Mt. Etna -Volcanoes, Vines, and the Holy Spirit is a 3 part series on how I came to meet Salvo Foti, the preeminent voice on traditional (ancient) winemaking on Mt Etna. I am releasing my post now to celebrate Salvo’s visit to San Francisco this week. Salvo Foti will be pouring wine and discussing how he makes the magic this Saturday at Biondivino is San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood from 6-8PM. Come out and enjoy the wines and say hello to yours truly as well as the great Salvo Foti.
We walked all together through the vineyards at Palmento Santo Spirito and saw vines as old as 150 years resting next to new plantings. The cycle of life in Sicily is as clear as anywhere I have seen. Ancestral vines keeping watch over new ones managed by men following ancient rituals to the tune of making wine without the use of electricity. I assumed Salvo was kidding till he walked us through the dark and dank rooms of the Palmento and explained to us how the grapes are carried up the ramp by hand and into the lava stone pool where they are foot tread to break the skins and allow the juice and pulp to run free into the rock tank below. The temperature outside over 90 degrees while the stone and the vented windows keep the inside temps at 75 or less. This was how the Romans made wine said Salvo and yet they say what I am doing is illegal. Two thousand years of winemaking precedence cannot be wrong but the EU says it is illegal. I want to know so much more.
The Georgians met us at dinner. They were in town to bury a religious icon in the vineyards of a French wine distributor from the UK. His wife, a former winemaker at the famous Solaia in Tuscany and her brother an aspiring winemaker himself from Australia who had interned with the enigmatic Frank Cornelissen were part of the crew that evening along with a contingent of the hardest working members of I Vigneri. We had all convened on Etna like some backroom episode of “Wine Fantasy Island” and Salvo was certainly our Mr Roarke.
We dived straight into a magnum of I Vigneri’s signature Etna Rosso, Vinupetra. It was compelling in its uniqueness and strangely familiar in its weight. This infant vintage was only recently bottled (by Vinupetra standards) and its youthful fruit and exuberant acid were a lovely spoil to the fresh Randazzo sausage on the grill. Galen and I drank like Americans and ate like Italians. Salvo says Galen never stops talking in either language. I laughed heartily when Salvo said Galen spoke Italian better than him and I smiled broadly when Galen affirmed this. Italian was not Salvo’s first language after all, it was Sicilian. After tasting the Vinupetra I am certain his second language was wine.
There were no sparks from the volcano on this night. The smell of sulfur wafted in and out of the air and I wondered if it was all from the volcano herself or was it the sulfur/copper mix sprayed minimally on the vines to prevent rot. The cool night air pushed me to drink more vigorously and I was so pleased to see the ubiquitous bottles of Coca-Cola absent from this Italian dinner. The Foti children have never had McDonald’s and do not get soft drinks. The ancient Vigneri would like this. They would want them to drink wine, to commune with strangers, and perhaps to indulge in the occasional smoke.
At the end of our pizza meal the night before Salvo asked my wife and me if we wanted a cigarette. When we told him that we did not smoke, he simply asked “why not?” I had to ask myself this same question looking at a man 10 years my senior, in better health, more contented than I, and living with vines, volcanoes, and the Holy Spirit in his backyard.
Please visit us tomorrow evening with the wines of Salvo Foti at Biondivino in San Francisco