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Eruptions: Chiara Vigo and Frank Cornelissen

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Etna, Oh Etna, or Raw and Rawer

This month we take you to Sicily by offering you two red wines that are informed by the eruptions of the volcano that is Mount Etna. These distinctive wines, made from grapes grown in volcanic soil, are made with a deep respect for tradition by two strong personalities who bring a fresh perspective to this ancient winegrowing region: Frank Cornelissen, a Belgian who moved to Sicily to make wine, and Chiara Vigo who returned from her studies, in Bologna, Venice and Paris, to make wine at home.
Frank Cornelissen at The Raw Wine Fair in 2013

 

Frank Cornelissen makes his wine high up on the slopes of Mount Etna. He chose this location first and foremost because he feels Etna is a great terroir for the indigenous Nerello Mascalese grape; that in this place he could make wine that rivals the best Burgundies and Barolos. Frank in fact feels that Nerello possesses the fruit of Pinot Noir and the dry tannins of Nebbiolo. A sort of Zen Master, Frank believes that we can never fully understand nature and all of its complexities and paradoxes. He doesn’t use any chemical additions or treatments. He practices polyculture on his 15-hectare estate, growing olives for oil, buckwheat and fruit in addition to the grapes for his wine. 
Grapes are harvested by hand, from mid-October to early November, in order to get the ripest fruit. They then undergo meticulous selection and any unripe or damaged grapes are discarded. In the cellar, the winemaking is completely natural, with no yeasts, sulfites or chemicals added to the wines. The wines are then fermented with their skins in small neutral tubs to insure stable temperatures. After fermentation, the wines are pressed and stored in neutral vessels, big tanks for the early-bottled wines and epoxy-lined anforas buried in volcanic rock for the more tannic wines. 

FRANK CORNELISSEN MUNJABEL CONTADINO 10 2012
Contadino is Frank’s homage to the farmer wines of the area. It’s a field-blend of 70-80% Nerello Mascalese with all kinds of local varietals from his old-vine vineyards: Alicante Bouschet, Minella Nera, Uva Francesa, Sangiovese, Minella Bianco and Insolia. It’s a dangerously drinkable wine that has the character of Etna: fragrant, profound, tannic but fruity.

Chiara Vigo
Chiara Vigo is the winemaker at her family’s estate, Fattorie Romeo del Castello. She was a small child in 1981 when Mount Etna erupted. Her parents sent her away to safety but they stayed to monitor the situation. They watched as the lava flow headed directly for their house; then it miraculously shifted and went toward the river instead, destroying a substantial amount of their property but not the full-on tragedy it could have been.
FATTORIE ROMEO DEL CASTELLO ALLEGRACORE ETNA ROSSO 2010
Chemicals have never been used here and Chiara continues to work in the manner of her ancestors. Salvo Foti, an influential Sicilian winemaker, has been a mentor. He encouraged her to take over winemaking duties from him, impressing upon her how special her vineyards are, and reminding her that she was born to be the winemaker at Fattorie Romeo Del Castello.
Allegracore is the name of the parcel the grapes come from and it means happy heart. The wine is primarily Nerello Mascalese aged in stainless steel. It has depth and also a certain elegance. The tannins are there but gentle on the palate.