Thursday, June 28, 2018

Wine Bar George: Positive vibes emanating from Disney Springs (Lake Buena Vista, FL)

I had high expectations for the recently opened, George-MiliotesMS-led Wine Bar George (WBG) project at Disney Springs; the final product exceeded all my expectations.

George has been around the Orlando food and wine scene for some time having: (i) been a part of the California Grill (Disney's Contemporary Resort) opening team; (ii) managed that restaurant from 1995 to 2002; and (iii) headed up the Darden Restaurant wine program from an Orlando base from 2002 until he left to pursue the WBG project. Having known, and appreciated, George's body of work over his career, I was keenly interested in what he would bring to the table in this effort.

I was unable to visit WBG when it opened initially. I noticed an upcoming Rosé tasting on the site and decided I would make that my first foray into the enterprise. On the morning of the event I went onto the website to purchase my tickets and was greeted by a message saying that it was sold out. I thought that maybe an in-person plea would yield better results so we hit the road, headed for Disney Springs.

It is a bit of a walk from the parking lot to WBG but, as I approached, I was immediately pleased with what I could see of the upper-level balcony. A fully subscribed balcony, I might add. I was even more pleased when I stepped inside and saw the centrally located bar with off-bar seating on both sides and a stairway in the distance leading to the upper level. The hostess stand was to the right immediately upon entrance. The setting was light, bright, and airy and filled with the hum of wine-infused conversation and the hustle and bustle of bartenders and waiters working in a busy environment.





After having my pleas for entry to the Rosé tasting fall on deaf ears, I sheepishly informed my crew that there would be no Rosé tasting but that we would hang out at this wonderful bar and have a good time anyway. They were cool with that. So we did. And we did.

It was busy but, after a while, we were able to snag four seats. A quick perusal of the menu assured me that there was more than enough food and wine to keep our interest levels high (as a matter of fact, there are 100 separate by-the-glass labels on offer).


We started out with a cheese board and a Tasmanian Sparkling Wine. The board was attractive in its setup and the cheeses were very interesting. I had not previously had the Tasmanian wine. I liked it. We followed this up with an Octopus ceviche and a Txakolina. Our final wine of the night was a 2013 Arpepe.




My takeaway from the day?
  • The wine list was unlike any other in Orlando in terms of diversity and depth
  • The food aligned very well with the wines on offer and the concept
  • The service was stellar
  • Foot traffic at the bar was high.
During the visit I congratulated George on the space and vowed to be back.

By the middle of the following week I had put together a group to have lunch at the bar on Friday. Jairo, Sommelier at WBG, reached out to help set things up.

When we arrived we were taken upstairs into a small room set off the rear dining room (itself called the Barrel Room).

Bev, Ron, Scott, and Brian. 

Over the course of the afternoon we tasted most of the items on the menu. The food is tasty and of extremely high quality. The Executive Chef, Ron Rupert, had worked with George at California Grill and has put together an exciting menu of small plates and larger, family style dishes with no diminution of quality between the two styles. We ordered two each of the tapas dishes and one each of the large plates. This is among the best food in Orlando. A subset of the dishes that we shared are shown below.

Octopus Ceviche
House-Made Meatballs
Skirt Steak
In addition to the dishes shown, I would highly recommend the Hummus and Chicken Skewers (to die for) from the Tapas menu and both the Sea Bass and the Wine-Braised Chicken from the large plates.

Our nightcap wine and George behind the bar

We paid another visit on Wednesday for validation purposes. This place is valid.



And it has the smell of a long-term success around it. The combination of George's wine knowledge, managerial skills, and demonstrated startup skills; the skills of the Executive Chef and the high quality of the meals this early in the cycle; the staff quality and eagerness to please; the wine list; the look and feel of the establishment; the location; and the manner in which locals are warmly welcomed, all point to a very positive long-term result.

We needed something like this in Orlando and George has delivered.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The wines of Mt Etna, Sicily

In recent posts I have sketched out the current Mt. Etna viticultural and winemaking environments. In this post I describe the types of wines that issue from the region.

Etna Rosso DOC
The wine that initially earned the region a position on the wine map is the Etna Rosso, a wine which, according to regulations, must be a minimum of 80% Nerello Mascalese, a maximum of 20% Nerello Cappuccio, and a maximum of 10% of other red or white non-aromatic grape varieties, all grown within the DOC demarcation lines. The table below shows the contribution of each of the core varieties to the blend.

Nerello Cappuccio Nerello Mascalese
Wines of splendid color Opposite
Wines not suited to extreme aging Opposite
Subtle, cryptic notes
  • Wooden essences and vanilla
  • Some floral notes
Complex variety of scents
- From Muscat notes to hints of tobacco 
Good acid and tannin levels Distinctively tannic
Information gleaned from Santa Maria La Neve and other sources.

In general, Nerello Cappuccio brings color and perfume to the blend as well as serving to soften up some of the harder edges of its partner.

The best of the Etna Rosso DOC wines are produced on the north face of the mountain and show notes of cherries, tobacco, spice, and earth on the nose. Cherry flavors continue through to the palate along with minerality and silky tannins. These wines are elegant, balanced, and in possession of lengthy finishes.

Driven primarily by "outsiders" such as Marc DeGrazia (Tenuta Delle Terre Nere) and Andrea Franchetti (Passopisciaro), some Etna winemakers are labeling their wines based on the contrada within which the grapes are grown.


The argument behind this approach is that the multitude of lava flows emanating from the volcano have imparted differing characteristics to the soil and this is reflected in differences in the wines. Some experts are skeptical of this claim, taking the position that altitude and aspect have greater impacts on wine differences than does soil composition.

The sandy nature of the volcanic soil, plus the cold temperature at the upper reaches of the mountain, have combined to hold the scourge of phylloxera at bay. This has resulted in the continued productivity of old, ungrafted vineyards and labels that celebrate the wines produced therefrom.

Source: http://www.tenutaterrenere.com/

Table 1: A selection of the pre-Phylloxera vineyards used in wines from Etna.
ProducerLabelVineyardContradaSize (ha)Vineyard Age (yrs)Training System
I VigneriVinupetraCalderaraFeudo di Mezzo
0.5
100Albarello

VinudiliceBosco

0.35
100+do.
Tenuta Terre NerePrephylloxeraDon PeppinoCalderara Sottano
0.8
130 - 140do.
GraciQuota 1000

Barbabecchi
2
100+do.
PietradolceVigna BarbagalliBarbagalliRampante

80 - 100do.

RampanteBarbagalliRampante

80 - 100do.

Archineri Etna Bianco



100 - 120do.
Frank CornelissenMagma Rosso

Barbabecchi

100+do.

Munjebel Rosso ChiusaZottorinotoChiusa Spagnolo

90+do.

Munjebel Rosso Vigne Alta

Barbabecchi, Tartaraci, Monte Dolce

90+do.

Munjebel Bianco Vigne Alta

Tartaraci

90+do.

Some of the notable Etna Rosso wines include:
  • Tenuta di Fessina's Erse Etna Rosso DOC (90% Nerello Mascalese, 8% Nerello Cappuccio, and 2% white grape varieties, all sourced from the Rovitello vineyard)
  • Pietradolce Etna Rosso, Archineri Rosso, and Barbagali Rosso DOCs (100% Nerello Mascalese) 
  • The Tenuta delle Terre Nere lineup
  • Salvo Foti Vinupetra (an Etna DOC red wine produced from grapes grown in a 0.5-ha plot in the Calderara vineyards of the Feudo di Mezzo district on the mountain's north face. The varieties included in the blend are Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante, and Francisis.).
  • Benanti Rovitello (Nerello Mascalese-Nerello Cappuccio (10%)) and Serra della Contessa (an old-vine (100+ years), NM-NC (20%) blend from the Monte Serra vineyard). 
Etna Rosato DOC
The regulatory requirements for the Etna Rosato DOC is the same as for the Etna Rosso DOC. Rosatos range from 100% Nerello Mascaleses to traditional Nerello Mascalese-Nerello Cappuccio blends to Nerello Mascalese-Carricante blends. Some of the wines are made with minimal skin contact while others are pressed-off and immediately fermented. Some of the wines are aged on lees.

Colors of the Rosatos range from salmon (as is usual for Provence rosés) to the more powerful colors associated with Tavel. The dominant aroma is strawberry while the palate is most likely to experience strawberry, minerality, and bright acidity.

There are a number of high-quality offerings in this segment to include offerings from Benanti (a 100% Nerello Mascalese made with grapes sourced from Contrade Demone located in Viagrande on the South-East slope of the mountain), Terra Costantino (a 90/10 Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio blend), Pietradolce (Nerello Mascalese), and Barone di Villagrande (90% Nerello Mascalese).


Etna Bianco DOC and Etna Bianco Superiore
Etna DOC Bianco is to be made from Carricante (> 60%), Catarratto (< 40%), and up to 15% of other non-aromatic grapes such as Minella or Trebbiano while Etna DOC Bianco Superiore is to be made from Carricante (> 80%) and Trebbiano, Minnella, or other non-aromatic Sicilian grape variety (< 20%). The grapes for the Superiore are to be sourced exclusively from the area of Milo on the eastern side of the volcano.

Etna Bianco DOC wines are made from grapes drawn from all aspects of the mountain but the characteristics differ between the wines grown on the north face and those grown elsewhere. Carricante-based wines from the east to south flanks of Etna are characterized by salinity, minerality, and acidity and, at its optimum, these characteristics meld extremely well. These characteristics also allow the wines to age well (based on my experiences drinking aged Benanti Pietra Marina wines). While the characteristics of the wines are consistent, the quality of individual wines will vary based on winemaking practices, elevation, soil composition, and other related factors.

Etna DOC wines from the north face have lower levels of salinity and a perception of higher acidity, herbaceousness, and minerality than their counterparts to the south and east.

The Etna Bianco Superiore's, when done well, can be counted among the great white wines of the world. The Benanti (Pietra Marina) and Barone de Villagrande (Etna Bianco Superiore) offerings are more savory in style than the piercing nature of the Salvo Foti wines. Exceptional examples of the Bianco Superiore that I have tasted are as follows:

Salvo Foti
2014 Aurora Etna Bianco Superiore, a blend of 90% Carricante and 10% Minella. This wine was made from grapes sourced from the 5-ha, 5-year-old Caselle Vineyard. Slate, salinity, and eye-popping acidity.

Vigna di Milo 2014 is a 100% Carricante Etna Bianco Superiore sourced from a 0.15-ha vineyard located at 950 m asl and planted to 10,000 vines/ha. This wine was fresh to go along with a salinity and slatey minerality.

Benanti
2012 Benanti Pietra Marina. The wine showed petrol, dried herbs, rosemary, thyme, and sawdust on the nose. On the palate it was bright, with lime, saline minerality and some drying characteristics. 
Benanti 2011 Pietra Marina Brawn and heft accompanying the saline minerality and acidity. Nutty and saline, with tar, florality, minerality, walnut, and a green herb. On the palate, lemony-lime, citrus rind, and blackpepper towards the rear. Balanced and consistent through all the tasting zones. Rustic.
1995 Pietra Marina. Characteristics included petrol, orange, orange rind, burnt orange and some tropical notes to include sapodilla skin and pulp. A textured wine with orange notes on the palate giving away to a long, spicy, drying finish.

Barone di Villagrande
The 2015 Etna Bianco Superiore exhibited white peach, white pear, white pear skin, and a vegetality. Savoriness and dried herbs also evident. On the palate, clean, lean, and austere with a slight green note. 

Etna Spumante DOC
The Etna DOC Spumante should be minimum 60% Nerello Mascalese and maximum 40% of other Sicilian grape varietals.

Given the climatic conditions, it would seem that stellar sparkling wines would be produced here but, for the most part, I have not encountered many of those. All of the wines that I have tasted are Methode Champenoise. Murgo makes a Nerello-Mascalese-based Brut and Brut Rosé which spend between 20 and 22 months on the lees. Its Extra Brut spends 60 months on the lees.

Cantina Nicosia makes a Carricante- as well as a Mascalese-based sparkling and they are both pleasing.

The most eye-popping of the sparkling wines I have tasted on the mountain though, was the Salvo Foti 2014 Vinudilice Metodo Classico. This sparkling wine was stunning but, unfortunately, it is not made every year. It is made with grapes sourced from Vigna Bosco, a vineyard nestled within the depths of a holly oak forest 1300 meters up. The wine does not qualify for Spumante DOC as the included varieties are Alicante, Grecanico, Minella, plus some other unidentified varieties. They are co-vinified to produce a field-blend Rosato. The wine is matured in old oak casks and concrete. Fresh and attention-grabbing. Mouth-filling mousse and great persistence. The world deserves to see more of this wine.

IGT Sicilia/Terre Siciliana
This is the default label for non-DOC wines made on the mountain. A wine may carry this label as a result of one or more of the following circumstances:
  • Native grape varieties but the blend does not comport with the specifications
  • Native grape varieties in the specified amounts but falling outside the DOC demarcation zone
  • Non-native grape varieties
  • Winemaker choice.
An example of the second of these conditions is the 2017 Laeneo Nerello Cappucchio (100%) from Tenuta di Fessina. This wine was very aromatic. Fruitiness and spice on the nose. More refined and elegant than most of the 100% Nerello Cappuccios that I have tasted.

Calabretta, with its Pinot Noir, and Passopisciaro, with its Chardonnay and Franchetti (a Petit Verdot-Cesanese blend) are two shining examples of the non-native-variety IGT wine. The Franchetti is one of the best IGT wines coming off the mountain and can be argued to be among the best wines from the mountain.

Natural Wine
For the most part, Etna producers make conventional wines but, as is true in most wine regions today, there are a few natural-wine adherents in town. Examples include Salvo Foti, Frank Cornelissen and Vini Scirto. The range of Cornelissen wines are presented below as the most apparent example of this wine style.

The Munjebel bianco 2014 is a white wine is made from 60% Grecanico Dorato and 40% Carricante. Unlike the majority of Etna producers, Frank does not see Carricante as the best grape for the region's white wines. He feels that it is too acidic. The grapes for this wine are grown on 40+-year-old vines grown in the Calderara Soprano and Borriglione vineyards. This wine is amber in color, a result of fermentation on the skins. Florality, spice, and a savoriness on the nose. Savoriness flows through to the palate. A textured wine with great acidity and a long finish.

The Contadino 2014 was made from 85% Nerello Mascalese with contributions from Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante Bouchet, Minella nero, Uva Francesca, and Minella bianco. This 24,000 bottle production is sourced from 50+ year vines grown in the Piccolo, Malpasso, Campo Re, Crasa, Piano Daine, and Porcaria vineyards. This wine is red-fruit dominant but has some blueberry notes. Rich and earthy. Structured.

The Munjebel rosso 2014 is a pure Nerello Mascalese from 60+ year vines grown on the Chiusa Spagnolo, Monte Colla, Porcaria, Barbabecchi, Rampante, Piano Daine, and Crasa vineyards. Red berry fruit and drying tannins. Rich and balanced.

The 2014 Munjebel Feudo di Mezzo, in this case an en primeur sample. Savory with a preponderance of black olives. Long, bitter finish.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A visit with Vini Scirto (Passopisciaro, Mt Etna)

In my recent post on winemaking on Mt Etna, I mentioned the Vini Scirto winery as falling into the "comeback kid" category of winemakers. I provide more details on this winery herein.

Being an Etnaphile, I am always on the lookout for things emanating from the region. So it was with great interest that I discovered and followed a couple on Instagram who were making wine on the mountain and were continuously posting about their exploits. Winemakers posting on social media about making wine is not unusual. What was unusual about this couple -- Giuseppe and Valeria of Vini Scirto -- was the unabashed, almost innocent, manner in which they manifested love for each other, their land, their vines, and their wines. I reached out to Brandon Tokash, my resident Mt Etna friend, and asked him to set up visit with this couple when I was in for Contrada dell'Etna 2018.

That visit occurred on the afternoon of April 22, after a morning spent exploring the higher reaches of Mt. Etna. We met Giuseppe and Valeria at a pre-determined spot and, after all-around introductions, bundled back into our cars to go see a vineyard to which they had recently acquired farming rights. This vineyard plot -- located in Contrada Feudo in the village of Montelaguardia -- is 1.3 ha in size and is planted to Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappucchio, Carricante, and some other native varieties.  The soil is volcanic, very deep, and has very few stones. It has been on the official register since 1920 but has been in use for many years prior to the initiation of the registry.

The use contract covers 7 years. Vini Scirto expects to make a ready-to-drink, traditional Etna wine from the vineyard fruit but will also make an extended-maceration wine with a small portion of the fruit to evaluate the vineyard's overall potential.

Giuseppe and Valeria of Vini Scirto
Contrada Feudo vineyard
Parlo, Lidia, Valeria, Brandon with Wayne
Young off in the distance

We next paid a visit to the Vini Scirto cantina in Passopisciaro. It was a tight fit for the team. We found a new use for our smart phones when their was a brief, area-wide power outage. After looking around for a bit, we headed off to the Vini Scirto main vineyard in Contrada Feudo di Mezzo.





The farm house was set well back from the main road, nestled among olive and clementine trees. The property is comprised of 2.5 ha planted to olive trees and vines.

Vini Scirto within the context of the North slope landscape


The estate was most recently owned by Giuseppe's grandfather who had produced wine and olive oil and sold them off in bulk. During his childhood, Giuseppe had worked alongside his grandfather and had developed a love for the land and the products it yielded. But Giuseppe had not chosen winemaking as a career. Rather he was working in the Information Technology field when his grandfather died.

At that time, many estates were being sold off by family members upon the death of the patriarch. But Giuseppe and Valeria did not choose that road. Rather they opted to work the vineyard beginning in 2009. Giuseppe is not an agronomist nor an enologist but he applied himself according to the "natural" principles that his grandfather had taught him.

The estate uses no chemical fertilizers or pesticides in the vineyard and all treatments and harvesting are done manually. According to the duo, "We have completely banned chemistry from both the land and the winery ... The only chemistry we use is that of love." The first harvest was in 2010 and the first bottling of the Vini Scirto wines was in 2012.

We tasted the three wines shown below.


The 2016 Don Pippinu is a blend of Carricante, Catarratto, Minella Bianco, and Grecanico that has had 5 days of skin contact and then lightly pressed. It was aged for 10 months in steel and then bottled. Intense yellow color with dried fruits and minerality on nose  Fruit and mineral intensity on palate. Lengthy finish.

The red wines were primarily Nerello Mascalese which had been fermented in steel tanks, using natural yeasts, and aged in used oak barrels. Both wines showed varying intensities of red fruit, earth, cedar, and leather on the nose. Cherries and minerality on the palate. Balanced with silky tannins and lengthy finishes.

Excellent wines overall.


Refreshing people. Refreshing wines. Refreshing visit.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Winemaking on Mt. Etna

Mt Etna does not possess the continuous, deep-time, winemaking pedigree as does Burgundy and Barolo, the wines to which the region's product is most often compared. Rather, its winemaking environment is a patchwork of identities and experiences resident in the current occupants of the space and the boundaries imposed on that space by the "outside" world. And that patchwork, which the passage of time has not yet rendered irrelevant, is directly correlated to the origins of the parties:
  • Unbroken chain -- these are the winemakers whose relatives have been making wine on the mountain for generations and the current winemaker is a direct descendant and has always been employed in winemaking. Barone di Villagrande and Salvo Foti, for example, fall into this category. Barone di Villagrande has been making wine in the current location since 1727 and is now in the 10th generation. One would expect that some traditional winemaking tools and practices would be evident in this environment.
  • The comeback kids -- Relatively young and with an historical association with the mountain and its traditional winemaking practices. The current winemaker might have worked with his/her grandfather in the vineyards and then went off to do something else. The death of a family member, or the desire to "return to the land," have been the motivational forces. Winemaking at such an estate could run the gamut from traditional to modern, to include a mix of both environments.
  • Newcomers -- within this category there are a number of sub-categories:
    • Winemakers with experience outside the Mt Etna region and bringing that experience to bear in making wine on the mountain (Andrea Franchetti, as an example)
    • Winemakers with experience outside the Mt Etna region but hiring or partnering with local expertise (Kevin Harvey of Rhys Vineyards with Salvo Foti; Gaja and Graci)
    • Owners with expertise outside the wine industry who brings in an international consultant
    • Owners with expertise outside the wine industry who employ a local winemaker for the effort.
    • Owners with no winemaking experience who learn on the job (Frank Cornelissen)
With this frame, let us explore the Mt Etna winemaking environment as evidenced in the practices of selected entities.

Winemaking Approach
For the most part, Etna producers make conventional wines but, as is true in most wine regions today, there are a few natural-wine adherents in town. Examples include Salvo Foti, Frank Cornelissen and Vini Scirto (The former two dwarf the latter in terms of repute and name recognition.).

Salvo Foti decries the use of the words "natural wine." There is no "all natural" wine he says. "It is a marketing ploy" as vines left to their own designs would seek to maximize reproducibility rather than great winemaking fruit. The wine grape is a human contrivance and there is nothing natural about that.

Salvo Foti with Lidia Rizzo

Yet, if one were to consider the natural-wine bucket in today's winemaking arena, Salvo Foti is as natural as they come. I have previously described his traditional, low-impact, sustainable farming practices built on respect for the land and the people who work it. And that philosophy, and those practices, extend into the cellar. He ferments in oak vats using indigenous yeasts and no temperature control (By the time of crush, temperature on the mountain is cold enough to allow that practice without unduly stressing the yeasts and resulting in the production of off-odors or stuck or sluggish fermentations.). Wines are never filtered and minimal SO₂ is used at bottling. Wines are racked and bottled according to the phases of the moon.

Frank Cornelissen does not add sulfur to combat oxidation or micro-organisms. Wines are fermented by indigenous yeasts in small, food-grade plastic tubs. To ensure vintage integrity, all yeasts resident in the cellar are killed prior to the start of wine production. Fermentation is conducted with yeasts brought into the cellar on the grapes.

Frank Cornelissen

Vini Scirto is a small estate located in Passopisciaro and run by a cute, lovey-dovey couple named Giuseppe and Valeria. The estate uses no chemical fertilizers or pesticides in the vineyard and all treatments and harvesting are done manually. According to the duo, "We have completely banned chemistry from both the land and the winery ... The only chemistry we use is that of love."

Giuseppe and Valeria

Picking Decision
When to harvest is one of the most important decisions for the winemaker. It is a decision that cannot be undone. The winemaker will pick at optimal ripeness but optimal ripeness is a function of the style of wine being pursued. If you are looking for "Parker Points" your optimal pick time will be later than the winemaker who is pursuing balanceThe decision on optimal ripeness should be drawn from a number of objective (sugar, acid, pH, ratio between sugar and acid) and subjective (color, ease of removal of berries from pedicel, texture, aroma, flavor) criteria.

All of the wineries reviewed sought to pick at optimal ripeness. Terra Costantino harvests based on sugar and acid levels (as determined by tasting and analysis). The appropriate pick date for Barone di Villagrande grapes is set based on sugar:acid ratios (the estate seeks a 2:1 ratio). Calabretta and Franchetti seek perfect ripeness. In pursuing a Chardonnay that rivals Burgundy, Vini Franchetti determines pick-time as follows: "The harvest is quite fussy, as we pick little portions of the vineyard every day, tasting the berries trailing along the terraces day after day, harvesting only when each individual cluster is ripe."

Harvesting
The majority of these grapes are picked by hand to minimize damage as well as to provide a first-level of selection in the field. The grapes are placed in small containers (to minimize crushing pressures) and then transported to the winery as quickly as possible. It is obviously much more expensive to manual-harvest with in-field selection than it is to machine-harvest but high-quality grapes are a requirement for high-quality wines.

Harvest Reception
Terra Costantino follows up on the first selection in the vineyard with a second selection
at a sorting table in the harvest reception area as is the case for Tenuta di Fessina. Grapes are generally destemmed and crushed after sorting and placed into fermentation vessels.

Fermentation Management
Fermentation Vessels
The dominant fermentation vessel employed in Etna winemaking is a temperature-controlled stainless steel tank (25, 50, and 75 hL in the case of Tenuta di Fessina) but other examples abound. For example: at Calabretta, small- and medium-sized barrels are deployed; 500- to 700-hl barrels are used at Pietradolce; and small food-grade plastic tubs at Cornelissen. At Terra Costantino, cru reds are fermented in concrete tanks of varying dimensions while the top whites are fermented in barrels.

"Cold Soak (Pre-fermentation Maceration)
  • Wine and skin interaction prior to fermentation in order to extract color and phenols 
  • Generally conducted at low temperature to inhibit micro-organism growth and to prevent premature fermentation 
  • Most often associated with red wines but is utilized in the construction of skin-contact white wines.
Most of the winemakers that I interviewed on the mountain pursue crisp white wines and so do not employ cold soaks. Frank Cornelisson and Pietradolce (with its Etna Bianco) do employ skin contact in the making of their white wines. Tenuta di Fessina employs a cold soak for its red wines.

Alcoholic Fermentation
Both indigenous and inoculated fermentations are common on the mountain. Those winemakers who adhere to natural and/or sustainable principles are most likely to utilize indigenous yeasts in their ferments. In the case of red wine ferments, the cap is kept in contact with the juice by way of a mix of punchdowns and pumpovers.

Post-Fermentation Maceration
Most of the Etna red wines are subjected to a post-fermentation maceration. Pietradolce reds, for example, are fermented/macerated for 20 days in 500 - 700 hl barrels. Substances extracted during the maceration include: aromatic compounds, aromatic precursors, phenols and polyphenols, unsaturated lipids, nitrogen, and potassium.

Early-consumption wines are macerated for shorter periods (allows good extraction from the skin (color and enough tannins to ensure its stability) while avoiding the harsh tannins resident in the seeds). Extended-bottle-aging wines are generally macerated for longer periods and thus gain the benefits of the “high molecular weight tannins” which polymerize and precipitate out in the bottle. These tannins soften up over time, while aromas and flavors develop.

Andrea Franchetti does not macerate his Nerello wines. His first three vintages of this wine were not impressive (a problem was with his winemaking technique rather than with the cultivar, he surmised) so, in 2004, he changed his approach (Camuto). The fix that he settled on?
  • He ceased macerating on the skin
  • He lowered the fermentation temperature
  • He moved from barrique to botti for aging.
Franchetti, as cited by Camuto: "You see, I learned that the best part of the Nerello grape is not in the skins, like with the Bordeaux grapes. Its all in the juice."

This is not a widely held view on the mountain based on the number of wineries that macerate today.

Malolactic Fermentation (MLF)
In practice, most red wines undergo MLF. The process is encouraged in cooler areas where grapes have high malic acid content; in cases where the wine is aged in oak barrels; and when the wine style calls for long-term aging in bottle.

Easy-drinking red wines would not materially benefit from the organoleptic changes resulting from MLF. The goal in the case of these wines are to carry the fruity flavors to the market at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest time possible.

Aging
A wide variety of aging regimes are employed on Mt Etna. For example:
  • Tenuta di Fessina -- After fermentation the wine is transferred to used oak tonneaux and 35-hL barrels for aging. Wines are bottled only when they are deemed ready.
  • The Franchetti cru wines are subjected to 18 months aging in large neutral oak barrels
  • The entry-level wines of Pietradolce are aged for 3 months while the more complex wines are aged between 14 and 20 months.
  • At Cornelissen, red grapes are lightly pressed and then placed in large fiberglass containers, if destined for early bottling, or into epoxy-lined, underground amphoras for longer-aged wines.
35-hL barrels at Tenuta di Fessina
Fiberglass containers at Cornelissen

Underground amphoras at Cornelissen

The Barone di Villagrande cellar was built in 1858 to help realize a vision of dual production lines. Prior to its construction, everyone made a Rosato by blending red and white wines. Barone di Villagrande knew that it made a great white wine so decided to build its cellar to allow two production lines. The vats were built in place and the cellar built around it. The vats are made of chestnut and are either 22,000L, 18,000L, or 500L.

Vats built in the 1850s

Some premium wines are aged in bottle prior to market release in order to take advantage of reductive changes to tannins (softer), acid (softer), and flavor compounds (increased complexity). 

The table below is provided to show the Barone di Villagrande aging strategy across its product line.

Wine
Appellation
   Variet(y)ies
Training System
  Fermentation
Aging
Yield
Etna Bianco Superiore

DOC 
Carricante
Guyot, spurred cordon


50 hl/ha
Etna Rosso
do.
Nerello Mascalese (80%), Nerello Mantellato/Nerello Cappuccio (20%)

do.
On skins 6 - 10 days
12 mos barrel; 24 mos bottle
  do.
Etna Rosato

do.
Nerello Mascalese 90%, Carricante 10%
Guyot
On skins 12-18 hours

  do.
Sciara
IGT
Merlot (80%), Nerello 
Mascalese (20%)
Guyot, spurred cordon

On skin 20 days
18 - 24 mos 
in barrel; 6 mos in bottle
  do.
Fiore
do.
Carricante (90%), Chardonnay (10%)

do.
In wood
8 - 9 months in wood
  do.

Legno di Conzo
Etna Bianco Superiore DOC
Carricante
do.
In oak barrels
1 year in wood; 1 year in bottle


Fining and Filtering
These practices are not widely employed on the mountain. Franchetti does employ bentonite fining in the production of his contrada wines.

**********************************************************************************************************
I will cover the wines that result from these processes in my next post.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Mt. Etna viticultural environment

The Etna Consorzio has decreed that Etna DOC wine should meet the following varietal requirements:
  • Etna DOC Rosso (and Rosso Riserva) -- to be made from the indigenous varieties Nerello Mascalese (> 80%) and Nerello Cappuccio (< 20%) plus up to 10% of other non-aromatic grape varieties (red or white)
  • Etna DOC Rosato -- same as for Rosso
  • Etna DOC Spumante -- minimum 60% Nerello Mascalese and maximum 40% of other Sicilian grape varietals
  • Etna DOC Bianco -- to be made from Carricante (> 60%), Catarratto (< 40%), and up to 15% of other non-aromatic grapes such as Minella or Trebbiano
  • Etna DOC Bianco Superiore -- to be made from Carricante (> 80%) and Trebbiano, Minnella, or other non-aromatic Sicilian grape variety (< 20%). All grapes to be sourced exclusively from the area of Milo on the eastern side of the volcano;
and should be made from grapes grown in the delimited area illustrated in the map below (Wines not adhering to these requirements are free to employ the IGT Terre Siciliana designation.).

Etna growing zones

In this post I describe the viticultural environment -- a mix of physical and built environments -- that has been deployed in order to allow winegrowers to effectively meet Consorzio and consumer demands.

Climate
At 3,350 m (10,991 feet), Mt. Etna is the highest mountain in Sicily. Marco Perciabobco of the Department of Agriculture, Sicily Region, describes the region's climate as "mesotermic humid sub-tropical with dry summers." He sees it as a typical Mediterranean climate characterized by an average temperature (coldest month < 18℃, in warmest month > 22℃) and a rainy period mostly concentrated in the autumn and winter months. Rainfall in the region is distributed as follows: between 1.000 and 1.200 mm/yr on the northern, eastern, and southeastern slopes and 500 mm/yr on the southwest slopes.

According to Nesto and di Savino (The World of Sicilian Wine), at the highest elevations for viticulture, the climate is similar to North Italy's, becoming more Sicilian as you proceed downslope. As a result, growing environments differ depending on altitude and aspect.

Etna elevation map. Source: mmsolucoesweb.com.br
The chart below shows the impact of altitude on the grape-growing environment. According to Nesto and di Savino, conditions at the highest elevations are particularly helpful for white and rosato wines and grapes used in their production can be found growing as high as 1300 m (4265 feet). These high-elevation climatic conditions also reduce the incidence of vine pests and diseases and naturally limits vine yield. Below 900 m, conditions become more suitable for red wine production.


As shown on the below chart, growing conditions are also significantly impacted by aspect.

Data from Nesto and di Savino

The Nebrodi Mountains offer some protection to the north slope of Mt Etna but some wind does make it over the top, bringing rain in the autumn and winter and moisture year-round. There are some benefits to this moisture though. The runoff, unlike the case for the runoff on the eastern and southeastern slopes, proceeds downhill at a moderate pace and is absorbed by the lava beneath the soil, This water store then becomes available to the vine roots during the growing season. The major beneficiary of this process is the area between the towns of Solicchiata and Randazzo. The wind from the northeast blows steam from the vents to the southeast creating a shadow which serves to reduce evaporation.

The southeast and eastern slopes are unprotected from the autumn and winter rains but the combination of rapid runoff and early morning sun contribute to their attractiveness as growing regions (especially for whites). The Foti Aeris vineyard is located on the east slope and, as explained by Salvo, lies between the mountain and the sea and the warm air from the latter meets with the cold air from the former over Milo with the result being significant rainfall over the entire growing area.

In addition to the rain, growers have to contend with year-round winds which can attain speeds of as much as 50 miles/hour. There are beneficial aspects to the winds, however. Moisture dries out rapidly, keeping vine diseases at bay and making it easier to farm organically. As a result, the vineyard makes it through the growing season with only sulfur and copper sprays. In addition, the sea and wind combine to imbue the Carricante grown on this side of the mountain with a saltiness that is not evident in Carricantes grown on the north face.

Terra Costantino is a winery located on the southeastern slope of the mountain and experiences markedly different climatic conditions than do north-slope-resident wineries. For example, it is warmer in the southeast than in the north; 4 to 7 degrees warmer, as a matter of fact. 

The west slopes are generally the worst for quality wine production because of the late arriving sun.

Soils
"All Etna soil rests on, or directly derives from, lava that flowed and hardened for thousands of years, along with ejected pumice, lapilli, and windblown volcanic ash" (Nesto and di Savino).

Historically, eruptive events at Mt Etna have been of the Strombolian style but occasional Hawaiian-style eruptions generate considerable lapilli fall on the flanks (The Strombolian and Hawaiian styles are described in the table below.). Large active volcanoes with the Etna eruptive style present some of the most complex soil-forming environments on earth (James, et al.).

Source: http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/how_volcanoes_work
Factors such as diversity in age and characteristics of volcanic materials, land surface morphology, local climate, vegetation, and land-use history all contribute to complex soil spatial patterns. In the profile dimension, complex soils result from intermittent tephra deposition, anthropogenic disturbance (in the case of Mt Etna, over 70% of the vineyards are terraced), erosion and subsequent deposition. According to James, et al., "soil profiles may reflect the amount and frequency of tephra deposition as much as 'normal' profile-forming soil processes operating on stable surfaces."

Landscape Formation
Volcanism in the Etna region began during the middle Pleistocene, at around 600 ka. The peak today stands at 3350 m elevation and the base is 40 km across. At elevations below 1100 m, lava varies in age from the 2014/2015 flow to the 500,000-year-old tholeitic basalts of a small area on the lower part of the southern flank (James, et al.). The terrain of historical (12th century to today) flows, as well as some pre-historic flows, is dominated by aa lava (basaltic lava with a rough surface, pahoehoe (basaltic lava with a smooth or billowy surface), and toothpaste (transition between aa and pahoehoe) morphology (James, et al.).

On Etna, depositive explosive activity from the summit crater is frequent with less frequent eruptions, often with higher effusive rates, from the flank vents and Strombolian activity from vents high on the volcano. The tephra varies in deposition rate and particle size with distance and direction from the source and accumulates unevenly on rugged lava surfaces. As an example, areas on the western and northwestern slopes of Mt Etna are barren rockscapes due to insufficient topsoil for significant vineyard development.

Soil Formation
As described above, volcanic activity on Mt Etna is both effusive (lava flows) and explosive (airborne ejection of pyroclastics). According to Nesto and di Savino, the lava flows create a patchwork of terroirs that is pertinent to any discussion of Etna contradas. Initial flows are barren rock pasteurized by heat which, after cooling, require hundreds of years to erode into soil and develop hummus, and, in so doing, become suitable for vines. The erosion product is sand rich in potassium and other minerals. Organic matter, created initially by the growth of micro-organisms (and later by plants and animals), results in rich, fertile soil.

But, according to Marco Perciabobco (Department of Agriculture, Sicily Region), soil parent material in the Etna environment is primarily pyroclastic (My post on volcanic soils detail the weathering of these materials). Weathering of this coarse-textured parent material, according to Marco, produces soils with an "aerated hypogeal (underground) environment and the following characteristics:
  • Extremely well suited for the growth and development of vine roots
  • Soil water stagnations are rare
  • They warm easily (this generates stable conditions for the occurrence of the chemical reactions required for the weathering of the finest materials).


    Soil Distribution
    According to Perciabobco, the Department of Agriculture's soil survey dataset shows five different landscape systems in Etna: northern; northwestern; eastern; southeastern; and southern. The soils of these environments differ in the degree of weathering of the primary clay minerals. From north to south wetness decreases and so does weathering of the volcanic constituents. The soils of the northern landscape, when compared to the soils of the south, are finer textured, have a higher organic matter content, and a have a higher value of cation-exchange capability.

    Tenuta di Fessina's main vineyard is located in Contrada Moscamento (Muscamento in the dialect) in the commune of Rovitello on the north face of the mountain. The vineyard soils date back to between 4000 and 15,000 years ago, and is comprised of pumice and light sand enriched with iron, copper, manganese, and potassium. Soil depth ranges between 10 and 12 meters.

    Barone di Villagrande (Milo on the eastern face) was the beneficiary of the formation of the valle del bove, the result of the collapse of a dormant volcano. The collapse resulted in landslides that carried debris as far as the coast. The Villagrande soil is rich in iron and copper and has adequate amounts of potassium, phosphorous and magnesium. It is poor in nitrogen and calcium-free.

    Communes and Contradas
    A ministerial decree dated September 27, 2011 has updated the requirements of the 1968 decree as regards production zones and labeling requirements. The decree lists 20 communes and 133 contrade with defined borders within the DOC and allows for placement of contrada names on the label if all the grapes used in the wine were sourced from the subject contrada.

    "The production area of the appellation of origin covers part of the territory of the municipalities of Aci, Sant'Antonio, Acireale, Belpaso, Biancavilla, Castiglione di Sicilia, Giarre, Linguaglossa, Mascali, Milo, Nicolosi, Paterno, Pedara, Piedimonte Etneo, Randazzo, Sant'Alfio, Santa Maria di Licodia, Santa Venerina, Trecastagni, Viagrande and Zafferana Etnea, on the slopes of Etna, in the province of Catania" (www.enotecaregionalesiciliana.it/listings/vino-etna-doc/).

    In their explanation of the formation of contrade, Nesto and di Savino state thusly:
    Lava flows radiate down from Etna's summit, more or less, like the spokes of a wheel from a hub ... All Etna soil rests on or directly derives from lava that has flowed and hardened for thousands of years, along with ejected pumice, lapilli, and windblown volcanic ash. There are lava flows upon lava flows upon lava flows. The hardened flows on the surface each have a different age and different soil constituents.
    Vinifranchetti.com describes the same process a little more colorfully and, further, relating it to territories and wine:
    Thousands of mouths across a fifty-kilometer diameter on Mount Etna have spit lava from every different depth under the earth, covering the surface of the volcano where vines take root. Flowing lava -- descending sometimes dense and slow, at times fast as water - eventually stops, spreading and hardening at various altitudes. After cooling for many years, these flatter areas over the centuries become established properties, each one producing a different taste of wine because of the different mineral origin of their soils and, more importantly, because of the grain that the lava had broken into during its cooling process: sand, gravel, powder, or rock. Under the same old names the properties became territorial subdivisions called contrade, and, with regards to wine, they represent Etna's own version of a cru.
    Contrade as territorial designations have gone the way of the dodo bird but not so its relevance for wine. According to Nesto and di Savino, of the cadre of new winemakers to breach the Etna walls in the early 2000s, Marc de Grazia was the first to "promote the connection between Burgundy Crus and Etna contradas and between contradas and lava flows." Further, say the authors, "Certain Etna producers support contrada labeling because it connects Etna to the concept of terroir and, from a marketing standpoint, models Etna on Burgundy, the wine zone with which the concept of terroir is most closely associated."

    Salvatore Giuffrida, the consulting agronomist for Valentini, Gambino and the IRW, cautions against this focus on the mineral content in the lava flows. Speaking to Nesto and di Savino, he indicated that exposure, soil depth, and elevation had greater impacts on vines and wine flavor than did the mineral differences between lava flows.

    Winemakers across the region have hearkened to the practice and advice of early adapters such as de Graci and Franchetti and are producing contrada/cru wines in greater numbers.

    The map below is a recent addition to the literature and attempts to capture the contradas in the communes on the north face of the mountain.


    While a noble first step, I have a number of issues with the effort:
    • It only captures the northern slope of the mountain
    • It does not clearly delimit the Communes
    • It is not clear which Contradas are associated with which Communes
    • It is not clear where the boundaries fall between the various Contradas.
    Grape Varieties
    Carricante
    Carricante is an ancient white variety -- prevalent on Mt Etna's eastern face -- that yields low-potassium, low-pH, high acidity wines (benanti.it). The bunches are of average length at ripening, with medium-sized berries of a green-yellowish color.

    Carricante (tenutaterrenere.com)
    Frank Cornelissen, one of the leading winemakers on the mountain, has historically viewed the variety as too acidic to produce world-class wine. Ian d'Agata, author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy, on the other hand, is quoted in Szabo's Volcanic Wines thusly: "potentially one of Italy's greatest cultivars ..." that "... when properly tended to, yields wines of great longevity and intense mineral character."

    According to Salvo Foti, long-famed viticulturist, Carricante vines have to be somewhere between 10- and 15-years old in order to begin giving great concentration. Salvo said that both his father and grandfather worked Carricante and the wine's high acidity was extremely important in the days before widespread access to refrigeration. The wine is also great for raw fish, the main dish in the area.

    There are some 100% Carricante wines on the market but the grape is usually the primary varietal in an Etna DOC wine. It is also used, at lower elevations, to lighten the color and body of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucchio blends.

    Catarratto
    Catarratto is a high-yielding, low-acidity Sicilian white grape variety. It is the main grape used in the production of Marsala but on Etna is primarily blended with Carricante. There are two clones -- Commune and Lucido -- with the former having more acid and less sugar than the latter as well as being the clone of choice on the mountain.

    Catarratto (etnawine.it)
    Catarratto does not engender as much discussion on the mountain as does Carricante.

    Minnella
    Minnella is a white-berry vine that is indigenous to Etna where it is mostly found in old vineyards interplanted with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. This is an early ripening variety.

    Nerello Mascalese
    Nerello Mascalese is the most important variety on Mt Etna. In older vineyards in can be found interplanted with Nerello Cappucchio while newer plantings position these varieties into separate rows or blocks to facilitate cellar rather than field blends.

    Nerello Mascalese (tenutaterrenere.com)
    The vine is vigorous and is readily affected by:
    • Vintage conditions
    • Cultivation area
    • Training system
    • Density
    • Cultural practices.
    The wines from the variety are mildly sweet and "distinctively tannic." Szabo compares it to Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo both in color and the ability to reflect even minor variations in terroir.

    Nerello Cappuccio
    This variety's medium-to-small-sized bunches and medium-sized grapes produce wines with good acid and tannin levels. The variety buds and ripens earlier than Nerello Mascalese with the former characteristic bringing the negative effects of late spring frosts into play.

    Used primarily in a blend with Nerello Mascalese, this grape brings color and perfume to the blend as well as serving to soften up some of the harder edges of its partner.

    Vineyard Management
    For most of it lengthy vinous history, the Mt Etna region had utilized the albarello training system as the foundation of its viticultural regime.

    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 soils dominated. According to Nesto and di Savino, 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.

    Pre-phylloxra vine. Source: tenutaterrenere.com

    And these pre-Phylloxera vineyards had all been albarello-trained (As were all vines planted prior to the introduction of the Guyot training system.). Albarello training was well suited to the Etna environment. According to Nesto and di Savino:
    • 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.
    Albarello-trained vines in Etna are planted at densities of 8000 to 10,000 vines/ha dictating costly manual labor for vineyard work. Many of the old vineyards have lost their uniformity due to the practice of replacing damaged vines by sticking one of the branches into the ground where it takes root.

    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.

    As explained to me by Salvo Foti, if you went back 20 years, most new plantings were Guyot, as growers pursued the perceived benefits of mechanization and increased yields. But now things are looking up, he continued, as small producers are going back to albarello for new plantings. Viticulture on the mountain is a mix of the traditional and these "newer" training systems and associated practices.

    There is no fiercer proponent and advocate of the traditional approach than the aforementioned Salvo Foti. In his writings (Foti has written a couple of books and a number of pamphlets on wine-related topics), Foti draws a sharp contrast between "producing Etna wines" and "making wine on Etna." Producing an Etna wine results in a product that "captures the essence of the land, the environment, and the people;" requires a winemaker who is "committed to improving and preserving the land where she or he operates," and a vineyard that is ...
    in harmony with the terroir, is naturally integrated with the Etna volcano and is expressed in vertical: lives and grows upwards (leaves and shoots to the sky, in lavic stone terraces) and down in the depth (roots), in opposite directions but complementary between them (Salvo Foti, Applied Viticulture, Book 4, The Etnean Palmento: the traditional vinification).
    Foti's core mission (Nesto and di Savino), is:
    • Protection of the land
    • Preservation of albarello viticulture
    • Cultivation of indigenous vine varieties
    • Emphasizing the humanity of the grower
    • Conservation of Sicilian culture.
    His key viticultural principles are:
    • The use of the albarello training system
    • Dense vine spacing
    • Avoidance of systemic sprays and synthetic soil additives
    • Chestnut poles for vine support.
    Foti's key principles on display at Aeris Vineyard

    Foti is not a big fan of non-albarello training systems (Foti, The Verticality of Etna):
    In the Etna, the vineyard cultivated in the horizontal way (destruction of the terraces to make flat the land, cultivation of the vineyards in the espalier system) is a forcing system for the vine, intended only for the mechanization and for the quantity. 
    Foti has formed an organization called iVignieri wherein participants farm their land according to his principles and also serve as resources to work on farms of potential adherents.

    Foti with his son Simone

    Foti works the Aeris vineyard according to I Vigneri principles. The vines are planted high-density in a quincunx formation with chestnut staves for support. The Quincunx planting system is, essentially, a square planting system with a fifth plant in the center.

    Quincunx planting system (http://e-tesda.gov.ph/)
    As described in quincunx.it:
    In viticulture, the quincunx is a planting pattern: the vines, trained as bushes, are arranged in staggered rows that repeat the lines hinted at in the quincunx. It was the favorite system of the ancient era, because at the same time it met the requirements of order, efficient use of the space and aesthetics: the vineyard looks symmetric regardless of the terrains shape.
    It is a way of doing viticulture that is very expensive in terms of energy and economic resources: machinery, in fact, can only be employed to a limited extent. Furthermnore, to grow and maintain a healthy bush vineyard planted in the quincunx pattern, it is essential that the growers have a long experience in the area where they operate. 
    According to Salvo, in the original system there was a middle plant (in the Sicilian dialect called "o francisco"). They no longer place a plant in the middle but still mark the spot when they make the alignment. So, essentially, they have a square planting system with a marker in the middle for esthetic purposes. The diagram below, provided by Salvo, illustrates this point.


    The field is worked by hand on the slopes while a small tractor aids in the process on the flatter portions. Lavic stone terraces have been built to ensure that the soils are not washed away by rainfall.

    In contrast, Terra Costantino, an organically farmed estate on the southeast flank of the mountain, has 60% of its vines planted cordone speranato and the remaining Albarello. Rootstocks are Ruggieri and Paulson. Average vine age ranges between 15 and 35 years.



    The farm is not a monoculture. Chestnut, olive, and cherry trees are planted all around the estate. Legumes are planted between the rows to aid in nitrogen fixing.

    Calabretta (Randazzo) adheres to a sustainable, noninterventionist approach in both its grape-growing and winemaking activities. The grape vines are grown among olive trees and fruit orchards and never see chemical pesticides or herbicides (small quantities of copper sulphate and sulphurum are used to combat powdery and downy mildew). Old vineyards are head pruned while newer vineyards are trained Guyot.

    Pietradolce (Solicchiata) also farms organically. Vine training is a mix of albarello (legacy and youngest vines) and espalier. Albarello is cropped shorter here than on other Etna estates. The estate’s position is that albarello affords the best expression of Etna wines in that it forces the roots to dig deep in search of nutrients and water.

    Barone di Villagrande (Milo) was certified biologic in 1989 and uses nature to combat vineyard pests and diseases. Strategically positioned bushes on the margins and at transition points in the vineyard provide a natural habitat for flora and fauna. Forests to the southeast and east provide protection from offshore winds. Trees from these forests are used as sources for chestnut barrels with the wood dried for 4 to 5 years at Villagrande before being sent off to Trapani in Marsala to be finished. Some sulfur is used from time to time to combat mildew.

    The foundation of the Frank Cornelissen style is non-intervention and this philosophy permeates every aspect of the estate's grape-growing and winemaking activities. The figure below attempts to capture the Cornelissen viticultural environment in a single place and, in the areas of fertilization and pest management, we see that philosophy clearly demonstrated.


    Frank is so committed to letting nature take its course that he has sworn off the broadly accepted Mt Etna practices of monoculture and high planting density to interplant local fruit trees with vines in pursuit of a more complex ecosystem.

    The core objective of Frank's viticultural regime is the production of grapes that lead to profound wines. The practices to promote this goal include: crop management through pruning; tailoring of bunches to concentrate sugar; handpicking of defective grapes; late harvests; and multiple passes through the vineyards to ensure harvesting of fully ripened grapes.

    Challenges
    One of the challenges facing the producers is getting the consumers (and even some growers) on board with the Contrada scheme and demonstrably showing (i) the differences between contrade wines and (ii) that any such differences are soil-related rather than aspect or elevation. And that challenge can only be met with greater clarification of the contrade. As I have mentioned previously, there is a need for the following types of data in order to allow quality comparative analyses:
    • Delimited Contradas by Commune (with explanation if a Contrada spans multiple Communes)
    • Size (ha) of each Contrada
    • Exposition of each Contrada
    • Elevation range of each Contrada
    • Soil types for each Contrada
    • Variety percentage by Contrada.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme