Etna closes our 90 day harvest
Italy has the richest heritage of cultivated vine varieties in the world, their existence and identifying qualities are the result of soil types, altitude, farming techniques and a hundred other factors. In Sicily the unbelievable diversity of Italian grape varieties reaches its height, exemplified in Tasca d’Almerita’s Regaleali estate, where Alberto Tasca and our head oenologist Laura Orsi deeply embrace this good fortune, and are dedicated to a specialized estate-wide project focused on Sicily’s native grapes.
But diversity doesn’t stop with varietals: even the same grape can produce extraordinarily different results. On the slopes of Mount Etna, Nerello Mascalese planted just a vineyard apart can produce wines that are radically different. Etna’s land is rugged and wild, and it is the native varieties such as Nerello Mascalese and Carricante, that – thanks to their resistant skin and late ripening – can sustain the frequent precipitations and cold volcanic temperatures. A heroic viticulture (mountainous or cliff-side viticulture) developed exclusively on terraces with dry stonewalls at one of the highest vine growing appellations within Europe (Doc Etna). There are more than forty-two variables that determine the soil variability, between the age and stratification of the lava flows, exposure and altitude.
This unique terroir finds expression in contradas – the local name for vineyard sites, or “crus” – on Etna. Ours are found in Piano Dario, Grasà, Sciaranova and Marchesa. Since 2016, we have harvested and vinified contrada by contrada, seeking to create a sincere expression of the land.
While the cool onset of November now surrounds the mountain and the first snowflakes dare to fall, the 2017 harvest has only merely passed: we finished picking in late October. The harvest here is quieter than the rest of Sicily, perhaps visitors do not want to upset the silence of the mountain, she is pervasive; the smell of fertile soil and slightly sulfuric smoke creeps into your nostrils, and the fog surrounds you. Driving higher and higher into the mountain, you enter an ethereal world. Everything is defined by the life cycle of lady Etna. As the workers selectively sort through the grapes in the Tascante cellar, exchanges are made in dialect. Etna’s ferocious power to halt history is explained in the fact that in the local dialect there is no future tense. Tomorrow everything might be different, tomorrow there could be nothing.
The effect of her eruptions are felt in the soil, which produce wines of diverse structures, longevity and tannins. We play a part, having our choice in pruning, vinification methods and type of wood for the barrels, which each have consequences in relation to the finished wine, but the true alchemy is in the hands of the Volcano. Now the Nerello Mascalese grapes for ‘Il Tascante’ are aging in their barrels, separated by contrada. The Carricante for “Buonora” is aged in stainless steal tanks, preserving its lightening-like acidity and nature.
Etna, the final step on our harvesting journey has come to an end. Her presence is symbolic to the culture itself: a Sicilian’s inherent refusal to be tamed, and the continuous desire to express oneself.