There are very few terroirs in the world that can boast the magic of a living volcano. Etna’s unique terroir comes from a microclimate that only an active volcano can create. Firriato makes incredible wines on Mount Etna with a sense of place and distinct terroir.
Mount Etna is Europe’s largest volcano. It is also an active volcano, so grape growing on this mountain just doesn’t seem fathomable, yet grapes have been cultivated on Etna for centuries. Mount Etna is an extreme terroir, with its high elevation, steep slopes, volcanic soils, unpredictable weather, and lava flows from a multitude of volcanic eruptions. Firriato was the very first Sicilian brand to produce wines on the extreme terroir of Etna Volcano. Having arrived in the early 1990’s they have a command of the viticultural of Etna.
The name Firriato originates from Western Sicily where the term was used for an area of land close to the area of the main house. It is a defined and protected area, where the most valuable crops are grown. The logo of the company is an emblem that signifies this enclosed, defined and protected space. It is an emblem that symbolizes the company’s spirit and identity.
Firriato is dedicated to the highest environmental standards. Their winemaking philosophy is deeply entrenched in sustainable and organic practices. In 2010, all their vineyards were certified organic and today they are the first winery in Italy to be Carbon Neutral, essentially canceling the environmental footprint of their business practices, bringing the balance of their emissions to ZERO. From the vineyards to the bottle, their wines have a ZERO impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato
Firriato is led by the Di Gaetano family along with their COO, Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato. On my recent visit to Mount Etna, I spent a few days with Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, learning about the landscape of Sicilian winemaking. Passion, dedication and deep knowledge of winemaking are the impressions that Federico imparted.
Federico was not only our host but also our geological guide as we hiked up Mount Etna. Federico is an outdoorsman and an avid hiker; having hiked Mount Everest. A few days before our hike, there was volcanic activity on the mountain and so following our hike together, Federico was gearing up to hike to the crater of Mount Etna.
An honors graduate in IT and Management Engineering, Federico spent the early part of his career as the Chief Information Security Officer for The Italian Railway. His passion for technology is apparent as he speaks of innovation and technology at Firriato. Equally passionate as he is about technology he is a passionate wine lover, boasting a cellar of over 5000 bottles.
As one of the bigger brands of Sicily, Firriato produces 4.5 million bottles of wine, with a range of styles; red, white and sparkling. Federico says “Sicily in terms of oenolgy and viticulture is not only a region but a real continent.” Sicily represents 7 out of the world’s 12 soils. In search of authentic terroir, their vineyards span across Sicily, on the hillsides of Trapani countryside(hills), the sea of Favignana (marine), and the volcano of Mount Etna(mountain). Firriato has six estates across Sicily that represent all seven of Sicily’s soil types
Prized Pre-phylloxera Vines
In 2007 Firriato purchased an estate on Etna called Cavanera Etna in Verzella. Here they discovered a rare treasure, two hectares of 150-year-old ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines of Nerello Mascalese. Pre-phylloxera wines are rare and Etna is one of the few regions where there is a handful of vines that have survived. The black, mineral-rich, volcanic soils of Etna, allowed the vines to remain in tack, making the vines mysterious, unique and magical.
The Di Gaetano family wanted to substantiate their findings with expert opinions and dendrological, dendrochronological, and ampelographic analysis. They brought in experts from the Agricultural Science department from the University of Palermo along with the National Research Council. Here they mapped the ADN of these vines to compare it with that of modern-day Nerello vines on Etna. The University of Palermo with extensive research and expertise confirmed that some of these marvelous strains have an average age of 150 years, certifying that they were planted before the arrival of phylloxera of Etna,
Federico explains, “the reasons phylloxera had not spread was due to the volcanic soils of Etna, and the high altitude of the vineyards”. Federico wishes to safeguard and protect these vines. They are preserving this historical and enological heritage site by preserving the germplasm and the ADN of the vines and plants by perpetuating the genome with the offshoot technique in order to guarantee the genetic continuity of the vineyard. This allows Firriato to preserve the historical heritage of this magical vineyard site.
Etna Rosso Riserva, 2014 Signum Aetnae By Firriato
We had the privilege of tasting the first vintage from these pre-phylloxera vines, SIGNUM AETNAE Riserva 2014. Derived from Latin, Signum Aetnae is the symbol of Etna Volcano. The wine is made from the noble and elegant Nerello Mascalese grape variety. The vines are located on the northeastern side of the volcano on thin, sandy, volcanic soils mixed with basaltic pebbles at an altitude of 750 meters above sea level. This is a rare and historic wine with cultural significance. Only 3500 bottles are produced.
The wine has a light ruby red hue, with notes of wildflowers and spice on the nose. On the palate, it is full of rich fruit, yet elegant and balanced. The wine was incredibly silky, juicy and vibrant. On first sip you realize it more than just a glass of wine, we were drinking the history and intrigue of Mount Etna.
Firriato Mount Etna Wines