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American Wine Writer was born from the desire to offer readers a refreshing and edutaining (educational + entertaining) perspective on the global beverage industry – beer, wine, spirits, and non-alcoholic drinks. Our editor travels regularly to lecture, as an enological consultant, for blogging trips, and to judge competitions. To submit a beverage for review, or introduce AWW to an interesting project, please eMail us ... editor[at]americanwinewriter[dot]com

Sicily's Mount Etna volcano erupts in 2002. Photo, courtesy of Wikipedia, taken from the International Space Station.
Extreme winemaking has a name. That name is Mount Etna. With eight significant eruptions in the past four months, the face of Europe’s most active volcano is transforming ... just as it has for millennia.
     Enologically speaking wines from the slopes of Sicily’s natural wonder have a unique quality that has captured the awe of the wine world. For winegrower and naturalist Salvo Foti, this is no mistake, the two marvels go hand in hand. There is no separating Man, or winegrowing, from the mountain.
     Since the early 1980s, Foti has been an adviser on several wine projects – Benanti, Vini Biondi, Il Cantante, Gulfi – which have helped refocus an international eye on the Mediterranean island’s unique vitiviniculture. Today, the author, consultant, and Etna native is focusing on a new project with centuries-old roots. 
     AmericanWineWriter recently caught up with Foti for a Q & A about I Vigneri, Mount Etna, and finding harmony in making wine on the slopes of an active volcano.
Salvo Foti at Vigna Bosco
Photo by: Benjamin Spencer

AmericanWineWriter (AWW): Can you put your affinity for wine into words?

Salvo Foti (SF): Wine is my passion and my work. It’s a life opportunity that I find fantastic. Wine is a means for sharing with others the combination of joy and respect for Earth and Man. It is a life full of humanity, offering a way to build something that can be transferred to future generations and continue on with our children. The vines we plant today, if cared for over time, will outlive us.

AWW: What is your definition of 'Terroir'?

SF: For me, Terroir is the birthplace of a wine. It is unique and only happens once. In places where great wine has always been made, you’ll find the combination and harmony of three things: the environment, vineyards, and men.

I Vigneri vineyards and palmento, Mount Etna, Sicily.

AWW:Please describe the perfect vintage.

SF: For me it DOESN’T EXIST! Fortunately!

AWW: You have been vocal about your dislike of the title of winemaker. What do you think the people who make wine should be called?
SF: I do not like the literal meaning of winemaker: Creator of wine. I feel that my work is the combination of two inseparable professions: viticulturist (winegrower) and vintner.

AWW: Please tell our readers about the Bosco Vineyard.

SF: VignaBosco is a vineyard located at 1,300 meters above sea level, in the north face of Mt. Etna, surrounded by forests of oak, chestnut, and juniper. The soil is volcanic, terraced. Green moss dots the dry-stone walls around the vineyard. Viticulture here is primitive. The vines are trained using alberello (bush vines supported by chestnut posts) at 8-9000 vines per hectare. Bosco is cultivated by hand, using a mule. It is not biodynamics, rather it’s an ancient method of cultivation that respects the natural balance of this environment. Temperatures are low in winter and high in summer, with extreme temperature fluctuations and ranges (varying up to 25°C/77°F) between day and night. There are numerous types of vines, which are all grown together in the vineyard. Among the whites, there is Carricante, Malvasia, Visparola, Minnella, Grecanico. The red grapes are Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Alicante. The only solid constant of the Bosco vineyard is its great biodiversity. The volcanic soil and sand here go back to ancient times, formed by stones that disintegrated from solid lava. The terrain is variable. It is deep and fertile at certain points, very shallow in others, with volcanic rock outcrops. The vines are rooted in a homogeneous medium formed by lava flows that occurred over the course of many millennia. The elemental distribution, in macro, is composed of microelements and is quite variable. The plants often suffer from soil dis-homogeneity and frequent climatic variation. This suffering, however, is a stimulus for the plants. The yield is low, yet it is also incredibly rich, never too sweet or too concentrated [berries], with good acidity and great balance. The vines are centuries old, with strange twisted shapes and each is tied to a chestnut post. As a result, each vine appears to resist the forces we place on them every year. Under the moon, in January when we prune, the alberelli form living sculptures. The colors of the leaves have no equal in the surrounding flora. It is very exciting when they fall on the black soil, forming a carpet of purple, yellow, green, brown, and deep red. In the background, behind the Bosco vineyard, Mt. Etna towers over, like a caring mother, loving her children – the vineyards and Man – that have survived here for generations.

Alberello vines are crucial to Mount Etna's vitiviniculture.
Photo by Benjamin Spencer

AWW: What problems do Etna vineyards face?

SF: Etna is an active volcano and a true force of nature. A place full of primordial and ancestral energy. It is also a source of great fertility, for everything that lives and grows on Mt. Etna. But like all things natural, the volcano is a force that can take back everything she has given. Such is Etna and such is life.

AWW: Please discuss your work with 'I Vigneri.'

Courtesy of I Vigneri
SF: La Maestranza de I Vigneri [Winegrowers Guild] was founded for the first time in 1435. The primary aim of this association was the transfer to future generations of knowledge, experience, and farming of Etna’s vines and wines. With the same spirit and with the same purpose I founded the company [I Vigneri] about 12 years ago, a sort of re-establishment almst 600 years later. By 2009, we had become a consortium of wineries. There are now seven companies in the Vigneri Consortium. Our symbol, an embossment on the bottle, is that of I Vigneri, the trunk and arms of an alberello after pruning. The symbol and the Maestranza de I Vigneri date back to 1435. The associated companies are located in unique wine-growing areas of Sicily with particular cultural and landscape value: in the islands of Lipari and Pantelleria, Etna, and in Caltagirone – more precisely in the forest of Saint Peter – and lastly in the natural reserve of Vendicari. The owners of the various wineries are entrepreneurs, farmers, professionals and artists, as well as Sicilians, who wanted to share the philosophy of I Vigneri completely: make wine while respecting and preserving the territory. We try to make wines with the right touch of humanity. Our wines are true and sincere expressions of our country and its civilization. Our wines have strong personalities. If a wine expresses a fashion or the ideas of a winemaker, perhaps what is called a technical wine, why should I like it? It’s certainly not unique, nor is it typical of the territory [where the grapes were grown]. The work of I Vigneri is not only aimed at making wine. It is an expression of the way we live and work every day. We try to use non-invasive tools and systems, while respecting, as much as possible, the tradition of our ancient vines, without making any sudden changes and upheavals or replanting. The spirit is that of enjoying the work, without rushing, in harmony with ourselves and with all that surrounds us: the environment, nature, the volcano Etna, which we feel part of, not [philosophically] above. Ours is traditional winemaking, with some technical innovations. We work in an organic way within the environment in which we find ourselves. Our vineyards are our lands just as all things in the territory are. It's similar to a population where all the stages in life and all cultural and social expressions create a civilization. The same can be said about how our vineyards and vines coexist, young and old, different varieties and clones. Each of them brings something unique to our wines. We want our wines, in brief, to be uniquely genuine, expressive of our land and our culture. Ours wine is a product of men, rather than a single man. Our wine does not depend on one man, therefore dying with him. This is a wine that survives for all men, becoming part of the territory and our civilization.

AWW: What modern winemaking techniques are used to make your own wine? 

SF: We have a traditional wine production that includes some elements of technical innovation, which are always, before being used, tested and evaluated. We are always open to new techniques, however the prerequisite is that they respect man and the environment.

AWW: What ‘techniques’ do you hate or abhor? 

SF: Technology and techniques that do not take Man and the Environment into account. I also hate wines made without grapes or with little or no good grapes.

AWW: Is there a wine that changed your life? 

SF: Yes, the wine made by my grandfather. His was a wine of great humanity.

More information about SalvoFoti can be found on his website: 

Salvo Foti's book, "ETNA. I VINI DEL VULCANO," is available HERE

To suggest / submit a story idea for The Sicily Report, contact us by eMail.

1 Response to "Man On Fire: Interview with Salvo Foti from Mount Etna"

  1. Deika Elmi Said,

    Great post Benjamin and terrific interview, did Mr. Foti speak in English or did you translate. All the same so inforamtive and you can tell from his words his deep love for his craft. I have had the Gulfi wines, in fact I believe I tasted it with you Ben at Vinitaly at that tasting of young Sicilian wine makers. That red, can't remember the name was truly life changing. This blog or digital magazine AWW is new, what happened to your old blog? I wanted to re-read your Vinitaly post. I won't be going to Vinitaly this year, the nature of my work has changed and wine is back to being a hobby again. Cheers my friend, you do good work! Dea.


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