The Volcano Beckons: A Return to Etna


Few things on this earth are more symbolic of change than a volcano itself. As their intermittent cataclysms reshape the very earth under our feet, volcanos represent a rare, visceral glimpse into natural processes that unfold across time scales usually far outside the scope of our own brief awareness.

Change was certainly on my mind as I returned to Etna for the first time in 10 years this past October, not least because the last time I visited, the mountain was in the midst of a spectacular eruption. My first glimpse of it on that previous trip consisted of fountains of orange lava lighting up the night as I sped down the highway in the darkness towards the town of Catania, where my sleep that night would be interrupted by explosive booms and deep rumbles. I emerged that following morning to an impressive ash plume lofting miles into the troposphere and a millimeter of fine ejecta coating the car.

Needless to say, it was quite a welcome.

Looking towards the summit of Etna in the morning light

The mountain was much more sedate on the first morning of my visit this past October, at least from a geological standpoint. The crisp autumn light caught small wisps of steam emerging from the caldera as birdsong cascaded through the trees. Even slumbering, however, the volcano dominates the landscape, drawing the eye to its summit like the converging lines of perspective in a Renaissance painting.

When not gazing up at the summit, however, the evidence of massive change on the mountain proves impossible to ignore. In the past 10 years, the Etna wine region has (if you’ll forgive the metaphor) simply exploded, and continues to evolve at a remarkable clip.

An Eruption of Producers

When I first visited in the spring of 2013, it took a concerted effort to find enough wineries producing at a commercially viable scale to fill up a five-day itinerary on the mountain. Around every winding corner of the roads that crisscrossed the mountain, old abandoned vineyards, and their crumbling terraces were a common sight, and only an occasional construction site gave a hint that a shiny new winery might be in the works here or there. At that time, the Etna wine revolution had been underway for at least 10 years, but the wine region honestly seemed like it was still in the process of waking up.

No longer. Now the wine scene is bright, and jangling with excitement, filled with fresh faces, dozens of ambitious projects, and brimming with the kind of energy that people only get when they know they’re onto something good. Wineries with impressive architecture dot the landscape, and abandoned vineyards are almost nowhere to be seen—instead, each turn of the (still disorienting) winding roads reveals rebuilt terraces and the ubiquitous arrays of wooden stakes supporting gnarled forms of rehabilitated old vines or newly planted vineyards.

The 2023 edition of the Cronachedigusto Etna Wine Guide, which was waiting for me in my hotel room when I arrived in October, listed 125 producers in the Etna region, 35 more than were listed in Benjamin North Spencer’s The New Wines of Mount Etna, published merely three years earlier. As I was Googling for the link above, I noticed that the 2024 edition is now available. It now contains listings for 134 wineries.

Not dissimilar to other evolving wine regions around the world, the growth in producer numbers on Etna comes from several sources. Families that have historically only grown grapes are moving into production, often as younger generations understand the multiples of value that separate finished wines from mere grape tonnage. Wine entrepreneurs both from within Sicily and from Italy as a whole have opted to launch wineries. Etna now also has its share of foreigners who came for a vacation or to work a harvest and then never left, as they bought vineyards or purchased grapes to make their own bottled expression of the volcano.

Ways of Looking at Etna

At the start…

Source : https://www.vinography.com/2024/03/the-volcano-beckons-a-return-to-etna