Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Aeris Vineyard: An Etna joint venture between Salvo Foti and Kevin Harvey of Rhys Vineyard

A visit with Salvo Foti was the first thing on our Saturday morning agenda so Brandon picked me up in Linguaglossa bright and early in the morning for our trip out to our meeting point at Vigna Caselle, just west of Milo.

We arrived at our destination and turned left into a driveway with a locked gate. Brandon got out and examined the gate which appeared to be latched from the inside. He walked around to the other side of the building but there was no automobile access from that side. There were no signs of humanity so he opened the gate and we drove on into the compound. We looked around, calling out all along, but raised no one. Brandon got on the phone and called Salvo and, lo and behold, they were in the vineyard across the street, half a mile away and 50 meters up.

As I came to find out later, we were in Vigna Caselle, a Salvo Foti property, while they were in Vigna Aeris, the Salvo Foti - Kevin Harvey joint venture. The two properties are separated by a street. We started out in their direction, lifting a pound of volcanic sand with each step, but an exit point from our enclosure was not readily apparent. The view of the volcano was spectacular though.

So we placed another call to Salvo and he said ok, they would come down to us. Brandon is not a guy who can sit still, however, so he continued to poke around and eventually found a gate which provided egress. We crossed over into the Aeris vineyard and met up with the group coming down.

The group was comprised of two men and a woman. As introductions were made, it turned out that the older gentleman was the famed Salvo Foti, the younger was his son Simone. The woman was a visiting winemaker from mainland Italy (or, as the Mt Etneans say, Italy). As the group had completed their circuit of the vineyard, it wad agreed that Salvo would continue on to the Palmento to taste his wines with the winemaker while Simone would show us the vineyard.

The vineyard is 3 ha in size, rising from 800 m at its lowest point to 850 m at the top, and was planted to 20,000 albarello-trained Carricante vines in 2013. This vineyard, 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. Red grapes do not ripen here. 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. 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.

The soil is sandy and of volcanic origin with a substantial portion of ripiddu (lapilli and eruptive pumice) intermixed with red soils from the Sahara Desert deposited here by the aforementioned winds. The sandy soils drain rapidly, forcing the roots to dig deep in search of moisture and nutrients. A soil profile of the vineyard is shown in the image below.

Aeris soil profile
Foti works this 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") but now they no longer place a plant in the middle, but when they make the alignment, they still mark the spot. So, essentially, they have a square planting system with a marker in the middle for esthetic purposes. The diagram below, provided by Salvo, illustrates his 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.

Lavic stone terraces

There is no irrigation and no fertilizers or pesticides are used. The vines are green-pruned in June.

Halfway through our walk we were joined by Lidia Rizzo who lent her formidable expertise to the discussion in the vineyard and the tasting which followed. I will detail that tasting in a follow-up post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Intrigued by the quincunx system. Don't the "fifth plants" have to be of a different type to those in the corners of the squares? That is, some sort of infill planting. If all bushes are the same, the quincunx is identical to a square grid. In your image with the edges of the squares run at 45º, with a size of about 5.3m.

    1. Steve here is a descriptive of the difference between the two. http://e-tesda.gov.ph/Fruit_Grower/Mod1/M1_L2_plantingsystem.html

      I did not see any differences in the middle plant but I am checking with Salvo Foti to see if I missed that.

    2. I found the "filler plant" mentioned a couple of times when I googled. Here is an example:

      Or maybe it is just the angle between the square and the edges of the vineyard that is what makes it quincunx.

    3. Steve here is another take on the topic.

    4. Steve, Salvo has come back with some additional information which I have incorporated into the document. Thanks