“A Muntagna”, that is exclusively in the feminine. This is how locals address Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. The name has a mythological origin, Etna was a beautiful nymph, the daughter of Uranus and Gaea – the gods of heaven and earth – and lover of Hephaestus, god of fire. From their loving union twins were born: the legend states that the nymph hid under the volcano throughout her pregnancy and, because of this, her children saw the light twice, the first time from their mother’s womb and the second time when they came out of that of the Muntagna. It is no coincidence that people from Catania consider Etna a mother, not a destroyer. “The mountain is good,” they say, “just like Agata (the city’s patron saint).
Oenological realities along the slopes of the volcano…
Carricante and Nerello Mascalese grow on the slopes of the volcano, which are historical native varieties with white and black berry in a truly extraordinary pedoclimatic context, that is a mountain climate at Mediterranean latitudes, with lava soils rich in precious nutrients for the plants. In addition to that, we have the wise millenary tradition of the Etnean farmer.
It is such an explosive combination that the most influential press and wine critics have recognized this area as one of the best wine-producing areas in the world. During the past two decades, many wineries have sprung up along the slopes of Mount Etna thanks to the rising demand from the foreign market. Great brands from Sicilian and Italian oenology, as well as several personalities from the world of music and show business, have given birth to outstanding oenological enterprises. Attracted by the disruptive energy of the volcano, along with the incandescent lava and lapilli that light up the night.
The Pietradolce winery
Then, we have the families on the Mount Etna. There are generations born and raised on this eastern side of Sicily, keepers of the identity of the territory, such as the Faro family, Venerando and Carmela, supported by their children Michele and Mario, entrepreneurs from Catania who are leaders in the floriculture sector with the company Piante Faro and in the hospitality with Donna Carmela Resort & Lodges and the Radicepura botanical park, home to a famous garden festival for the Mediterranean landscape.
Among the passions of the family, especially Michele Faro (born in 1974), wine. We owe him the Pietradolce project. It is a winery in Solicchiata, a small fraction of the city of Castiglione di Sicilia, and it was founded in 2006. In order to reach it, take the state road 120 towards Randazzo and, under the watchful eye of the Muntagna-Mother, you will see the vineyards set in a natural landscape of brooms, birches, donkeys and dry-stone walls, made of lava stone.
The structure of the vineyard
Once you reach your destination, it is almost difficult to recognize the structure. The new cellar – completed in 2018 – is perfectly integrated into the local landscape, built according to the principles of bio-architecture.
Art and craftsmanship intertwine in Pietradolce to create environments with a contemporary style strongly linked to the Etna area: volcanic rock, iron, wood and soil from vineyards are used in the construction of the interiors such as the vat room, the cellar and the tasting room.
Art and wine
The cellars are also art spaces, where works by local artisans and internationally known Italian artists are displayed. There are the installations by Alfio Bonanno, a member of land art (when natural elements are employed in the creation of the works), and the artworks by Giorgio Vigna, an artist able to shape glass, metals of different kinds and paper, so as to create natural forms that represent primordial features. “The idea of combining art and wine, says Michele Faro, was born spontaneously during the construction. We are in a natural context of extraordinary charm, which is why we wanted the cellar to include the beauty of the works by well-known artists. In the future, we will give space to new talents”.
How the cellar works
The insulation of the vat room is ensured by the thickness of the lava stone walls, built accordingly to the philosophy of environmental sustainability. Fermentation of pre-phylloxera wines (obtained from over 100-year-old plants that survived the catastrophic arrival of phylloxera, the parasitic insect that arrived from the New World as a result of trade and destroyed most of European vineyards in the second half of the 19th century with the consequent loss of a large part of the viticultural biodiversity) takes place in small tulip-shaped tanks, made of raw concrete with the capacity of 40 hectoliters.
The red wines age inside the underground cellar, using 700-litre French oak barrels mostly of second, third and fourth passage. Close to this space, the environment preserve the old Pietradolce vintages in order to study the evolution over time of these prodigious wines.
Sensitive to eco-sustainability, the hanging garden was created on the roof of the cellar, thus allowing natural thermal insulation and significant savings in electricity.
The botanical collection that makes up the garden is the result of a collaboration between Pietradolce and the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Catania, with which the Faro family has carried out careful research and selection of the spontaneous Etna species, aimed at guaranteeing the conservation of germplasm.
The love for the land and respect for the ecosystem, as well as for local traditions, represent the heart of the company philosophy. Pietradolce has made use, since its very foundation, of organic cultivation methods without the use of pesticides or insecticides, with a green approach both in the agricultural practices in the vineyard and in the winemaking processes in the cellar.
The composition of the vineyards and the type of wines
The twenty hectares of vineyards are located on the northern slope of Etna, between the districts of Rampante, Zottorinoto and Santo Spirito, at an altitude between 700 and 950 meters above sea level. On the east side, in the Caselle area, near the city of Milo, we have other two hectares at an altitude of 850 metres.
From sandy soils rich in mineral elements of volcanic nature, wines are born with the soul and liveliness of the volcano. The variety of the composition of the lava soils produce wines with very peculiar features and, at the same time, faithful to the territory. Michele Faro decided to cultivate only native varieties: Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante.
The vineyards, largely made up of pre-phylloxera plants between 90 and 130 years old, are cared for with meticulous craftsmanship and presented in the traditional “alberello” shape, which is typical of local vineyard landscape, as nature itself is a work of art. The identity of Pietradolce and the producing process favour quality over quantity, in order to enhance the native vines of Etna and produce wines with a strong identity.
“To sum up our corporate philosophy in an image – adds Michele – we wanted a triangle, the perfect shape, to symbolize Mount Etna that instills benefits on the surrounding area. We have therefore chosen the woman-volcano, an elegant and powerful image, as we want our wine to be. In other labels, instead, we wanted to underline its explosive energy through a manual sign repeated in an irregular way”.
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