Monterosso: Vintage and Volcano

2/10/20 -

For Giovanni Ferlito, Aurelio Marconi, and Gianluca Strano, specificity of place and vintage character are first priorities. At Mount Etna's Azienda Agricole Monterosso, the 2018 harvest was difficult, "with [a] hot summer and lots of rain towards the end," Ferlito explained in an email. "We had to pick in different times to achieve balance." Some of the team's red wines, which have yet to be released, won't have the required alcohol level to meet regional regulations. "But for us," Ferlito continued, "[it] is more important that the wine is the real expression of vintage than pleasing the regulation to get the DOC on the label." And based on my exerience, if the reds are anything like the incredible whites that we tasted from Monterosso, Ferlito and the gang have little to worry about.

And isn't this what it's all about? Capturing a snapshot of time, that accumulation of work, weather, soil, and exposure, all packed into a grape and then transferred into a bottle?

Monterosso started as a project of three best friends who had deep interests in food and wine. In the aughts, they were living in the coastal city of Catania on Sicily's eastern shore. And though Ferlito left to pursue ambitions in London, Marconi and Strano stayed in view of the towering Mount Etna. In 2012, the friends decided to seek vines, and after two years of searching, they claimed half a hectare on what Ferlito described as "the most beautiful cru on the volcano." They released their first vintage in 2015.

The estate drew its name from the 600 meter-high volcanic cone, red with iron-rich soil and aptly known as Monte Rosso. (Mount Etna's slopes are covered by countless "parasitic" cones like this. They are created when volcanic activity causes breaks or swelling along magma channels en route to the major, or central, cone. Explanation courtesy of San Diego State University, College of Sciences website.) Monte Rosso, for example, emerged during an eruption in 1329. The friends, who now have two hectares, organically care for old Nerello Mascalese and Carricante vines (averaging 70 years of age) on soils of sand and pumice. Ash from the volcano, with elements such as potassium, phosphorus and manganese, is also intermingled. The vines are trained in an ancient style known as alberello egeo, which means each one is planted alone and supported by a single chestnut post.

From their holding on Monte Rosso, the team produces bottles like Sisma and Crater. Whereas, the grapes that go into their Volcano label are purchased from vineyards that they either manage or that meet their standards of organic farming.

This small-production estate is creating wines that represent the world around it. WIth an eye to tradition, a dedication to organic production, and a determination to display vintage character, Monterosso is an exciting producer to follow. David Hatzopoulos

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