Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mt Etna Wine Estates: Marc de Grazia's Tenuta Delle Terre Nere

In reviewing my past year's writings on Mt Etna wines,
two gaps became readily apparent: (i) no coverage of the region's main grape varieties and (ii) no profile of, arguably, the DOCs most important estate, Tenuta Delle Terre Nere. I address the latter of these two gaps in this post.

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere (DTN) is located in the township of Randazzo on the north flank of the mountain and owns 30-ha of vineyards distributed between 10 parcels in four crus between that town and the village of Solicchiata.

Orange indicates region of DTN vineyard locations

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere
The estate is owned by Marc de Grazia, he of Barolo Boys fame. Marc came to the world's attention as the leader of a band of young winemakers who had upended the traditional world of Barolo. Prior to de Grazia's intervention, Barolo wines were subjected to lengthy maceration in large wooden vessels and required significant aging to become approachable. Marc encouraged a group of young winemakers to adopt the French style of shorter maceration periods and aging in barriques in order to make the wines approachable earlier.

This approach -- dubbed the "modern style" -- was anathema to the traditionalists in Barolo and many a relationship was fractured as a result. Marc was undeterred by the waves and took these winemakers on tours of their markets, a practice not heretofore common to the region. These marketing tours served to forge links between the winemakers and their customers and led to significant market growth for this new style of Barolo and to de Grazia becoming one of the most influential importers of Italian wines in the US market.

Marc came to Mt Etna in the early 2000s and was energized by the potential that he saw. According to Brandon Tokash, my good friend and the repository of Mt Etna institutional knowledge, "Marc started bottling under his own label of Terre Nere with the 2002 vintage, a small production vinified and bottled at Benanti. 2003 was a bigger bottling though still at Benanti. 2004 was the first vintage actually bottled at Marco' estate.

According to Nesto and di Savino (The World of Sicilian Wine), de Grazia had a number of advantages coming out of the gate:
  1. He had strong ties to the international wine trade
  2. His significant experience working with some of the most talented winemakers in Italy
  3. A new facility with enough room to house his production as well as to vinify the wines of small producers who had grapes but no crush capability.
I visited DTN last year during Contrada dell'Etna and had the pleasure of being taken on a tour of the facilities by Marc and participating in a tank-tasting with him and a bottle-tasting with his winemaker.

Lidia Rizzo, author, Brandon Tokash, and Marc de Grazia

Marc's vision of the Etna DOC is as a region on par with the Côte de Nuit region of Burgundy with cru areas resulting from differences in soil types, altitude, exposure, and micro-climate. He has been an untiring proponent of cru-labeled wines and follows that principle with the grapes for his wines. DTN vineyards are located in the following crus (contradas in Mt Etna).

Table 1: Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Contradas
Cru # of Parcels Elevation (m) Soil Notes
Calderara Sottano
600 - 700 Rockiest cru in the appellation; black volcanic pumice carpets vineyard

800 - 900 Very poor soil; volcanic sand mixed with basaltic pebbles and traces of ash Both vineyards steeply sloped and slightly terraced
Feudo di Mezzo

Loose, deep volcanic ash with small volcanic pebbles Terraced, traditional albarello plantings
Santo Spirito

Loose, deep, fine, jet-black volcanic ash

The estate is farmed organically and focuses on vineyard management and will purchase grapes from growers who adhere to those principles. In addition, the estate has a long-term lease on a 4-ha plot.

The estate produced in excess of 195,000 bottles of wine in 20014 (see table below), 15,000 of which was rosé, 58,000 white, and the remainder red. A total of 18,000 of the white wines were cru-labeled while 32,500 of the reds were so labeled.

Table 2: Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Wines
Type Name Initial Vintage Cru Vyd Size Variet(ies)y Production Exposure Vine Age Production (btls)
Rosato Etna Rosato DOC
N/A N/A Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio 5-6 tons/ha North 25-60 yrs
White Etna Bianco DOC
Many 13.5 ha Carricante (65%), Cattarrato, Grecanico, Inzolia, Minnella do. Differing do.

Cuvee delle vigne niche Etna Bianco DOC

3.5 ha Carricante do. North do.

Cuvee delle vigne niche Etna Bianco DOC Santo Spirito N/A Santo Spirito 1.5 ha Carricante 6 tons/ha North, 700-750 m asl 40-100 yr

Cuvee delle vigne niche Etna Bianco DOC Calderara Sottano N/A Calderara Sottano 1.5 ha Carricante 6 tons/ha North, 600-750 m asl 15-60 yrs
Red Etna Rosso DOC

Nerello Mascalese (95%), Nerello Cappuccio

North 6-50 yrs

Etna Rosso DOC Calderara Sottano

Calderara Sottano 13.5 ha Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio < 5 tons/ha North, 600-700 m asl 50-100yrs

Etna Rosso DOC Santo Spirito

Santo Spirito 10 ha do. 6 tons/ha North 40-100yrs

Etna Rosso DOC Feudo di Mezzo

Feudi di Mezzo 1.5 ha do. < 5 tons/ha North 50-80 yrs

Etna Rosso DOC Guardiola

Guardiola 1.6 ha do. do. North, 800-1000 m 50-70 yrs

Etna Rosso DOC Prephylloxera
Calderara Sottano (Don Peppino) 0.8 ha do. 4-5 tons/ha North 130+ yrs

I will be hosting a tasting of the wines of this estate next week and will report on the individual wines post that event.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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