Roberto Henriquez in Bio Bio


In early March 2020 I got to spend several days with Roberto Henriquez during harvest.  

Roberto grew up in the areaaround Bio Bio and had the experience of making wine with his grandfather when he was younger but then went on to other things.  He's a pretty awesome drummer and has an album his band put out years ago.  After spending some time as a musician Roberto got into a university program studying Agronomy.  If I understood correctly, there aren't official wine making programs in Chile; you have to study Agronomy and it's considered engineering by the government and quite rigorous. So Roberto studied Agronomy and really dug into ecosystems and how grapes ripen differently on different vines and why.  It was a rigorous 4 year program and only 12 people out of his class graduated, but Roberto was one of those 12.

Chile has a complicated economy.  There are some really developed parts with services and manufacturing and great universities.  There are other parts where most people are subsistence farmers.  There's still a lot of extractive industry just producing and selling raw materials.  Down where Roberto is from the paper industry is the largest employer and seemed to be a majority of the economic activity.  Driving around there was just hill after hill of pine trees.  Everything had been clear cut and then planted with pine trees for the paper industry.  They get clear cut and the replanted periodically.  It's surreal and sort of soul crushing.  The pine trees are almost always there somewhere in your vision in uniform dark rows.  Back under the Pinochet regime the government gave subsidies to select rich families who bought land and then the Government planted trees which the landowners eventually sold and benefited from.  Sure, it created jobs, but those jobs are pretty dead end.  

TreesHere's a shot from Roberto's truck of a clear cut hillside with more pines in the back ground.

So Roberto grew up around it and rebelled against the whole structure.  There are 200 year old vines all over and people had made wine here for, well, at least 200 years.  The southern regions of Chile are regarded by the rest of the country as more rural and backwards and the people are more of indigenous decent so the more European northerners look down on them.  Wines from down here in Bio Bio, Itata, and Maule are very poorly regarded and the grapes are worth nothing, so many old vines have been ripped out to plant pine trees.  Or they don't even ripe the vines out, the just plant pine trees over them and crowd them out in the shade.  After working with Louis Antoine Luyt for a few years (but then feeling he had to work on his own and follow his own vision) and then working with Agnes and Rene Mosse in the Loire Roberto was confident that the vines and land of Bio Bio and Itata were special and could produce great wines.

New WineryHere's Roberto's new winery.  He had just built it and it didn't actually have water or power yet.

I think his first real commercial vintage was 2016.  The first vintage I was able to get my hands was 2017.  He started out making wine on a little plot of 200 year old Pais vines in Santa Juana in Bio Bio and making wine in a traditional open topped concrete vat that honestly looks more like a concrete hot tub than anything else.  Three years ago he built a new house in Patagual.  This past year he built a new winery at his house in Patagual!  It's a huge game changer going from the tiny low barn built into a hill side to a building with a concrete floor to work on and just spray down!  A little aside, the driving here is insane.  There are so many rivers and so few bridges that it seemed like Roberto spent hours every day driving around from one place to another.  

20200305_201617Here's the little vineyard in Santa Juana where Roberto started (and still does) make wine.  If I regularly spent time in a place like this I would be super calm and centered too!

Roberto is a thoughtful calm guy with infinite patience.  He had a great team made up of several agronomy students doing work study projects with him, a wine maker from Catalonia, a Journeyman winemaker named Paula, and a sommelier from Bogota Columbia.  Roberto gave them a ton of autonomy to figure a lot out on their own.  He was a much more relaxed lazare fair wine maker in how he supervised the people working for him than I'm used to.  That's not the whole story though.  Right from the beginning when I met him here in the US I could tell that he was motivated by a clear vision and that he was so passionate about it that he was that vision and the vision was him.  His vision is to have a critical mass of small farmers working together making wine from the traditional Pais vines down in Bio Bio and Itata and for that value added industry to help all the people there improve their lives.  It's his whole reason for being.


Here's a quick video of Roberto talking about how brutally low the prices are that big companies pay for grapes they buy

Roberto owns some vineyards and buys grapes from others.  Those he buys grapes from, he works in concert with the farmers to manage the vines year round.  He pays 3-4 times the market price for a kilo of grapes to ensure that they farm the way he wants and also because it's the right thing to do.  Large bulk wine producers may pay $1000 per 5000 kilos of grapes.  That just basically covers the pruning and cost of land for a farmer and leaves no actual profit.  Roberto hopes that if he proves wine making and exporting can work that other people will start making wine themselves too and then they'll slowly be able to push back against the paper industry and people will generally be more empowered economically to advocate for themselves and their communities.  It's a hard struggle.  Chile is a conservative agricultural culture.  The country is still emerging from the aftermath of the Pinochet military dictatorship and in the past 20 years they've experienced several crashes in the price of the raw materials that they export.  A lot of people are so used to the system being stacked against them that they're resistant to the idea of hope that it could change.

20200307_180606Old Tinaja at Roberto's barn in Santa Juana

Like many of the best wine makers Roberto blends tradition, intuition, and deep technical knowledge.  He ferments with out temperature control in a building that's pretty open to the environment.  He's got a thorough technical understanding of why happens during all the stages of fermentation and that allows him to play around and experiment with confidence.  He knows technically when things are going right and when the fermenting wine is stable and what environmental factors he can play around with to influence the wine without worrying he's going to mess it up.  In a more whimsical concept he puts rocks from the vineyard the grapes came from into the bottoms of the tanks that the wine ferments in.    He uses old tinaja (100 year old locally produced amphora, huge rauli (a local hard wood tree that is now rare because they were all logged) vats, and cement tanks.  Roberto hand harvests and sometimes uses a destemmer, sometimes presses by hand over a bamboo mat (zaranda). 

20200311_110119That's a zaranda that I'm working on.  You press grapes back and forth between two people and they slowly get pressed between the bamboo branches. 

20200305_200643 trim


Pipeno is a traditional style of red wine from the Maule/Bio Bio/Itata regions.  There's no legal definition so everyone fights over what it is.  Here's a video of Roberto explaining what Pipeno means to him.


Corona Virus Covid-19, This Time is Different

The disaster in public health and the economy caused by the spread of covid-19 is unlike anything we’ve experienced before.  In modern times we've never had a new virus emerge and create a pandemic. The resulting economic shock is also unique. All of our recent economic crises started as asset bubbles or liquidity crunches that first affected the financial industry before trickling down to Main St America.  The covid-19 economic crisis is going in the opposite direction: it has hit Main Street first as small businesses close to protect the health of themselves and the public. Consumer spending is 70% of the US economy and this shock will trickle up, although “erupt” might be more apt than “trickle”. This systemic shut down is necessary for our public safety, but just as when the human body goes into shock, outside intervention is needed to keep America's diverse economy on life support. In medicine the best practice is to cure the underlying problem while keeping the patient alive as you do it. The “patient” in this crisis is public health and the consumer economy.

Given that this is a unique situation it would be unreasonable to think that the tools of the past would be effective in handling the covid-19 crisis.  The Federal Reserve has cut rates to nearly 0. This is a helpful action but it addresses a symptom (anticipated liquidity crunch for large businesses) while ignoring the root problem: a crash in consumer confidence and demand due to a public health emergency for which we are not prepared.  To that end Congress should immediately undertake a massive investment in increased covid-19 testing, community health care, and a serious economic stimulus targeted directly at individuals and Main Street.  

The United States doesn't have widespread testing available for covid-19. That lack of knowledge leaves us blind and makes it much harder to effectively combat the outbreak. We need to increase the availability of test kits and shrink the turn around time of analyzing them. I don't know how to do that, but hundreds of thousands of lives and the US economy are on the line. In the status quo covid-19 cases seem to double every 6 days. The mortality rate is estimated at .5-2%. That could realistically mean over 600,000 deaths in America without taking into account people who will die from other causes if our health care system is overwhelmed. The threat is so large that speed is far more important than being fiscally frugal in the face of this impending catastrophe. Individuals need fast and direct governmental financial support to pay their bills and make it easier to stay home and flatten the curve of infection. Small businesses need zero interest loans or even just grants to pay bills and keep their heads above water. We know what will happen if we don't take overwhelming drastic action right now.  All we have to do is look at northern Italy to have some idea of what will happen in our hospitals and to the small businesses that our communities center around.  If there was ever a time to throw money at a problem: this is it. This is bigger than Maine.  It's bigger than any one state or even country.  We can do what we can in our communities to minimize the spread and help those in need, but we all need to put our voices together and demand stronger action from the Federal Government.  

I included these pictures for the sake of pictures so that this would be more visible on social media.


Here's a parking lot at dinner time that should be full of cars....


My friends Ilma and Damian of Chaval and Piccolo.  They've had to close their restaurant to dining in.  They're smiling because they just made hundreds of meals for school kids that need food assistance.  You can see the boxes in the background.  But I know that in their heads they're struggling with questions of how to keep paying the mortgage on the building that houses their restaurant and how to support their employees.

Ned's Going to Central Chile!

Ned's Going to Central Chile!

Not just Chile: Bio Bio and Itata valleys!

Look out for a lot of exciting videos, Blog Posts, and Social Media

No, I'm not just telling you about Chile to make you Jealous

I'm flying to Chile next Wednesday the 4th of March to visit Itata and Bio Bio. These are valleys down around Concepcion in central Chile, about 350 miles south of the capital Santiago. I speak no Spanish and have maybe 1/4 of a plan at this point.

Why am I going 350 miles south of Santiago?

Most of the wine that gets exported from Chile comes from closer to Santiago. There is plenty of good wine made up there, but overall the closer you get to Santiago the more people are of European descent and have close ties to Europe. Wine making up there is dominated by wine makers hired from Europe and the wine is made to please consumers in the US, Germany, Great Britain, etc. Like I said, there is plenty of good wine up there but most of it is trying to be good value wine and not necessarily unique representations of the place it comes from...

That changes down in Itata and Bio Bio. The original Spanish conquest started running out of steam down here and more people are of indigenous descent. They make wine, but in the primitive way that the Spanish taught them 400 or so years ago. The local style of wine, called Pipeno, was always looked down on as being poor peasant wines. Recently people finally pulled their heads out of their asses and realized that 200 year old ungrafted vines from varieties that are near extinct in Europe are pretty exciting! However, thanks to that outdated pig headed world view this unique wine culture has survived hundreds of years with people still making wines for local consumption because....they liked drinking them.

Here's a wine map of Chile (thanks again Brazos). You can see Santiago up in the north with Colchagua and Maipo (two more famous regions) around it. Scroll all the way down and you see Itata and Bio Bio closer to the ocean and with virtually no mountains blocking influence from the Pacific.

Finally the world has started to catch on to how interesting and exciting these Pipeno wines can be. Local wine makers have started getting out into the world. Tourists have experienced and loved the wines. And finally these wines are making it out of Chile.  

I've been interested in all of this for a couple years and am lucky to now be working with some of the producers leading the charge both to preserve local wine making traditions and also to export them to the rest of the world. I'm lucky to be working with Brazos Wine Imports: a company that's exclusively focused on unique wines from South America. There's not too much information and writing out there yet so I decided that the best thing for me to do was get on a plane! I actually really have no idea. The stuff I wrote above is what I've read, but a lot of that is second and third hand info. I'm looking forward to learning a lot! I'll be on the ground for about 10 days visiting wine makers like Roberto Henriquez, Gonzalez Bastias, and Mauricio Gonzalez Carreno.

There will be lots of emails, blog posts, and videos on the way so be on the look out!

Here are some fun pictures of where I think I'm going, courtesy of Brazos

This is the vineyards at Gonzalez Bastias

Here's how grapes are traditionally pressed: by hand over a bamboo mat. The juice runs between the sticks into an open fermentor underneath. Bits of skins and stems make it through as well and influence the wines taste.

Itata and Bio Bio are only a few miles from the Pacific. The climate is cooler and more maritime than Curico, Molina, and the rest of the Central valley where most commercial wine making happens.

Here's one of the wines I'm super excited about from down there: Vina Maitia Aupa. It's a Pipeno made from Pais and Carignan vines. They're about 80 years old and the wine is made in big 1000 L concrete spherical tanks. It's bright and fun and spicy and alive. And it's around $12!

And another exciting wine: Rogue Vine grand Itata Tinto! It's made from 100 year old bush vines that are mostly Cinsault with a little bit of Pais. This is so supple and smooth, it reminds me of red Burgundy in it's weight. It smells like cranberries, raspberries, and a little black pepper. The mouth feel is smooth but there's a little peppery spice and heat in there too.

This is about $19 retail

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Jurtschitsch Mon Blanc

I've been working with the Jurtschitsch winery for nearly a year now and I've been pretty excited about their wines, but this new arrival is one of the best wines I've tasted in the last 4 months.  Mon Blanc is kind of sort of an experiment to see what full on biodynamics can in their particular climate.  This is a blend of Gruner, Riesling, Weissburgunder, and Muskateller - all from the Loiserberg vineyard.  This spends ten days on skins in open top red wine fermenters. The juice then goes into 600 L oak barrels. The wine is unfined and unfiltered. the Jurtschitschs use 10g of sulfur at bottling and only made 500 cases.  10 of those cases came into Maine.


Here's a quick introduction to the winery.  Jurtschitsch is the oldest winery in the Kamptal region of Austria; they date back to the 1500s.  In 2006 Alwin took over from his uncles.  He and his wife Stefanie Hasselback (from a famous German wine making family) prepared for the handover by interning at wineries they respected around the world.  When they finally took the reigns they were very prepared and brought passion and a modern perspective on low intervention farming/wine making.  They've focused the wines they produce on on expressing the varied character of their vineyards (they own 62 ha) and they've adopted a holistic minimal intervention wine making style.   They've conducted a lot of serious experiments with different organic and biodynamic methods: coming to the conclusion that the conversion to organic farming was essential both for quality and ethically. their determination is impressive to read about, and then you taste the wines!  


The Wine:

Aroma:  While I wouldn't call this an aromatic wine on terms with a full Gewurz or Moscato, this has a lot of white wild flowers and is really pretty.  The aroma is beautiful and forceful with fresh apple and cantaloupe to it as well.  It's a really lovely lingering intriguing aroma that gets your attention in the best way.

Same deal on the palate.  I love this.  I would date this wine.  There's that fresh ripe but edgy fruit with energetic acidity and some salt, but also a grounded foundation of mouth feel from the little bit of skin contact this gets.  It's not enough to be in your face and this is absolutely not an "orange wine" but it just sort of changes the personality and makes this deeper, thoughtful, contemplative; all those nice things.  It makes me think of springtime some how.  I guess it's the freshness and flower aromas all together.  It tastes very "clean"  

This is excellent and really exactly what I want to drink right now.  That's cool, that doesn't happen too often.

You can find it at Maine and Loire, Store Ampersand, Blue Hill Wine Shop, Now You're Cooking, and Havana in Bar Harbor

Visit with Frank Cornelissen on Etna

8 years ago when I originally met Frank Cornelissen, he told me that he was spending all his money on buying more land on Etna.  He said that more than anything he wanted to make wines that taste like liquid volcanic rock.  He said he wanted to see Etna established as one of the premier wine regions in the world. 

Those goals sounded audacious back then, but Frank has stuck by them and is on his way to achieving them. That's crazy. 

Frank pouring wine at lunch

Three and a half years ago I visited Frank on Etna.  He'd just upgraded his bottling line, installed ultraviolet lights everywhere, argon on the bottling line, ozone injectors in the heat pump systems, etc.  Frank had gone all out to keep the winery clean and avoid any contamination in the wine.  His goal wasn't just to ferment wine that tasted like liquid volcanic rock with native yeast and bottle with no sulfur or other additives, he wanted the wine to come out totally clean and stable every time.  His logic was "what's the point of all his work if the wines taste different by the time people get to drink them?"  He wanted people to experience his vision the way he intended.  


Fermenting grapes at Frank's winery

In these 8 years since I met him, Frank's wine making has changed a lot technically, but the changes are completely in the pursuit of his goals.  So this time around I was excited to see Etna with fresh eyes.    


The famous filtration device

The first afternoon that I met up with Frank, the son of a close friend had flown to Sicily to ask his advice about transitioning from being a high level race car engineer to becoming a wine maker.  We hopped in the car and headed to a restaurant for what turned into a 4 hour lunch.  Talk ranged from what starting a business will do to your life, the quirks and pressures of the wine business, to the conflict between the business and romantic sides of making wine.  And politics and cars and I told a lot of stupid stories.   It was great and lots of catching up.


The new more gentle wire insert for the destemmer.  

Something Frank said that stuck with me was that you have to push past your limits to the realm where things break and then pull back to a place where you're comfortable and can exist sustainably.  It's a sentiment I identify with personally.  Frank went on to say that technology can fill the spaces where you're less comfortable once you push throw that ragged edge to where things may break.  We talked about it and he clarified this as meaning that with technology or more accurately technique, used in the right way, you can create a bit more space, a bit more time.  As an example: in wine making that can mean maybe you don't have to do the fermentation as fast, maybe you can be a little bit more deliberate and thoughtful.  With everything perfect you can stretch the primary fermentation of some of the red out even longer because you know that the hyper clean winery and soft destemmer and vibrating sorting table and C02 in the press all bought you a little bit more time before any kind of unwanted bacteria growth could start.  And you can do it with out resorting to using enzymes or sulfur in the process. 


In the Barbabecchi vineyard


Old vines in Barbabecchi up where the Magma comes from 


I think originally, (18 years ago?) Frank was rebelling against the broad trend of to much technique and technology destroying the honest sense of place in many wines he had experienced.  Through experience and experimentation Frank has honed his technique in order to find that fine line of using technique to set up the natural processes of fermentation to be able to cleanly run their course.  It's the idea of technique as a framework that is out of sight and allows the land to speak.  He's still fermenting with native yeast and not adding anything to the wine, but he has nearly 100% more wine making experience than when I first met him.  He's producing about 130,000 bottles now.  That's a whole different scale.  In my own experience, my wine wholesale company is a completely different structure from what it was 10 years ago because the structure that worked at that scale would be impossible at the current size.  It's like I've had 4 or 5 different companies over the years.  Similarly Frank started out making wine essentially out of a garage and now has a winery that has gone through 17 years of technical evolution and refinement.

Working on the same project for nearly 2 decades changes your perspective, not just of the project but also of time and progress.  I saw this in another subject that Frank and I touched on: making the step from great wine to exceptional wine and maintaining that quality over time.  Frank has proven to himself that he can make exceptional wines.  He's also proven to himself that he can consciously evolve and improve what he does in order to address issues or new problems he identifies.  But making exceptional wine is a moving target so you have to put those two things together.  Expressing the unique character of each vintage, and doing it at an extremely high level seemed like something Frank was rolling around in his mind.    We agreed that a lot of the changes you make to get there are very small in impact, but they may be big and hard to accomplish in reality.  Technology came back into the conversation here.   Frank has been trying to customize much of the equipment he uses in order to increase his options.  For example he's changed to a larger pump with a larger diameter output that ends up being easier on the grapes (a larger volume space at the same pump pressure decreases velocity).  Another example: Frank also added a voltage inverter to step the voltage down and effectively give the pump a lower speed range that is also more gentle on the grapes.  The bottling line that uses argon through the whole process includes a leveler to make sure each bottle is at exactly the same volume when filled with wine: all of these things give him more options.  Having more options and flexibility allows him to respond to different vintage situations with more finely tuned inputs that just achieve exactly what he wants...or that's the goal.  But getting companies to custom manufacture new equipment takes time. 

We drove around for part of a day looking at different vineyards that Frank has planted or recently bought with the goal of planting.  He's aiming to get up to about 150,000 bottles of production per year, feeling that is a good sweet spot where he can still be very hands on and keep quality extremely high, but it will give him the margins to have a slightly more robust operation.  And, to repeat myself, more vineyard sites in a way mean more options....  It was cool driving around and stopping to see people because it opened my eyes to how much Frank has really become part of the community.  Sure, he's been here on Etna for 18 ish years but I heard all kinds of stories of how hard it was for him as an outsider when he started.  Etna is a unique place and people can naturally be skeptical of outsiders.  But as we went and got breakfast and wondered around people would stop him in the street, wave and honk as he went by, it was really clear that the community has accepted him and appreciates the attention he's brought to Etna.  


Tasting through wines from the same Contradas but from different wine makers

Reflecting after the trip: I can't think of another contemporary wine region that has risen to prominence like Etna in as short a time.  Even more unique is that one of the driving forces behind Etna's rise is a guy who's a poster child for the natural wine movement.  Etna's rise as a wine region is due to the hard work and sacrifice of many people.  Passopisciaro, Terre Nerre, Salvo Foti and others have done a ton of work to advance Etna's reputation, but Frank is one of the absolute top flagship producers on Etna and I think it's really unique that he is a "Natural" wine maker.

So Frank is in a refinement and evolution phase.  He's building a house for himself finally that will have an attached warehouse (he and his family have been in a little rented apartment all this time).  Frank has always sort of been a lightning rod, for how he makes wine, that he's from away, that he has big goals; I don't know if he's exactly made his peace with that situation but he's certainly used to it now.  Bottom line: people can like or dislike what he does, but it's impossible to deny that he took a huge leap years ago, stuck by it, and has accomplished a hell of a lot since then.  At this point you can't deny the importance of him, his wines, and Etna.  Everyone is free to like or dislike Etna or Frank's wines, but they've been pretty important in modern wine culture.

20191111_131203Frank's new vineyard up near Rampante and Monte Dolce.  He's planning to build some old school rock terraces on the edges for vines, but probably not plant it all.

Parting thought from Frank: people think Etna is an extreme place.  If Etna was an extreme place then how do vines live to 150 years old?   If Etna was extreme for vines they wouldn't live half that long.  It's not an extreme place for viticulture (maybe for people), but for viticulture Etna is a unique and special place.  

The Contrada system on Mount Etna


I recently spent 4 days on Mount Etna and visited Passopisciaro, Frank Cornelissen, I Vigneri & Salvo Foti, Eduardo Torres Acosta, and SRC Vini.  I work with Frank, Passopisciaro, Eduardo, I Vigneri, and Romeo Castello so I wasn't just there for fun.  

Etna is to me one of the most exciting wine regions in Italy.  Top reason is the land and climate.  I mean; it's an active volcano that is also the tallest mountain in Italy south of the Alps.  The steep terraced vineyards crawl along the broken surface of the volcano, sometimes facing, east, then north, then west, and back all in the space of a few 100 meters.  The weather can go from raining to sunny or even both at once in the distance of a Kilometer.  Sicily and Etna are just off the coast of Africa, so summers are long and warm, but up on Etna vineyard temperatures can swing by 25 degrees Celsius between day and night.  Warm salty humid air comes of the Ionian sea and runs smack into cold air cascading down from Etna's almost 11,000 ft peak.    

A result of that crazy terroir/weather and Etna's heritage of small contadino farming, Etna has an interesting system of named vineyards.  It's sort of like premier cru vineyards in Barolo and Burgundy, but not as codifed yet.  Most all of these vineyards have existed as named entities for generations as names used by the locals to understand and talk about the crazy volcano landscape they were farming.  Just like Burgunday, Barolo, and Barbaresco most of these vineyards have many owners who each have different pieces.  So the names aren't recognized or controlled by any regulatory body and as such borders are fuzzy.  

The Contrade (as they're called locally) are important and each has its own character.  Etna is still emerging as a world class wine zone; in 2012 there were 30 something wineries and today there are more like 130.  More and more wineries are bottling individual Contradas separately and putting the names on their labels so I'm sure that over time borders and recognition will firm up.  As my contribution to moving that process along here's all the info I've got, including a fantastic map!  

Contrada Vineyard Map Mount Etna

I'm so excited to have gotten my hands on this map.  It's hosted here in high res so click on it to open it in a new window and then zoom in to get a better view.


Land, weather, terroir are just pieces of what makes a wine.  There's also farming.  And wine making.  The Contradas are important because they are part of how the people on Etna understand and make sense of farming there.  So understanding them can help you better understand the wines.  But you can't boil wine down to rocks and sun.  The decisions made by the farmer/winemaker about whether and how to prune, when to rack, whether to allow cover crops, whether or how much to work the soil, how to press, do you press?  do you just use free run juice.....   So wines from the same contrada but made by different wine makers are obviously going to taste very different.  Frank and I spent an afternoon drinking wines from the same contrade specifically to make that point.  Thanks Frank!

Contrada Rampante













Here's a great example.  Frank and Passopisciaro disagree about where the borders of Barbabecchi and Rampante are.  So the picture below of Frank's sign saying "Barbabecchi" is only a couple hundred yards from Passopisciaro's sign saying "Rampante".  It's hard to tell from the map above that shows Rampante, but Contrada Barbabecchi is also listed there.














Contrada Rampante





















I think Frank maintains that Rampante is lower down in between Marchesa and Monte Dolce.

Contrada Barbabecchi


















I don't even see Porcaria on the big map.  I know it's somewhere in the Solicchiata area, but I didn't visit it this trip.  I did go visit it 3 and a half years ago though with Vincenzo from Passopisciaro.  It's flatter and several hundred meters lower down than Barbabecchi.  The soil seems to be finer and Vincenzo said the wine from here is usually a little richer, finer, and approachable a bit younger.














Guardiola is another high elevation vineyard near Barbabecchi but maybe a bit more exposed.  Andrea Franchetti's Passopisciaro winery is actually located here in the middle of the vineyard.  The higher reaches are really up there and I think Franchetti has mostly planted that part to Chardonnay.  Lower down near the winery he's planted some Petit Verdot and Cessanese.  Below that there's old vine Nerello Mascalese.

Contrada Guardiola Etna













90 year old Nerello Mascalese in lower Guardiola

Sciara Nuova

Sciara Nuova Contrada








Contrada Sciara nouva Etna















Sciara Nuova is over in the west of Guardiola and at slightly less elevation over all.  Guardiola is a bit steeper, extends further up, and the folds of the land face sometimes more east or west.  Sciara Nuova, at least what I saw, was a bit more just north facing and open, probably getting great sun and also plenty of wind.




































Sciara Nuova looking north at the Nebrodi Mountains.

Monte Dolce













Monte Dolce is on the first map of all the Contrade, but it's show as an actual peak: the sweet peak.  Vincenzo explained it as a newer (like several thousand years old) volcanic vent up above Solicchiata.  I ran all back and forth through and around it and it seemed generally more flat and there was a lot of new planting in it.  


















Here's some new planting by Passopisciaro in the Monte Dulce Contrada.  If I understood right, the little hill just beyond the vineyard is the actual Monte Dolce.

Chiappe Macine













I totally can't find Contrada Chiappe Macine or any of the other Contrade shown on this specific Contrada map on the big map up top.  And I've never visited it.  But it's lower down and abuts a more recent lava flow.  Oh well, next time I'm back on Etna I'll go find it.  

Calderara Sottana

Contrada Calderara Sottana

















I visited SRC Vini and their winery is right in the middle of Calderara Sottana, so here's a picture of that.  Again, a bit lower down and at this spot not terraced.  

Contrada Calderara Sottana













SRC Vini's new winery in Calderara Sottana

Visit to Lamoresca in Sicily


On my second day in Sicily I left Etna and headed south in the general direction of Gela on the south coast.  It was rural rolling farm country interspersed with just empty sharp rocky ridges.  I found Lamoresca without much trouble though. Lamoresca is nearly an houra and a half south but you can still see Etna on the horizon hulking over all the hills. 


Filippo met me in the driveway but was clearly worried because I was early and he was doing 5 things at once.  I assured him that I had come early specifically to go running, so I took off for an 8 mile run and he finished up what he was working on. 


When I got back Filippo was all fired up and immediately took me down the street to see his new project: a giant outcropping of eroded sand stone rock that he'd bought!  Hooray!  It's actually super interesting and unusual for the area (mostly rolling hills of sandy clay) and it came with an abandoned house, over grown prickly pear cactus orchards, and more olive trees. 


I think it's something like 12 hectares in total that he just bought!  The soil was really unique: super light airy very fine eroded sand that compressed and was springy under my feet; it made me think of videos of walking on the moon.  Filippo is mostly going to plant olives and cactuses here, but he is planning a few hectares of Frappato on an open piece of sand.


Here's a video of Filippo and I talking about the soil.


Filippo explicitly said that he thinks of himself as a farmer and not as a wine maker.  Most everything he talked about was planting this or that, the work trimming, the cover crops he's working with, and the new agronomist he's hired to try to fine tune the natural ways he tries to keep the vineyards healthy.

The prickly pear cactuses were so overgrown and covered in brambles that you couldn't even see the rock outcropping.   The property had been abandoned for 30 years so Filippo has had a great time going through cleaning and cutting and exploring.  There's also an old house on the property and workman were in the process of putting a new roof on it.  


Filippo plans to make it into several apartments he can rent out as a sort of agri-tourismo.  He's trying to make the house pretty authentic and what a Sicilian house would have been like a couple generations ago.  He even bought old used hand made terracotta tiles for the roof instead of new ones.  Is all the work really worth it?  Probably not according to Filippo, but he sure does enjoy it and that's why he's doing it all.  He just really loves farming and the land there!


Filippo had also planted a couple hectares of fava beans so that he can harvest and then plant them as cover crops on his vineyards as opposed to buying seeds like he does now.  Currently his vineyards were planted with a mix of herbs, daikon, fava beans, and chick peas in order to replenish nutrients and aerate the soil.  He was super excited about seeing the new cover crops starting to come up and how the daikon roots would help work the soil with out anyone manually doing anything.

Then we tasted through all the Lamoresca wines that were in tank.  They were so beautiful!  I write about good wines very often, it's sort of what I do, but the Lamoresca wines have an energy, purity, and beauty that's really rare and on another level.    He talked a lot about how he wants to make "True Wine" and doesn't want to get pigeon holed as Natural Wine.  He does farm naturally and ferment with wild yeast, so yeah they are natural wines.   I get the feeling he's uncomfortable with having any label attached to himself.  He seems to like doing things his own way.  That's probably part of why he chose to make wine in an area where no one else is (and that he's from there).  He doesn't want his wines to be thought of as Natural Wines because he doesn't want to be a part of a "movement", also because he feels that the natural wine movement is too excepting of flawed wines and that some "Natural" wines don't actually express terroir.  One example he offered was a pet nat made in a hot sunny place, but harvested early when the grapes weren't too ripe in order to make a light and easy drinking wine. Filippo argued that doesn't really express the climate and terroir, which is a pretty fair point.  In a pet nat like that you're tasting technique more than anything else.  As an after thought as he was turning out the lights in the winery he said "oh yeah, this is the winery." 


He quickly ran through "the grapes come in, they ferment in open tanks, I press them off with that wooden basket press, I've got those cement tanks and botte back there."  He was very clear that he sees all the real work happening in the vineyard and then he just keeps everything clean and precise in the winery and makes sure the wines are doing what they're supposed to.  He's pretty much there at the winery all the time and tastes the wines in tank and barrel every day so he has a very clear understanding of how they're evolving and if he needs to do something like rack a wine to a different tank.


In another contrarian mood he talked about how popular his Frappato is and so as a result he's decided to focus on Nero d'Avola because he thinks it's under appreciated.  And I have to say his Nero d'Avola was searingly good and drank like exciting lush racy Morgon.

When I asked why his wines are so pretty and precise he would only say that it was a reflection of his personality and that it was due to his excellent memory of everything he has tasted over the years.  There was a real continuity of thoroughness and thoughtfulness and aesthetics through everything around the azienda and he was up front that he takes pride in it.

Some of that awareness comes from the many years he spent in Belgium running a restaurant and selling wine there.  It gave him more of a cosmopolitan understanding of wine culture than the average farmer.  He moved there to follow his Belgian wife (they'd met in Italy), but after over a decade he decided he wanted to start spending more time back where he grew up in rural southern Sicily.  He bought the land that would become Lamoresca in 2000 with plans to plant olives on it.  At some point though Filippo started to think "why not plant vines too?"  And so he did in 2005 and slowly, little by little, he started on this path.

20191107_120935copyHere's the view looking back over the hills at his winery, vineyards, and olive orchards.

Tasting Wine at Pianogrillo in Chiaramonte Gulfi Sicily

In the morning I headed over to Chiaramonte Gulfi to find Pianogrillo.  Lorenzo was outside supervising some work with the olive trees and also a special breed of black Sicilian pigs they raise on the farm.  Pianogrillo is a 100 hectare estate that's been in his family for many generations.  He seemed super involved in the details of day to day running of the farm and seemed to be particularly passionate about working in and with nature.  


First he gave me a short tour of the family house, which long long ago had been a fortified watch tower protecting the surrounding valley. 


The house was beautiful and he showed me a cabinet of Greek and Phoenician artifacts that his family had found while working in the fields.  They had a little family chapel that was still consecrated, and an amazing old traditional Sicilian marriage cart!  It seemed like he wanted to rush through all that and get to the wines but those classical Greek ceramics were insane.


He showed me an area where he's experimenting planting vines and olive trees together.  This is super traditional but rare now.  Lorenzo is experimenting with it to see if shade from the trees can help protect the grapes as the climate keeps warming.  


The winery is a high point on the ridge with the olive orchards all around.  In fact Pianogrillo is very famous in Italy for their olive oil and that's their primary business.  I wouldn't call the wine an after thought, Lorenzo is too obviously focused on it and the quality is too good.   Pianogrillo only making a few thousand cases of wine per a year so it must be a drop in the bucket compared to olive oil.  


After touring the property we went into his new winery and tasted through all the Pianogrillo wines.  It's a nice clean simple modern winery.  Lorenzo was also clear that he sees himself as a farmer and not a wine maker who intervenes and makes the wine through chemistry.  They're certified organic and pretty much just use stainless steel to preserve the wines freshness.  The limestone in the soil seems to often give the wines more acidity.  


Lorenzo particularly loves Frappato and we both agreed that it's a grape that deserves more international attention.  The Cerasuolo di Vittoria in particular was fantastic.  It's 50/50 Frappato and Nero d'Avola and sort of reminded me of an awesome uplifting Morgon from Beaujolais.

Revisit to Etna

My solo running trip to Etna 3 and a half years ago to Etna was a life changing experience.  It was incredible but it was also over whelming so I've wanted to go back and see Etna again.  I've also seen a lot of new wines and producers come out of Etna since then, so it really felt important to get back for several reasons.

So now I'm staging to get to the airport at 4 am and board an early flight to Rome and then JFK and on to Portland.  I visited 7 wineries and spent almost a week on Etna plus a couple days down near Noto and Chiaramonte Gulfi in Sicily.  I'll be putting up posts about all the individual producers in quick succession, but here's a broad reaction to what I just saw and experienced.

Sicily has taken some big steps in making serious wine and establishing recognized wine regions and types.  Etna is the hulking volcano that you see from everywhere but there's a lot happening down south and out west too.  


My first stop was up in Milo on the slopes of Etna.  Milo is totally different from what we think of as Etna because it face the sea and you can feel it in the air.  It's much more influenced by the Mediterranean.  I visited Simone Foti and had a great time talking about their particular micro climate and how they only grow white grapes here.  The top of the vineyard is just over 900m.  Simone's father, Salvo, has been making wine around on the north slope of Etna in Randazzo for years but recently bought this property after buying grapes here for years.

20191107_174204Simone pointing out Cataratto and Minella in their vineyards.

Down South and Lamoresca


On the drive I stopped to take a picture of this old Fiat.  An older man in coveralls came out of the house and motioned me to follow him


Turns out he had a shop building Fiat race cars and machines his own high performance parts



Individual throttle bodies and carburetors on a Fiat 600!


The name of his company is La Spina.  It's cast into that sick rear oil cooler on his personal Fiat 695 Biposto race car.  It had a sequential 6 speed transmission.  Which is pretty insane.

Anyway, then I got back to wine:


Then I went down south and visited Filippo Rizzo at Lamoresca, a domaine he built from scratch after buying olive trees and empty land back in 2005.  This is sand and clay here.  The grape varieties are Frappato and Nero d'Avola (and he grows a bit of Vermentino too).


Filippo had just bought this hill of decayed Sandstone and is so so pumped to clean it up, re build the abandoned house, plant more olives, plant more vines, and on and on.  He's a super excited positive guy.  His Frappato is almost unbelievably beautiful but he was more focused on Nero d'Avola partially to be a contrarian.  The Nero was also brilliant and reminded me of great Morgon.

It is a really unique geologic feature and now Filippo has over 20 hectares has farming.  Most isn't vines.


Lorenzo and I at Pianogrillo in Chiaramonte Gulfi.  Lorenzo's family has owned this estate for a very very very long time. This is Frappato country down near Vittoria


In between the olive trees you can see some of Lorenzo's Grillo vines.  Notice the soil is pretty white because of all the limestone here

Lorenzo's winery


In case you needed a reminder of how crazy Sicily is, heres a cabinet or Greek and Phoenician artifacts Lorenzo's family has found in the fields over the years






Look at that guy throwing up from too much wine!  I love the subject matter of ancient Greek ceramics

And that guy is riding a dolphin!


Lorenzo's family chapel


A traditional Sicilian marriage cart that's been in Lorenzo's family




Then I went to Etna...


Tons of new construction in Linguaglossa

It doesn't really seem like a problem, but Etna has developed a lot as a tourist destination and a wine region


I made it to Cave Ox.  A wine bar with a few rooms for rent.  Convenient 


Classic wild overgrown abandoned building on Etna

Land Frank has bought adjacent to the Rampante Contrada.  He's planning to plant some of the ridge tops but also mix in chestnut trees



This house/palazzino across the street from Frank's looks empty.  I wonder what it would cost....


A new custom barrel for in the destemmer that Frank had made to be more gentle on the grapes.


Fermenting Nerello


The vineyard Magma comes from


A fuzzy shot of Vincenzo, manager at Passopisciaro 


Eduardo the one man show that is Versante Nord.  An awesome guy and talented wine maker doing things right.  Guys like him are what Etna needs to keep moving in the right direction 

Rainbow over the 120 year old vines of Passopisciaro in Contrada Guardiola 


SRC's new winery


Very densely planted Nerello at SRC.  SRC  is another small new natural winery that's making some really authentic and elegant wines from several different Contrada they have vines in.  They're making a little less than 2000 cases per year but they certainly have room to grow in this winery.  


A small basket press at SRC.  they also have a serious brand new pneumatic bladder press.  


Tasting Wines with Roberto Henriquez from Itata and Bio Bio

I met Roberto in autumn of 2018 and was blown away by his wines and his determination.  Last year Roberto's wines had just come into the US so there weren't too many available and it was a really fast trip.  A year's time can make a big difference and this autumn Roberto was back with new wines and more of them available!  These wines are completely natural but are very precise and beautiful and pure tasting.  They're expressive and elegant and real in a combination that is very rare in my experience.  These are, to me, very important wines that demonstrate what Chile can evolve into and prove how pure natural wines can be.  They also demonstrate how talented Roberto is!

Roberto has been making wine for 6 years now, 4 commercially.  He's down in the central Chile in the Bio Bio valley, about 300 miles south of Santiago and near the border of where the Spanish conquest stopped centuries ago.  Wine making is a big part of the culture here; locals have been growing Pais and making wine here since the Spanish conquest brought grapes.  Wine culture in Bio Bio and Itata are different from up north near the capital.   Much of the wine making up north is larger companies making modern wine for export.  Down in Bio Bio and Itata wine making has generally been more small scale, for local consumption, and done by small indigenous farmers.  Wine making down here had traditionally been looked down upon by northern Chile and the rest of the world, but that view is shifting.  There are lots of reasons for the emergence of Bio Bio and Itata as internationally recognized wine regions, but one is certainly that there's a large amount of 150-200 year old vines planted on their own rootstock.  Pais, Corinto (Chasselas), Muscat d'Alejandria, and Semillon are more common but there's also grapes like Trousseau and Pineau d'Aunis that were brought before Phyloxera changed the vinilogical landscape of Europe. 

Roberto was born in Concepcion and studied wine making and agronomy there.  From there he traveled and made wine in Canada, South Africa, and then the Loire Valley with Agnes and Rene Mosse.  The wines and wine making techniques of Agnes and Rene had a big impact on him.  Roberto returned to Concepcion and decided to make wines with the traditional grape varieties there, but with the perspective he'd gained from working other places and particularly Agnes and Rene Mosse.  Most of Roberto's red wines come from vineyards in Bio Bio and most of the whites come from Itata.


Roberto farms organically and ferments with native yeast.



20191022_184844First up in the line up we had was the Santa Cruz de Coya 2018.  This is from a 3 hectare vineyard of 200 year old Pais vines planted on decayed granitic soil in Bio Bio.  Roberto said this vineyard is kind of remote and isolated so the vines don't ever suffer from any infestations from other nearby vineyards...because there aren't any.  For this reason Roberto doesn't apply any treatments to this vineyard, no copper sulfate or anything.   The Coya vineyard was abandoned so Roberto has been working to revive it.  I think this is the third year since Roberto started working the vineyard and yields are slowly increasing.  In 2018 the vineyard produced 1 ton of fruit per hectare.  The primary alcoholic fermentation for Santa Cruz de Coya is always really fast!  in 2018 it took about 4 days to ferment dry.  Roberto theorizes that's due in part to the lack of any treatments in the vineyard.  He doesn't use temperature control but still the fermenting wine only tops out at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  2018 was a cooler vintage than 2017 and these wines are really pretty, elegant, and supple. 

The Santa Cruz de Coya smelled a lot like Pineau d'Aunis to me, but the prettiest Pineau d'Aunis ever.  There were fresh raspberry, a little bit of aromatic peppery spice, and some cranberry.  On the palate the Coya was gorgeous: smooth, supple, bright, really pretty, and still with just a little hint of wild spicy pepper.  It had really fantastic purity and focus.

Santa Cruz de Coya is available at Vessel and Vine, The Cheese Shop, Lois's Natural Food, Maine and Loire, and Grippy Tannins


The 2018 Notro Tinto is also from 200 year old Pais vines.  This is a separate vineyard from the Coya though.  The vineyard for the Notro is a 1 hectare hill that millions of years ago was a bend in the Bio Bio river.  The soil around here is volcanic and there's lots of volcanic sand, but this little hill got piled up with alluvial rocks and debris from the river, so it's a really unique outlier.  There are other vineyards around here so Roberto has to treat with the usual organic preparation of copper sulfate a couple times a year.  And differently from the Coya the Notro tinto takes about 15 days to complete it's primary fermentation.  everything else is the same: same building, some lack of temperature control same stainless steel tanks.  

The Notro is very different smelling and tasting from the Coya.  It's more crisp and crunchy, more angular and has a bit more tannin and acidity to it.  The Notro has more power and I can imagine it being better with a lot of foods.

Notro Tinto is available at Lois's Scarborough, Maine and Loire, Blue Hill Wine Shop, and Vessel and Vine.



Fundo la Union 2018: this is I think the first vintage of this wine.  It's 150 year old Pais vines from a vineyard in Itata, much closer to the coast than the vineyards down in Bio Bio.  This vineyard is also on decayed granite, like the Santa Cruz de Coya.  The Union sort of splits the difference between the Coya and the Notro to me.  It has some bright cranberry and raspberry and rose aromas.  On the palate the Fundo la Union has a bit more mineral angularity in the mid palate than the Coya but more suppleness than the Notro.     It's fantastic.  Only about 50 cases came into the united States.

Each of the red wines gets about 1 manual punch down per day.  Roberto doesn't want to be too extractive with the Pais.  He believes that if he works it too hard manually he'll pull out too many of the tannins from the skins and seeds.  This is what makes most Pais rougher.  The reds are sort of semi carbonic.  Roberto doesn't add any C02 but as the natural fermentations get going Roberto covers the tanks with a piece of board and the natural C02 displaces the oxygen.  

You can find this at Maine and Loire, Bow St Beverage, Vessel and Vine, The Cheese Shop, and Lois's Natural Foods


Notro Blanco 2018 is 40% Moscatel d'Alejandria, 40% Semillon, and 20% Corinto.  Roberto changes the blend each year to experiment.  The grape varieties are farmed separately, they're harvested separately and not co-fermented.  The juice spends 1-3 weeks on the skins in it's primary fermentation and then is racked off and the skins are pressed.  This is a super traditional way of making white wine here in the area.  The Notro Blanco smelled like quince, tarragon, and ripe mango.  It's an aromatic white that has a bit of color to the wine and some real presence on the palate.  The palate is long and it has a bit of spice to it.  It tastes sunny and there's a lot of white wild flower in the flavor.

Notro Blanco is available at Maine and Loire, Vessel and Vine, The Cheese Shop, and the Blue Hill Wine Shop


Molino del Ciego 2018.  And this is...sort of crazy.  This is 100% Semillon from a 1 hectare vineyard right near the ocean in Itata.  The vineyard produces about 3 tons from that hectare, which is on the low end.  The primary fermentation took about 3 weeks here and Roberto was doing 3 punch downs per day.  So this is actually more extrative, has more skin contact, and is made more like a red wine than Roberto's actual red wines.  Those 3 tons made about 2800 bottles

The Molino is deep and dense and long!  It actually has a little bit of tannin woven in on the palate.  It's a ripe sunny aromatic white that smells tropical and sunny.  There's ripe peach and pineapple but there's also a little bit of a minty wintergreeny spice from the skins in the mid palate.  The aroma is a mix of aromatic tropical fruit with a whiff of spruce and mint as well.  Roberto's Molino is super interesting, complex, and unique.
Molino del Ciego is available at Bow St Beverage, Maine and Loire, Vessel and Vine, Grippy Tannins, The Cheese Shop, and MJ's

Here's a video of me with them all just before traveling to Montana

Here's a video from last year of Roberto talking about how he makes wine