coda di Volpe and the Minnella. This situation, in which several white berried cultivar, and sometimes also red berried, are present in the same vineyard, is widespread in the Etna tradition.
The wine traditions, as in the whole of Italy, are peculiar to the territory. The oenological beauty of our country, even compared to our cousins from beyond the Alps, lies precisely in the lack of uniformity and homologation caused for better or for worse by the absence, until relatively a few decades ago, of a unique direction at national level. The main characteristics of viticulture and cellar work in the area of the volcano are: the tree-training on chestnut braces called Carrazzi, the dry-stone walls for terracing the steep sides of the volcano, the use of large chestnut barrels for wine-making, the waiting on the fine lees of white wines to facilitate malolactic fermentation in spring (necessary for the high malic acid content of the Carricante) and the pressing of the pomace through the system of the Cato press placed within the Etnean millstone tradition.
All the characteristics listed make it really difficult to have a terroir similar to the Etnean one and the wines we produce, starting with the great reds for ageing, bear witness to this.