Santa Maria La Nave, heroic winemaking in Mount Etna (Mi amigo el Vino)

Great interview to Sonia Spadaro of Santa Maria La Nave. The whole article is here: Heroic winemaking in Mount Etna

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Making wine on an active volcano is fascinating! Mount Etna in particular is a very special volcano, it is the highest active volcano in Europe and it is close to the sea, in fact it is from the sea itself that Etna has risen over 600 thousands years ago.

Etna has a huge influence on many aspects of viticulture, first of all there is incredible soil diversity, and there are approximately 220 craters at different altitudes on Etna, created in different periods of its life, which implies different minerals and different ages of the soils. If you take for instance the two craters Monte Ilice and Monte Rosso, they are less than three kilometers away from each other, but Monte Rosso has a red soil with a very high content of iron, while Monte Ilice (on the side where we have our vineyard) has an incredibly black soil made of volcanic ashes and sands. Such a small distance, but the same identical vine planted in such different soils will produce very different wines. Also the altitude and the side of the volcano have a massive impact on viticulture: one thing it is to produce at 200 meters above sea level on the South East side, one completely different thing it is to produce at 1100 meters on the North West side: it is like producing in two different continents!

We have also to consider other three elements which make this place heaven for winemakers: the incredible tradition in viticulture (we have a huge history on many fronts, for instance the way we prune and train our vines: the “alberello etneo”), the fact that we are by the sea, which influences our grapes, and also the incredible varieties of local grapes: we have more than forty local grapes on Etna.

If you consider all these elements, you will immediately understand why Mount Etna is a place of unique variety of terroirs; it is a place of immense diversity, a blessed place where to practice viticulture.

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How are your two wines?

Millesumare is a Grecanico Dorato “in purezza” it comes from a jewel of a vineyard at 1100 meters above sea level on the North West side of Mount Etna, one of the highest vineyards in Europe. It is a mountain wine, yet it is fully enriched by the incredible mineral structure that the volcano brings to the glass… The vineyard has been planted after a very long massal selection, lasted fifteen years, on very old abandoned ungrafted vines of Grecanico Dorato. It is not clear how ancient farmer selected these clones and brought them at such extreme altitude on Mount Etna. I find fascinating thinking that my small production of Millesulmare, which is now drunk in many countries in the world, is the result of the very extreme choice of an ancient creative and a bit crazy farmer. Millesulmare is a very flexible wine for pairing, pasta with fish, oysters, calamari tempura to name a few pairings, but Millesulmare and Sushi is a match made in heaven…

Calmarossa Etna Rosso DOC is a Nerello Mascalese 85% and 15% Nerello Cappuccio, it is a vibrant wine, which is my view has elegance and charm, but has also the generosity and the vitality of my enchanting Volcano! Sommeliers usually pair Etna Rosso with mature cheeses and with red meat. Initially I was also influenced by the pairing commandments that you study at sommelier school, but thanks to the creative sommeliers Alessandro Zingarello and Paolo Arensi and of the chef Denis Pedron of Langosteria 10, a very prestigious fish restaurant in Milano, I have appreciated Calmarossa with raw fish and also oysters (my favorite pairing now).

What makes your wines different from other Sicilia wines?

There are some many great wines in Sicily, also so different wines that a comparison would be impossible. If you see my vineyards you understand what the peculiarities of my wines are: both vineyards are unique places, gardens of bio-diversity, where we tried to leave intact and improving where possible the eco-system, to protect the old vines and trees. In our vineyard in Monte Ilice we are doing a lot of work only to clean and then lift the ancient vines, for certain vines this work will take several years (to avoid to break them).

Also my vineyards are small oasis for the wild animals and insects, if a rabbit or some bees eat few grapes just before harvest, I am sad because I have even less wine, but at the same time I am happy because I understand that all the system is working. And this has a huge impact on the wine you find in the glass. If you protect the environment around the vines, you abolish wrong viticulture techniques (monoculture, pesticides and the heavy chemical products, which kill the ecosystem and the soil), the vines live in a much healthier environment, and they follow the natural cycles, and their grapes are not the results of what you impose on them but on how a living soil has fed the vines during the year, of the weather, the rains, the winds and in our case of the eruptions.

Also, if you talk about uniqueness and differences with other wines, the fact that we have embraced extreme viticulture in such beautiful but challenging vineyards, makes the wines unique. There are not so many crazy people around, willing to face the challenges that we face every day in our vineyards. But we do it with true love for these territories and with incredible enthusiasm…

Do you have expansion plans for the future?

I have dreams, but not really expansion plans. My dreams are many, the first and most ambitious is to bring the Monte Ilice vineyard back to its ancient splendor. It will take years, as I mentioned before, we need to lift most of the old vines and set free and clean the ones which have been abandoned. I am also trying to restore the ancient winery, which in Sicilian is called Palmento. It is intact, but it has been abandoned twenty years ago or more, I would like to store there all the old winery tools that I have and make it sort of small museum of Etna viticulture. I am also, as you mentioned, working at the Metodo Classico (1300 bottles) and at the Cru of Crus from the oldest vines. I am also trying to list and describe in my website all the indigenous grape varieties I have in the vineyard, takes a lot of time, but it is very important it is a treasury that needs to be protected. So many things to do, but this is such an incredible and enchanting journey.

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