Etna wines – Part 1
Probably the most fascinating and passionate wine regions in Italy is Mount Etna. Etna is not only a mountain but an active volcano as well, continuously spitting ash and lava on its slopes; yet grapes have been cultivated on it since antiquity- in fact the legend localizes the first Sicilian vineyard on the slopes of Etna.
Supposedly (Ateneo narrates so in III century BC ) it was Orestheus also called Phytios meaning ‘the planter’ to plant the first vine plant in Sicily and on Etna. The wine of Etna is often mentioned in Greek mythology as the favourite drink of the Cyclopes who lived on its slopes and judged it as ‘like nectar and ambrosia all in one’. It was thanks to this nectar that Ulisses manages to escape after having blinded the most famous of the Cyclopes namely Polyphemus with a burning stake..
The area of Etna has characteristics that make it very different from pedoclimatic point of view to the other areas of Sicily. The soil is of volcanic origin, brown, with reaction from neutral to sub-alcaline, rather poor in nitrogen, assimilable phosphorus but rich in potassium which makes it suitable for the vine plant. The percentage of alluvial soils is very small, constituting about 20 per cent. The terrains on Etna differ a lot depending on the altitude and exposures as well as centuries of lava flows changing it from rich and fertile to a hard and solid volcanic rock on which nothing can grow but some lichens. The rainfall is also much higher than in the rest of the island. The vineyards start from foothills to rich the height of 1000 m above sea level where they grow on a particular system of terraces, built rigorously of the same lava stone that is to be found everywhere on Etna.
The typical rural building used for pressing the grapes on Etna is called ‘Palmento’.
It is also constructed of lava stone and with two different levels inside it- one (above) where the grapes where stocked and then stepped on with bare feet and the other one ( below ) where all the juice (mosto) would go for fermentation. There is still quite a few of Palmenti on Etna although very few of them still serve their original purpose. Most have been turned into restaurants and houses or even museums while modern wineries make use of the industrial press. Most wineries on Etna nowadays are quite small- it is impossible to see huge extensions on vineyards like the one you find in New Zealand for instance. In recent years they underwent a considerable change in going from somewhat anonymous to the finest wine production. The winemakers understood how important it is to concentrate on quality and have invested all their energies and resources in it. Foto: one of a few Palmenti on Etna