The wines of Vino di Anna - Etna, Sicily

by Everyday Wine

Dan first visited Etna in February 2018 on the way to France for La Dive Bouteille, France's biggest natural wine fair. He met co-owner and friend Eric Narioo in the nearby town of Solicchiata (Northern face of Mt Etna), and went to visit a number of their vineyards dotted around the various contrada (plots or lieu-dits), before returning to their family home where their restored palmento is located.

A year later Ash did harvest with them, and had the chance to work alongside Eric and his wife, Anna Martens, who the estate is named after.

Those deeply ingrained in the natural wine world will know of or have heard of Eric - he founded UK natural wine distributor Les Caves de Pyrene - easily the most successful natural wine distribution company in the world with a portfolio that's second to none and boasts around 400 producers. Anna, is also of equal footing; she was with Petaluma for a decade, then with Supertuscan estate Tenuta dell'Ornellaia and Tenuta di Trinoro before Eric and Anna settled on Etna as their place to be.

As soon as you arrive at their estate, you realise that Vino di Anna is as traditional, authentic, and as quintessentially Etnean as it comes. Sure, Eric is French and Anna is Australian, but they have worked incredibly hard and put a significant amount of time and effort into farming their vineyard, restoring their traditional palmento, and making their wines as traditionally as possible... to the point where local wine bar (Cave Ox) owner Sandro regards their wines are more authentic than those produced by other locals!

A palmento is a traditional Italian winery setup, with three tiers, generally cut/laid from stone, allowing fruit to come in (at the top tier), be foot-trod (macerated), then be moved down (by gravity) to the next tier for fermentation, then to the next tier for maturation where the wine could stay until it is consumed. It's entirely manual, requires no technological input such as pumps, presses, etc, but to this day serves as an incredibly gentle, traditional way to make wine (albeit slow and labour-intensive). 

The 4.8 hectares of Vino di Anna vineyards are dotted on the mountainside and range from 650 to 1200m in elevation. Most are terraced and accessible only by foot so only manual labour is possible - no tractors. The vines are all old bush vines and generally run from 40 to 120 years of age. All are individually staked using Sicilian chestnut wood and trained 'alberello', a vine training method which does not require trellis or rows and allows for high-density (high number of vines per hectare) planting.

All grapes are harvested by hand and handled by hand all the way from grape to glass, so in that the grapes are generally destemmed by hand and fermented in buried Georgian qvevri (amphorae) from one of the few remaining artisan qvevri makers, Zaaliko Bodjadze, who works with pure clay high in the Caucasus Mountains. Unlike more modern Etna producers there is no new oak in sight.

Etna red varieties are mostly Nerello Mascalese, with some Nerello Cappuccio and Alicante (Grenache). Etna whites varieties are generally Grecanico, Catarratto and Carricante, with some Insolia and Minella Bianca.

The wines all undergo natural wild fermentation, go through full spontaneous malolactic fermentation, are never adjusted, and are bottled unfiltered and unfined, and with little or no added sulphites too. All are bottled by hand, under natural cork, with their top wines under wax too.

Traditional organic farming, traditional natural winemaking, old vine age, and indigenous grape varietals all appear to be incredibly important parts in what makes an Etna wine, an Etna wine. But with all that said, it's really not until you are standing one kilometre in the sky, on the hillside of an active volcano, in the middle of the Mediterranean, that you truly realise it is Mt Etna herself that makes Etna wines so incredible and so unique.

You see, wines from the soils, climate and altitude of Etna can't found anywhere else in the world, and you need tradition, organics, and natural winemaking to capture the purity and essence of this all. Anna and Eric understand this, and the wines from Vino di Anna capture this. These wines have a luminosity unlike no other, and all have great tannin structure and power to them, all the while remaining, somehow, equally light and elegant.

If you are looking to try Etna wines, and want varietally, regionally true examples look to Vino di Anna 'Bianco G', for the purest example of Etna Bianco, and Vino di Anna 'Palmento Rosso' or 'Qvevri - Don Alfio' for two profound, beautiful Etna Rossos. For the full range, click here.