I VIGNERI, SALVO FOTI, Etna, Sicilia Organic, Natural
A native of the city of Catania, Salvo studied enology and began his career in 1981 as a technical and agrarian advisor to some noted estates in eastern Sicily. He continues that work for many years helping out estates such as Gulfi, Benanti and ViniBiondi, all of whose wines are universally recognized as among the best in Sicily.
Salvo is one of those personalities that have reached cult status in Italy, with followers and admirers all around the world. The “Guild” of I Vigneri, an old institution of 15thCentury he brought back to life, is today recognized as an unrivalled authority when it comes to what the true spirit of Etna is. I Vigneri is an association, or a brotherhood, of farmers and wine markers that gather around Salvo: the idea is to preserve the knowledge on how to refurb, maintain and if needed create new vineyards on Etna, following the traditional style: how terraces are kept naturally safe and how they comply with the “needs” of the Mountain, how to plant the local Alberellos, how to pick the right spots for new vineyards…. Each member of I Vigneri helps out, and learns, and transmits the knowledge.
This is a breathtaking estate with a mission to make great wines. Furthermore, it is an association that is pulling from the experience and energy of local grape growing talent and giving them a vested interest to create great wines in a region that is economically challenging for many of its inhabitants, especially farmers.
The vines are concentrated at 700 metres altitude on the north side of the volcano near the town of Calderara. Here, the climate is more like the north of Italy than Sicily, winters are harsh and cold, the summers are hot and dry and there can be extreme fluctuations between night and day temperatures.
The soils are broken or decomposed lava stone of varying depth mixed with sand. Many of the vines are rehabilitated old vines, some over 100 years-old, planted at 10,000 plants per hectare in albarello, the only system Salvo considers for producing great fruit under the climatic conditions of Etna. Work can only be carried out by hand or mule.
Because these vines are so old, there is great diversity within the vineyard and different strains of each of the varieties appear. The grapes are the autochthonous Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio with Alicante (Grenache) and a smattering of vines referred to as Francisi, because their variety and provenance are unknown. There is a system of replanting using only massale selection with cuttings from the older vines while maintaining the diversity of plants. Replanting is done in the older vineyards when old vines die, and new adjacent parcels are being planted.
No fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides are used. The grapes are harvested by hand at the end of September until mid-October. Fermentations are done in open vats, without the use of yeast inoculation, enzymes or thermal control (the nights by this time of year are quite cold). Racking and bottling are done under lunar cycle. The wines are bottled with little or no filtration. The wine is fermented in open topped stone containers cut into the volcanic rock.
I Vigneri Rosso (Nerello Mascalese) is a pure delight, tonic, juicy and driven, floral and cherry with some fruit sweetness on the nose, coupled with Etna’s distinctive spice and some gentle tobacco notes. This is wine of the place…as unencumbered, as representative and as local as it gets.
Salvo says that a living wine has its own composition that arises from its own variables: the grape, the vine, the vineyard, the climatic conditions and the individual (vineyard worker and vinifier). It’s important that there is harmony and respect for each variable to make a wine that truly sings.