an island
on an Island

Nature in its most
radical expression

The enology of Etna wines has been defined as “an island on an Island”. This claim does not only refer to the difference between the wines from the volcano and those from the rest of Sicily, but it has been coined because of the strong identity that defines the various areas in the very same Etna PDO terroir. Orientation, intensity and hours of sun exposure. Altitude, rainfall, ventilation, temperature range and type of volcanic soil. These are some of the factors that make each one of the Etna wines a beauty in itself.


Mount Etna – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is located on the east coast of Sicily, north of Catania. Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world.
Its eruptive history is believed to be at least 500,000 years old and its presence has shaped the conformation and culture of Sicily. The volcano is a living entity. Its shape is constantly changing due to intense activity and to the birth of new craters. Today, the maximum height of the volcanic cone is more than 3300 metres above sea level, with a diameter of approximately 45 km. This huge size makes it the most imposing volcano in Europe and in the entire Mediterranean area. Etna is also one of the most studied and monitored volcanoes in the world and is of global scientific and cultural importance for volcanology, geophysics and other earth science disciplines.


Millennia of heroic viticulture

The first traces of viticulture date back to the Neolithic. In this Eastern part of Sicily, colonised by the Greeks in 720 B.C., the development of wine production probably took place as early as the 8th century. B.C. In the third century. B.C. Theocritus spoke of the widespread cultivation of vines in the area. In 1848 almost 26.000 hectares of vineyards were cultivated, between 1880 and 1885 Catania became the Sicilian province with the highest number of planted vineyards with over 90.000 hectares. With the arrival of phylloxera, in the early 1900s, the vineyard receded to about 40.000 hectares. Today, the surface that falls within the Etna PDO is just under 1.200 hectares. Upon the Etna terraces the definition of “heroic viticulture” finds one of its most iconic expressions. Eruptions have shaped the territory and the terraced slopes make viticulture impervious and tiring. The effort of the winemakers breathes life into unforgettable wines. Soils are sometimes pebbly and gravelly, sometimes sandy, or rather, ashes. Their volcanic composition determines the distinctive mineral flavour of Etna wines. To this we should also add the great temperature variations, which can even reach a difference of 20-25C° between day and night, thanks to the presence of “A Muntagna” (i.e. “The Mountain” in Sicilian dialect).
Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante and Catarratto are the main indigenous varieties. However, the wine’s profile can deeply change according to the Contrade and the slopes where the grapes are grown. Indeed, the link of these indigenous vines with Etna goes back centuries.


133 Contrade, terraces and century-old vineyards

The Etna terroir is home to some of the oldest vineyards in Italy, some even more than a century old. Thanks to the volcanic soils, it has made the vines immune to phylloxera. These ancient vineyards are often ungrafted, which means they are not grafted onto an American rootstock. The vineyards represent a heritage of inestimable value and produce grapes with the purest qualities of their own varieties.

On top of this, even the vine cultivation system has ancient and unique aspects. Although some vines are trained with modern spurred cordon or Guyot systems. The most used method however is the traditional training system of the gobolet, with bush vines that climb on the volcano slopes helped by the black lava stone terraces.

Last but not least, on the slopes of Mount Etna the production areas are divided into 133 “Contrade”: countryside districts that mirror the peculiarities of the soils. These geographical subdivisions are registered on the production regulations and producers can specify them on their wine labels. The climate, the exposure and the particular geological qualities of each Contrada, and eventually their combination with the human hand, are the factors that make each Etna wine unique.

The four volcano slopes

The Northern slope is the area with the highest number of producers, and the one with the gentlest slopes. The climate is cold, but protected by the surrounding mountain ranges of Peloritani and Nebrodi. The most cultivated variety is the red Nerello Mascalese.

The Eastern slope overlooks the Ionian Sea and is the most exposed to rain and winds. The bush vines are cultivated on small terraces, up to 900 metres above sea level. On this mountain side the white grape Carricante is dominant.

The South-Eastern slope has several eruptive cones, which are now all extinct. The numerous vineyards, are often trained as bush vines (i.e. gobelet vine training), which allows them to be kissed by the sun and sea breezes. The Nerello Mascalese and Carricante varieties grow here in ideal conditions and easily reach perfect ripeness.

The South-Western slope is the furthest from the sea and, therefore, characterised by a strong temperature range. This area has less rain, beaten by hot winds and also a great solar intensity. The cultivations of the red Nerello Cappuccio and the white Carricante find excellent conditions and can exceed 1000 metres above sea level.