Once Upon a Vine in Mount Etna, Sicily

Written by Sabi Phagura on . Posted in Travel

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With 98,992 hectares of land, Sicily is the biggest wine-growing region in Italy when taking into consideration of the amount of land with vines (it ranks fourth in Italy for overall production with a yield per hectare). A privileged position to be in, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea with the perfect climate, makes Sicily the ideal place to grow quality grapes. And to celebrate all this island has to offer, Luxurious Magazine’s senior reporter Sabi Phagura went along to the 16th Sicilia en Primeur in Siracusa, an annual event to mark the end of the wine harvest season with a few stops along the route.

I’m no wine connoisseur but I do have the taste buds and a nose to know if I like one. And ultimately, according to most sommeliers, it does boil down to just that. But the whole wine industry has had me fascinated for years and for the first time I was truly ready to immerse myself in all things connected to wine when I touched down in Sicily. I was to find out almost everything is connected to wine in this “island of the sun” and it gets everyone’s juices flowing.

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To date, more than 60 varieties are grown in Sicily – about 20 of which are native. Among the main red grapes are Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese Frappato, Nerello Cappuccio and Perricone. Coming under the white grape varieties are Zibibbo, Moscato Bianco, Grillo, Carricante and Malvasia. Nero d’Avola is now famous all over the world while Grillo is the best-known grape variety. It’s no wonder wine tourism here continues to grow with 58 per cent of international visitors ascending here to date. As a result, wineries do not just offer tours and wine tastings, they’ve had to branch out to offer visitors a place to rest their head and restaurant services.

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And each vineyard is as unique as the grapes themselves from the north to south to east to west of the island. Our tour – based around the north side of Mount Etna – started at Planeta. A heritage of 17 generations, a visit to this vineyard is akin to an extensive voyage through time. Present in five of the island’s representative wine regions – Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, Etna and Capo Milazzo – Planeta continues to research, experiment with international grape varieties and recovering indigenous wines.

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But you don’t have to have come from a generation of wine producers to get into the business. Palmento Costanzo winery, located within the municipality of Castiglione di Sicilia (awarded as one of the best towns in Italy) has only been up and running again about 10 years ago. The restoration project of the early 19th century stone grape press and cellar has been carried out to preserve traditional wine processes used on Mount Etna.

For a wine to be classified as organic, is a lengthy process here and although most vineyards are organic in Sicily only some are registered as such. Established in 1984, Firriato, one of the island’s eminent winemakers, has chipped away for three decades to earn itself a reputation of being organically certified. Divided into six estates, the vineyards encompass from the high altitude of Mount Etna to overlooking Faviignana sea. This vast area is made up of 420 hectares of organically farmed vineyards.

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The diversity of Sicily’s landscape means the whole area is subject to diverse climate conditions. It enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate along its coasts, but the climate changes as you proceed inland or venture up into the mountains, where it is truly continental. And as we were close to the highest mountain, Mount Etna (close to 3,400 m) a visit was a must.

Etna is a substantial mountain and one of the world’s biggest active volcanoes. The frequent eruptions of the volcano through the ages (Most recently end of May) have created a constantly evolving, ever-changing natural landscape. The volcanic deposits, climate variations and subtle thermal changes that occur daily, make for a fertile terrain ideal for grape cultivation.

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There are several approaches to the volcano and our tour guide took us up into the mountain in a jeep taking the circular road that leads up from Linguaglossa to Piano Provenzana. I do not doubt that the best scenery can be seen from where we were on the north side as the guide informed. The landscape is mesmerising, to put it mildly, and although Instagrammable-worthy, there’s nothing like being able to see it and experience it in person.

This year’s 16th Sicilia en Primeur came to a close for the first time in Siracusa at Castello Maniace in the southern part of the island. The exhibition closes the calendar of the year’s most important events for Sicilian wine-makers. And this year was no different. It’s a place to talk about all things wine and culture while sipping on all the wines produced from the latest harvest.

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While my trip to Sicily has not made me into a wine connoisseur, I will certainly look at vino in a different light. For wine in Sicily is entwined with culture and deeply rooted in its rich history. The love of wine is akin to loving and nurturing a child and every grape is grown with care and dedication. Now that is something to mull over, over a glass or two.

Where and how?

We did the Etna Nord itinerary in Sicily organised and arranged by JustSicily S.r.l. Unipersonale Incoming Tour Operator & DMC Specialist, Via Mario Rapisardi, 15 – 90144 Palermo. They can be contacted via phone +39 091342927 +39 091 7479422 For more information on tour packages visit www.justsicily.it  

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Sabi Phagura

I am a freelance journalist and lifestyle blogger. I travel the world covering travel, destinations, hotel, spas and bar reviews and love fitness. This blog illustrates how you can lead a healthy lifestyle, travel the world and still have a life! I am also a qualified fitness instructor, Punjabi-Hindi interpreter and a champagne and rum enthusiast.

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