Salvo Foti: Earth, Wine and Fire on Mt. Etna

I meet Salvo Foti in the tiny town of Passopisciaro on Mt. Etna on a cloudy, dark September morning. I hop into his truck, and we drive to 1300 meters to his Vigna di Bosco vineyard on the North Slope of Etna: mostly 100-200 year old alberello (“little tree”) vines.

Thousands of terraces were built with lava rock “dry”(no cement) stone walls on Etna. Many were abandoned. One of Foti’s goals is to teach winemakers how to rebuild the terraces and walls and reclaim the “alberello” vines: the traditional way of growing grapes on Etna since ancient times. Once the vines either grew on trees or along the ground, but Foti stakes them on chestnut poles.

Workers preparing alberello vines for the harvest.

Table set for lunch on the porch of Foti’s house: fresh tomato salad, spaghetti with meat sauce, bread and a wedge of sharp, crumbly local cheese.

The first wine at lunch is I Vigneri di Salvo Foti Vigna di Milo IGT 2011, a single varietal made from native Carricante grapes on the eastern slope of Etna, in the town of Milo, overlooking the sea. The wine is fresh but complex with a wild mixture of sea, volcano, altitude, citrus and flowers.

Next we taste, I Vigneri di Salvo Foti Vinujancu Bianco IGT 2011 (18-20 euro) from a newer vineyard (2005) planted at 1200 meters on Etna’s north slope with Riesling Renano, Carricante, Grecanico and Minella. The tense aromatic elegance of a dry German Riesling is mixed with the complexity of the native Carricante and dry, freshness of Grecanico and Minella…a deliciously unique combination.

I Vigneri di Salvo Foti Vinudilice Rosato IGT 2010 comes from the from the Vigna di Bosco vineyard where a mix of Alicante (Granache), Grecanico, Minella and other varieties grow on mostly one to two hundred year old vines at 1300 meters, perhaps the highest vineyard in Europe. Foti vinifies everything together and the wine comes out how it comes out: full of surprises and contradictions, a taste adventure.

After lunch, Foti pours coffee.


Happy after lunch. As I leave, Salvo gives me a bottle of Vinupetra Etna Rosso 2005, made from hundred year old vines on the north slope at 700 meters: Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante and Francisi. I open it with friends in northern Italy at a dinner featuring pasta with poricini mushrooms, and it brings the volcano right to our table: a crazy mix of the cool, elegance of high altitude, the torrid heat of the south, the primordial essence of the fiery mountain, and the temperate freshness of the sea.

For detailed information about Foti’s work and the history of winemaking on Etna, read his book:

Etna: I Vini Del Vulcano

Foti is not only a winemaker, but a philosopher. In this video he explains that making good wine with good grapes on Etna is a way of expressing what it means to be human…that his wines are not “Natural Wines” or “Heroic Wines” but “Human Wines”….and that he cultivates not just grapes but people….that his wines reflect respect for the mountain, for the vineyards and especially for the people who make the wine. He also talks about the EU’s decision to outlaw Etna winemaking in the traditional winery that every family had, called the palmento.

Other Posts:
Mt. Etna: Palmento Tradition
Ten Years After on Etna

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  1. Pingback: The Pour: Etna Fumes and Spews, but the Winemaking Goes On | ABC Featured

    • Melinda
    • May 9, 2018

    Really gorgeous take on this man and his philosophy. I appreciate your attention to this topic, as it is my heart and soul. Ciao e grazie

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