French vineyards had been decimated by the Phylloxera infestation of the late 1860s, causing French winemakers to cast far afield for sources of supply to fulfill the consumer demand for wine. The French misfortune led to increased demand for wines from Spain, Algeria, and Sicily. According to Eric Asimov, the heyday of demand for Etna wines from France saw a total of 48,562 ha planted to vines on the mountain.
As was the case for Algeria and Spain, Phylloxera did eventually invade Etna but the impact was most felt at altitudes of 400 m and below where sedimentary sols dominated. According to Nesto and di Savino (The World of Sicilian Wine), the decimated vineyards at those altitudes were replaced with citrus fruit trees and new vineyards were planted at higher altitudes where the soils had greater proportions of lava rock and volcanic sand and were resistant to the depradations of the aphid. According to the authors, these new vineyards joined an existing belt of vineyards resident on the northern slope between Solicchiata and Randazzo.
The remnants of that belt of vineyards are today's pre-Phylloxera vineyards of which Ian D'Agata speaks so highly. The picture directly below shows a pre-Phylloxera vine from the Tenuta delle Terre Nere vineyard while the table below that shows a selection of labels from these old vines.
|Pre-phylloxra vine. Source: tenutaterrenere.com|
Table 1: A selection of the pre-Phylloxera vineyards used in wines from Etna.
|Producer||Label||Vineyard||Contrada||Size (ha)||Vineyard Age (yrs)||Training System|
|I Vigneri||Vinupetra||Calderara||Feudo di Mezzo||
|Tenuta Terre Nere||Prephylloxera||Don Peppino||Calderara Sottano||
|130 - 140||do.|
|Pietradolce||Vigna Barbagalli||Barbagalli||Rampante||80 - 100||do.|
|Rampante||Barbagalli||Rampante||80 - 100||do.|
|Archineri Etna Bianco||100 - 120||do.|
|Frank Cornelissen||Magma Rosso||Barbabecchi||100+||do.|
|Munjebel Rosso Chiusa||Zottorinoto||Chiusa Spagnolo||90+||do.|
|Munjebel Rosso Vigne Alta||Barbabecchi, Tartaraci, Monte Dolce||90+||do.|
|Munjebel Bianco Vigne Alta||Tartaraci||90+||do.|
And these pre-Phylloxera vineyards had all been albarello-trained (As were all vines planted prior to the introduction of the Guyot training system in the late 19th century.). Albarello training was well suited to the Etna environment. According to Nesto and di Savinio:
- Its free-standing configuration aids in withstanding the high winds to which the mountain is prone
- The 360-degree exposure to light aids in the ripening of the fruit
- The black soil readily absorbs radiation from the sun and warms up. The low training of the vines allow them to take advantage of that heat and ripen the grapes faster than would other training systems
- This low training also allows for more rapid evaporation of water through the skin of the ripe fruit, resulting in greater sugar concentration in the fruit (and higher alcohol in the wine)
- The vine conserves the humidity arising from the ground, a plus in dry growing conditions.
The Albarello system was dominant on the mountain until growers turned first to the Guyot system -- the first half of the 20th century -- and the cordon-spur system -- beginning in the 1950s -- for new vineyard plantings.
©Wine -- Mise en abyme