Davide Bentivegna of the Sicilian Etnella winery is giving his own authentic and spiritual twist to vin nature on the north-eastern slopes of the Etna volcano. He even built his own accommodations out of solid grey volcanic stones so he can welcome guests near his vineyards. In another life he worked for the Siemens company as a general manager. After years of work in foreign countries and life on the road he decided to ground and make his own vin nature on his home soil.
When we arrive in the village of Presa our phone battery is dead so we continue by old school orientation. We decide to approach an open door at a house when we spot a row of grape plants in the garden. All of a sudden we’re standing inside a kitchen amongst an Italian family, we encounter smiling faces but none of the people speak English, neither do we speak Italian. They send us further and tell us to take a side path a couple of meters down the road. A presto!
A long rough rising path takes us up the slopes of Etna, our simple rental car isn’t made for these type of roads however in first gear we manage to get along. It’s misty and grey outside and this creates a gloomy mysterious atmosphere. We enter a beautiful piece of utopian nature, all we can hear are squeaking birds and sheep in the distance on the hills.
Waking up in paradise
The next day we wake up in an oasis of silence, the first sun rays shed light through openings of a thick cloud carpet. Animals and plants are omnipresent here and shepherds are crossing right through the rough landscape with their sheep. One would almost forget that this is a wine region. After a short walk through the mountains we’re able to collect our dose of fresh picked herbs for tonight’s diner.
When we return after a seafood lunch near the seaside we bump into Davide, he created a canteen here for guests and his friend Max from Wales is helping him with some gardening. “If you fancy, you guys are more than welcome to join me, my friends and an importer from California come to taste some of my wines and do some sightseeing after”. We couldn’t refuse this nice gesture.
New kid on the volcano
Davide is certainly not part of an old traditional wine making family, the opposite is true. He learned things by the book and by trial and error in the vineyards. Other winemakers on Sicily are keen teachers and inspired him as well. There is also a mysterious figure who he likes to call his spiritual father, for us this person remains mysterious. Our first impression of Davide is that he sounds more like an ambitious artist and dreamer instead of a winemaker. His wines are made according to the anthroposophical principals and his own free spiritual biodynamic approach. Think about the position of the moon and stars and many more influences of natural elements involved.
Polyculture in the vineyard
Like all Sicilians Davide drives like a daredevil on the narrow bumpy roads, we come to an abrupt stop in the wildness after a fifteen minute drive from our Notti Stellate accommodation. We caress our little vehicle, she seems to have survived all this bashing through rough terrain in first gear. On our arrival we have to stick our eyeballs out to be able to spot the grape plants. We’re surrounded by many herb plants, fruit trees, olive trees and loads of weeds. On an opposite slope we spot a row of electric trees, the only sign of human technological presence. It’s clear that this isn’t exactly the type of monoculture like the vineyards of the Barolo region we’ve recently visited. This looks like an abandoned backyard but in reality it’s a vineyard. It looks beautiful and flourishing.
The polyculture of plants makes the Etna region unique and this reflects strongly in the vineyards. We follow Davide and approach a cave opening after a bumpy walk on volcanic stones. He tells us that he’s gonna cut out a lot of pieces to open it and make a future cellar inside. The climate is perfect for ageing the wines and keeping other products like cheeses prepared from sheep milk. Further up in the field we spot a mobile home, it looks surrealistic in this environment. Could be a fine holiday stay. Davide: “It was my home for a while when I worked excessively for days on a row, it served me well.”
Lonely at the top
The young Max has been working in the vineyards for the last couple of days, he’s staying in a little hut on top of the mountain here. There is no electricity, thus no internet, television or heating inside. Davide: “We’ve been working on the construction of the new terraces by stacking the volcanic rocks in such a way that the roots go deeper. These vineyards are constructed according to the Alberello method.” Max has the zen look of a buddhist monk and his adventure here sounds more like a retraite and ultimate isolation test. We try to imagine what it must feel like in the darkness, rain and thunder. It all makes sense in the philosophical context and approach Etnella is trying to achieve. Respect for nature and the connection with nature is omnipresent.
We overhear the conversations between Davide and his importer friend and sense he’s strongly attached to his personal product. The production is small and efforts are big on terroirs like this, a project like Etnella will easily turn into your child. We are sure that Davide wouldn’t deny this. His vineyards are situated on seven different locations and variable altitudes. All different soils and altitudes affect the taste and development of the grapes. Parcels are bottled separately like a cru system and when tasting the wines it becomes very clear that the types of wine differ from each other.
Davide walks into the small hut and comes back out with a few bottles of his own production. He is willing to share them with a lot of enthusiasm. The American importer seems to be impressed by using the classic expression “it’s amazing”. Not only does Davide produce wines, he comes up with a bottle of apple cider made from the apples in the vineyard he recently manages from an old woman. Why not? When he takes out the cork half of the bottle explodes out into the air and everyone starts laughing. “it’s clear that this is an experiment and it fermented for too long.” It tastes lovely nevertheless but could use a bit of punch according to his importer friend.
The main role for the red wines is the nerello mascalese and a small percentage of nerello capuccio. For the whites it’s all about carricante. All made according to the vin nature method with spontaneous fermentation without adding any artificial yeasts. Kaos is an interesting wine made from a combination of harvests (early, late and a ripe harvest). The fruit expression is groovy and firm tannins keep it dry and guarantees a long ageing potential.
Tracotanza is a young, energetic en mineral adventure. This wine has aged for 12 months on steel tanks and remains unfiltered. Just like the other wines, the tannins are firm and present but the wine shows delicate red fruits and spices. Davide about his own red: “This wine will blow you to the stars.”
Etnella’s first vintages date from 2010 and they have been busy obtaining several vineyards in the region to be able to expand the production in the near future. However this will never become a factory product, Etnella wants to make wines which are future proof with a lot of attention to nature, the local community and a sustainable future. Cheers!
Curious about Etnella’s wines or the accommodation Notti Stellate near Etna on Sicily?
Go here and pay them a visit.