The Wine Legacy of the Mt. Etna Volcano

In all of nature there really are few sites that can match the eruption of a volcano in terms of the pure majesty of sheer power of the occasion. There are many active volcanoes dotting the Earth’s landscape and these awe-inspiring natural creations have literally been responsible for the destruction of nations and the creation of new lands over the course of millennia.

While all of that is spectacular in its own right, did you know that soil enriched by the many minerals released in a volcanic eruption is actually desired in the agricultural sector? Nowhere is this more true than in the wine industry, where volcanic soil is seen as being able to infuse wines with something a little bit different, ensuring they stand out from the crowd in the process.

The most famous volcano in Italy is Mt. Etna, which stands on the island of Sicily and has numerous recorded eruptions. Each of these eruptions, though potentially damaging to life, also reinvigorate the soil surrounding the mountain and, in recent years, wines made in the region have enjoyed a boost thanks to what the volcanic soil of the region is able to offer them.

Increasing Popularity

Logic would dictate that, even with the benefits of volcanic soil, Mt. Etna would not be a popular wine region. After all, the volcano is still very much active and erupts fairly frequently, in relative terms when compared to other volcanos, which means anybody who tends the land near it is surely courting an early death.

Even so, in recent years the Mt. Etna wine region has flourished to the point where it is now one of Italy’s most popular regions. In fact, many producers are scrambling all over themselves to purchases patches of land around the base of the mountain and up its slopes with the aim of producing wine.

This is despite the fact that, in addition to the volcano’s history, growing grapes on the mountain presents some challenges of its own. With some vineyards extending as much as 3,500 feet up the mountain, just getting to the land itself can present an array of problems. And that’s without considering the prospect of getting the grapes back down again so they can be used to produce wine. Worse yet, the weather can play havoc on grape production. Winters at such harsh altitudes are understandable harsh, but even the summer months can present problems due to dryness. In short, anybody who grows on Mt. Etna needs to be very committed to the cause and extremely patient.

With all of that being said, Mt. Etna is still gaining popularity and it is all to do with the soil. The land surrounding the summit is absolutely rife with volcanic nutrients and minerals, meaning grapes end up packed with much more than they would receive were they grown anywhere else in the world. Further, despite the occasionally difficult weather, grapes on Mt. Etna also enjoy warm breezes that, in good seasons, really lend a lot to their quality. Even the temperature differentiation between night and day is known to work in the favour of the grapes.

This popularity should really come as no surprise to anyone. Despite the hostile nature of the volcano, there are records talking about the Mt. Etna region and wine production dating all the way back to the sixth century. Clearly there must have been something special going on, even way back then.

Even so, the region did experience a big downswing for a number of centuries into the modern era. Despite being granted DOC status in the 1960s, winemakers were understandable hesitant to return, given the monumental task presented by growing grapes on a volcanic mountain.

Many people point to the work of one man as the reason for Mt. Etna’s resurgence in popularity. Giuseppe Benanti’s work in the 1990s, during which he developed some absolutely mind-blowing vintages that had wine critics the world over raving, highlighted just how much potential was locked away in Mt. Etna and the region soon became hot property as winemakers, both local and from around Italy, poured in to try and secure their own slices of the pie.

In the modern era, the Mt. Etna region plays host to a rather large number of wineries, all of which use the land to their advantage to produce some absolutely stellar wines. The region continues to go from strength to strength, with available land tending to get snapped up in absolutely no time at all.

The Wines

So with all of that being said, it is probably worth taking a look at some of the wines that emanate from the Mt. Etna region so you know what you should be looking out for if you want a taste of this famous volcano.

Etna Rosso

A gorgeous red wine that tends to be a blend predominantly using Nerello Mascalese, one of the native grapes of the Mt. Etna region that is slowly gaining popularity alongside the region. When coupled with Nerello Cappuccio, you get a beautiful red wine that displays just why the region is now revered. Available in a variety of styles, thus suiting a wide range of potential consumers, Etna Rosso is such an interesting wine as the differences between two producers products are often remarkable. As such, you tend to get a great deal of variety while still experiencing everything that Mt. Etna has to offer.

Etna Bianco

Perhaps the lesser-known of the two wines to emanate from the Mt. Etna region, Etna Bianco serves the needs of those who love their white wines and, like its red cousin, it is a wine that is completely exclusive to the Etna region. Made predominantly using a native grape called Carricante, the best Etna Bianco wines tend to come from producers whose vineyards are near the summit of the volcano. The wine is typified by a slightly creamy texture, fruit flavours and a fairly high acidity, though much like with Etna Rosso there are plenty of differences between different producers.


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