Of the crus in which I own vineyards, Guardiola is the highest in elevation, ranging from 800 to almost 1,000 metres altitude. And, naturally, as one climbs higher, the soil becomes poorer. Guardiola being no exception, its make up being mostly lean volcanic sand and basaltic pebbles of sorts, with a little ash thrown in. And equally naturally, the slopes become steeper, the terracings narrower in order to compensate. Vineyard management all manual and singularly difficult. The altitude drives the acidity in the wine, the lean soil accentuates the tannins. Ripening is, therefore, of the essence. Production often lower. Guardiola is somehow particularly attractive. Always the tightest wine, the most difficult and sometimes askew when young, it still remains a favourite. It may be its focused intensity, the tension of a coiled spring; or the sense of austere purity it delivers; or the uniquely high-toned, almost stony bouquet. Or probably because all of the above together make for a wine of very powerful character. Of all crus it is the one requiring more time to release and relax. The sinew releases its tension just a bit, the tannins soften, the wine’s authority remains. Pork, steak, sausages, game, braised meats.
The estate is located in the northern slopes of the volcano, with vineyards between the village of Solicchiata and the town of Randazzo, the area historically recognized as the finest in the appellation for fine red wines. The property consists of over 30 hectars, divided into 10 parcels in four crus, with a total vineyard surface of 23 hectars, which we mean to enlarge to 30-32 hectars. Except for 6 hectars recently planted, the rest are between 50 and 100 years old. One parcel, having survived phylloxera, has reached the venerable age of 130-140 years old. The soils differ very much from cru to cru, and even within the crus themselves. The same is true of the altitudes, our vineyards ranging between 600 and 1000 metres above sea level.
Four parcels lie in Calderara Sottana at an elevation of 600-700 metres. By far the rockiest cru in the appellation, in the roughest parts you can’t see the soil for the black volcanic pumice carpeting the vineyards. Two vineyards lie in Guardiola, between 800 and 900 metres altitude, on very poor soil: volcanic sand mixed with basaltic pebbles and traces of ash. Both are steeply sloped and tightly terraced, causing all vineyard work to be done manually. Two more properties lie in Feudo di Mezzo. Very old vines, also terraced, traditional alberello plantings, very tightly spaced, also worked exclusively manually. Loose deep volcanic ash roughed up by a good measure of small volcanic pebbles. In Santo Spirito we have two vineyards as well. Although adjacent to Guardiola, the soil is dramatically different: a rich deep volcanic ash so fine as to call to mind talcum powder, were it not jet black. Besides estate owned vineyards, Terre Nere has long term leases on 4 hectars and buys grapes from small local vignerons who follow our organic procedures.
All our wines are produced from local varieties, and all are D.O.C. Etna. We produce two versions of Etna Bianco. One from a field blend of Carricante, Catarratto, Inzolia and Grecanico. The other, from Carricante alone, is barrel fermented. Our remarkable Etna Rosso issues from both old and young vines of Nerello Mscalese and Nerello Cappuccio throughout our properties, and some acquired grapes as well. The very much sought after Etna Rosato, cherished for its luminous and mineral nature, is also produced from Nerello Mascalese. The very finest grapes from the oldest vines in our four crus are vinified and bottled separately after 16-20 months of wood aging. These single-vineyard bottlings represent the finest expression of the Etna appellation. Finally, a word must be spent on our Etna Rosso Prephylloxera.
Born of a tiny parcel in Calderara Sottana, whose vines survived phylloxera, it is the quintessence of Nerello Mascalese and Calderara Sottana, and by extention, the heart and soul of this volcanic terroir. Its second name – La Vigna di Don Peppino – is a tribute to the vigneron who cultivated this parcel with infinite care and untiring competence for over 70 years. If it were not for Don Peppino, this vineyard probably would no longer exist, and certainly would not be as vigorous and healthy as it is today. Though too old to work, Don Peppino still honours us with his invaluable advice in all viticultural matters.