Eduardo Torres, our assistant winemaker, has called me from Passopisciaro: it’s time to harvest in Montedolce. Already? For me, it’s the lookout vineyard, announcing the harvest is imminent. It grows on a wide terrace and seems planted in the air; when you pass, even from the car, it’s possible to see the hanging berries against the blue cliffs of the Nebrodi mountains in Messina. So I leave the heat of southern Sicily and head up to Etna, to sleep in the room above the winery with the sounds of the fountain in the courtyard.
At five in the morning, I skid down to the town of Passopisciaro, headlights extinguished, to the Caffè Blu Bar, which in the darkness, when it’s open, really does emit a sort of blue light. I eat breakfast alone; no one else has planted chardonnay, so early harvesting; they’ll all be here within a month and a half, when the nerello begins. I head back up to Montedolce, even further above the winery, and I see the pick-ups parked alongside the vineyard and the people passing around empty cases in the red morning air. The rows are already heavy with grapes.
Torres is there as well, and we get back into the car and head to taste the grapes in the complicated amphitheater of Contrada Guardiola. We begin to taste, terrace by terrace, establishing the maturity of each bunch.
Yesterday, I tasted an exaggerated, almost tedious, sweetness in the grapes. We’d walked across the black stones from the first light at dawn until the sun rose completely, sending us back inside blinded. The grapes are very sweet, but it’s so early. Will the sugars rise too much before the fruit is ready, will the body be too heavy? The grapes are very round, very pale, very even.
The vineyard “Minnella” is hidden between boulders of lava and a crevice. In all three of the terraces, there is a spot of grapes that is full of flavor. We mark off the places with the red-and-white tape and bring in 100 cases of grapes. In the vineyard that lies above the local “thousand meter” road, the flavor of the grapes has deepened as well. Here too we extend the tape and harvest 11 cases.
During the first days of the month, there was a good rain that lasted two days. I can see that everything is invigorated and that things will accelerate. I climb the vineyards with an umbrella in hand: Our pockets are now full of rolls of red-and-white tape, which we hurl across the rows of grapes to designate the areas to harvest. The taste of peaches is starting to show in the same terraces where it has appeared first in years past.
In these past few days, we’ve brought in almost 11 tons of grapes, always harvesting small sections of different terraces. Some are far from one another, it’s tiring work. This morning we covered half of the Contrada to mark the areas that had matured overnight. The teams harvest between the red-and-white lines hung yesterday. The mature grapes are more spread out that in past years. The flavor changes quickly: It hasn’t reached certain notes that I have tasted in the past, but it’s better not to wait, since the sugars would also rise. The grapes seems so sweet, but luckily, the sugars are still low.
On Etna, we picked almost 30 thousand bottles of plump, dense white. Each berry is the same size and color of the others: This is the result of 15 years of growth in densely planted vineyards, 12,000 plants per hectare. It has kicked off such a tremendous root competition that there’s the same share of terrain now for each plant.
– Andrea Franchetti