“We only cultivate traditional varieties indigenous to Mount Etna” – Graci
Alberto Graci of Graci Winery in Passopisciaro, Sicily, focuses his winery’s production on only six Etna DOC wines: Etna Bianco, Etna Rosso, Etna Rosato, Etna Bianco Arcuria, Etna Rosso Arcuria, and Quota 1000 Contrada Barbabecchi. He refuses to add non-indigenous varietals to his collection and insists that grapes “must be grown where they are born.” It’s essentially the farm-to-table concept that promotes using food products sourced locally – but this is vineyard to table – and Graci is fully committed to it.
It’s not uncommon for winemakers to grow grapes originating from other places. But Graci is so enthusiastic about the potential for Mt. Etna indigenous grapes that he became the Vice President of the Consorzio that covers 300 hectares of Etna DOC. He’s now more preoccupied than ever with making high quality Mt. Etna wines. He shares his challenges and ideas with his fellow Consorzio members so that they can – as a group – produce higher quality wines. He tends and nourishes this local association of Mt. Etna wine makers with the same sort of care that he heaps upon his own grapes. And Graci’s wines have won acclaim from the world’s top wine connoisseurs.
Twelve years ago, he purchased the current Graci property and set about to restore it not only for wine making but also in honor of its history. The place was once used for communal wine making, where local growers used to come to make their own wine with the communal equipment.
But that’s far from what’s happening there these days. Since he purchased the property and began devoting himself to his work as a wine maker, Graci has focused on experimenting with the best indigenous grapes in both traditional and unique ways to find what works best.
His star grape is the Nerello Mascalese, a small round grape with thick, almost black skins, which produces unmistakably elegant wines that are often compared to Pinot Noir. Perhaps its style is better explained when Graci laughingly quotes Piedmont winemaker Angelo Gaja, replacing “Nebbiolo” with “Nerello Mascalese”:
“Cabernet is to John Wayne as [Nerello Mascalese] is to Marcello Mastroianni. Cabernet has a strong personality, open, easily understood and dominating. If Cabernet were a man, he would do his duty every night in the bedroom, but always in the same way. [Nerello Mascalese], on the other hand, would be the brooding, quiet man in the corner, harder to understand but infinitely more complex.”
Graci uses the ancient ‘alberello’ (“little tree”) method of growing his Marcello Mastroianni – using smaller and lower vine groupings to maximize the grape’s expression, producing low yields in a natural way. He’s also playing around with mascerating the grapes longer than tradition provides, and mixing Nerello Mascalese with other local grapes, most commonly the Nerello Cappuccio. And with all he is doing with those volcanic vineyards in the middle of Sicily, this young, modern winemaker is making not only a name for his own Graci winery, but also helping to make Mt. Etna the hottest new wine-producing region in Europe.