A Tribute: Women of Etna

By Nadine Guarrera

When we learned that this year’s International Women’s Day theme was “Make It Happen,” I knew we had to shine a light on the women in wine here on Etna.

IWD2

If you are on social media, you can engage the conversation by searching, following, or contributing to #WomensDay, #MakeItHappen, and #IWD2015.

International Women’s Day occurs on March 8 of every year and celebrates women in general in addition to the economic, political and social achievements of women – past, present, and future. More than 60 countries celebrate International Women’s Day as an official holiday. It Italy, we celebrate Festa della Donna (La Giornata internazionale della donna).

The women who work in Mount Etna’s wine industry make it happen every day. Whether its pruning the vines, making the wines, developing marketing strategies, negotiating local and international business accounts, or entertaining visitors, they do whatever they can to grow their businesses and share their brands, all while balancing modern life on Europe’s largest, most-active volcano.

The wine industry is not a business for the faint of heart. Most people enter the business because of a passion, or an attachment to the land. The women of Etna’s wine community are resourceful, insightful, supportive, strong, and focused, and we are excited to share some of their stories with you here.


MARCH 8

In honor of International Women’s Day we are presenting two interviews with two of our prominent women of Etna: Barbara Liuzzo and Mariangela Cambria.

Not only are Barbara and Mariangela integral to the sales and promotions of the wineries where they work, they are members of the families that operate each business, and they are both mothers. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate La Festa della Donna


Barbara Liuzzo

Etna Wine School – Tribute: Women of Etna – Barbara Liuzzo

Barbara came to the wine industry from the fashion world. Today, she manages sales and hospitality for one of the most prominent estates on Mount Etna, Barone di Villagrande. Visit their website: Villagrande.it

Barbara Liuzzo manages the domestic and international sales for Barone di Villagrande, one of Etna’s most prominent and historic estate wineries, based in Milo on the mountain’s eastern slope.

In addition to heading sales for the estate, she manages an engaging hospitality program at the winery, she is married to Barone di Villagrande’s winemaker, Marco Nicolosi, and she is the mother of an energetic two-year-old.

Knowing what works and doesn’t work might be an instinct she picked up in the fashion industry, or the result of her formative education, but the results are the same: when many people think of Etna, they think of Barone di Villagrande.

Etna Wine School [EWS]: What is it about wine that makes you happy?

Barbara Liuzzo [BL]: The emotion when I take the first sip.

EWS: Who do you get advice from on buying wine?

BL: Surely I always ask my husband Marco, the winemaker of the family and the company. His opinion on wines is very important for me, I trust his palate and his taste.

EWS: Name one person who you admire, who you would most like to have dinner with:

BL: Mario Soldati came to visit the winery many years ago, I would have loved to be able to know and interview [him]. I think he was one of the greatest connoisseurs of wine.

EWS: What led you to choose a career in wine on a volcano? In other words, how did you get here/now?

BL: I come from a very different business, the high fashion industry, when I think of Etna I just think of my passion for my territory. I like to think that my work today is closer to the Earth.

EWS: Do you find that women have made inroads in what is traditionally a male-dominated profession? Has the climate for females in the wine industry changed since you started?

BL: Today in the wine industry, especially on Etna, there are some wonderful examples of effective female entrepreneurship. Times are changing, in the wine business men have been influential, but today women really have an increasingly importance and I would say these women are very sensible and innovative.

EWS: As female wine professional, would you prefer to be perceived as just a wine professional or do you enjoy the attention of being a female and a wine professional?

BL: What counts is professionalism.

EWS: Was there a defining “ah-ha” moment that drew to wine?

BL: Yes, of course! Surely my husband was instrumental in this choice, it was a choice to work together, it is not always easy but it is very stimulating. We have many plans and dreams to achieve together.

EWS: What personal qualities have benefited you the most in your career?

BL: I have always been a curious person, determined and very open, these qualities have allowed me to get to know myself and some of the people who have contributed to my education. I carry with me so many people and so many wonderful experiences.

EWS: How do you balance home and work life? How does your work as a wine professional affect your day-to-day life?

BL: It’s not easy to juggle work, home and family, I have a two-year-old son. He is very bright and energetic. Tommaso is great fun and certainly challenging at times, but you discover that you have energy that you never thought you had!

EWS: Which wine (in your portfolio) is the most unique?

BL: I can say that Legno di Conzo and Lenza di Mannera are our niche products, we produce very few bottles of these wines. From a conceptual point of view, they are not wines intended to be drunk young, they have a kind of sophistication and focus about them.

EWS: What are your future plans? What do you have left to achieve? What do you still want to do with wine?

BL: I have so many plans for the future, I think it is important not to get bored and to continue betting on yourself. I see wine as an ever-changing world.

EWS: What advice do you have for a young woman starting out in wine profession?

BL: Don’t get discouraged, at the beginning it is difficult to get into this field, wine is a complex matter, it takes years to learn, I still feel like a novice about so many things, [it is important to have] passion and to study. Continue [to] update what you know and you can find success.

EWS: Is there anything you would do instead of working in wine?

BL: I would do exactly what I’m doing.

 


Mariangela Cambria

Etna Wine School – Tribute: Women of Etna – Mariangela Cambria

Mariangela Cambria handles the marketing and communications for the family-owned and operated Cottanera Winery in Castiglione di Sicilia. Visit their website: Cottanera.it | Twitter: @cottanera

Mariangela Cambria handles the marketing and communications for Cottanera in Castiglione di Sicilia.

Founded in the 1990s, Cottanera was one of the pioneer winery projects on the mountain established to produced bottled wines of international and native Etna varieties.

After fourteen years in the business, Mariangela’s enthusiasm for the family project – started by her father, Guglielmo, and her uncle, Enzo in a hazel grove along the Alcantara river on Etna’s north slope – shows no signs of waning.

Etna Wine School [EWS]: What was the defining “ah-ha” moment that drew to wine?

Mariangela Cambria [MC]: My first VinItaly

EWS: What personal qualities have benefited you the most in your wine career?

MC: The willingness and the ability to talk and be with everyone.

EWS: Name one person who you admire, who you would most like to have dinner with: 

MC: The person I admire most is my father but unfortunately I lost him five years ago. I would love to get back the opportunity to stay with him for one dinner.

EWS: What led you to choose a career in winemaking on a volcano? In other words, how did you get here/now?

MC: My father gave me a great love for my land and for the Etna; since childhood he encouraged me to explore the Etna. I’m fascinated by this area, for me it is a different Sicily, unusual and unique. My family has devoted a lot of effort to establish Cottanera. It has given me the opportunity to continue a path for the family and not lose the traditions, this was the key that led me to choose to live and work here in Sicily.

EWS: Do you find that women have made inroads in what is traditionally a male-dominated profession? Has the climate for females in the wine industry changed since you started?

MC: I think that a woman who is more stubborn and patient in certain areas in this world are two fundamental characteristics for this change. When I started working in the world of wine, women were very few but now [our numbers] have increased considerably. Women have a desire for redemption, to emerge, and her role is not only in the commercialization or the hospitality but also in the profession of winemaking and agronomy.

EWS: What is it about wine that makes you happy?

MC: I am happy when I go to dinner at a restaurant and I see one of my wines on another guest’s table. It gives me great pride.

EWS: What are your future plans? What do you have left to achieve? What do you still want to do with wine?

MC: Develop more wine tourism in the cellar, this year we had about 1000 visits and that is a nice number, but I like challenges and I do not want to stop.

EWS: What advice do you have for a young woman starting out in wine profession?

MC: You must love the land and living with passion.

EWS: If you weren’t involved in wine, what would you want to do instead?

MC: I only want to do this.

EWS: How do you balance home and work life? How does your work as a wine professional affect your day-to-day life?

MC: I try to dedicate the right amount of time to everything but if I have to sacrifice a working dinner to have dinner with my husband and children, I have no doubts that they come first.

 


Mariarita Grasso

Etna Wine School – Tribute: Women of Etna – Mariarita Grasso

Mariarita Grasso (left) stands with her family in their vineyard near Randazzo with Mount Etna rising in the distance. Visit their website: FillippoGrasso.it

Mariarita Grasso knows how to get things done.

In her own words, she is the one member of the Fillippo Grasso winery that can do and does a bit of everything – vineyard work, sales, promotions, and hospitality. For the small family-operated winery Mariarita is as irreplaceable as the grapes they grow or the wines they make.

Focusing on a small line of estate wines made from the local Carricante and Nerello Mascalese, Fillippo Grasso produces wines for the local market, and international distribution.

In our interview with Mariarita, she shares her insight into the role of women in wine.

Etna Wine School [EWS]: As a woman in the wine profession, would you rather be thought of as a wine professional or you do enjoy being thought of as a female and a wine professional?

Mariarita Grasso [MG]: I think that people should focus on being a good professional, regardless of whether you’re male or female! Unfortunately there are still people who think differently, but we are certainly not talking about professional people.

EWS: What is it the wine that makes you happy?

MG: Sharing, conviviality! A wine becomes good every time you drink a glass with others, and that glass becomes a sharing of emotions.

EWS: What are the personal qualities that have benefited you the most in your career?

MG: Surely my determination and always being positive, even in times of trouble!

EWS: What prompted you to choose a career in wine on a volcano? In other words, how did you get here / now?

Etna Wine School – Tribute: Women of Etna – Mariarita Grasso

Mariarita and her brother Fillippo, the winery’s enologist, tend the vineyards around their home. The terrain of the vineyard is made up of large lava stones.

MG: My family has always worked on Etna and produced wine. My brother [Fillippo] and I are the fourth generation! I spent several years away from Etna and my land, studying International Relations at the University for Foreigners in Perugia. My ambition was to work in another area but the lure of my land, my volcano, and my family was stronger than everything else. Today, despite many difficulties, I can say with certainty that I made the right choice. There is no other place where I would want to live and work!

EWS: How do you balance your life between home and work? How does your job as a wine professional affect the day-to-day life?

MG: I live at the winery, above it. The house is surrounded by our vineyards … my home life is perfectly integrated with the work … often there is no great distinction!

EWS: Do you think that women have made inroads in what is traditionally a profession dominated by men? Have the attitude towards women in the wine industry changed since you started?

MG: There are many [women in wine] now. I think that there is no distinction between men and women in this work. The women working in the vineyard is necessary for the viticulture of Etna, women have always worked in the vineyards! Today women are working in the wineries and selling the wines with the same skill and ability of men … and perhaps with a bit more determination!

EWS: Which wine (in your portfolio) is the most exclusive?

MG: Our 100% carricante! Mari di Ripiddu! It is a delicate wine and exciting … I would call it a female wine.

EWS: What are your future plans? What you have left to accomplish? What do you still want to do with wine?

MG: My hope is to grow further in this area, to always improve! My dream would be to create a network among the producers, especially the small [producers], to be able to optimize our efforts and to make known to as many people as possible the wonders of our volcano.

EWS: If you were not doing this, what you want to do instead?

MG: Ah, I do not know … if you had asked me 10 years ago I would have said that I would like to work in a large company, focusing on International Relations … today I would say that I would love to do more for my land, and help people rediscover the beauty of simplicity and nature

EWS: What advice do you have for a young woman beginning in the profession of wine?

MG: My advice is to always be themselves, to work with passion and never shy away from anything!

 

 


Stephanie Biondi

Etna Wine School _ Tribute: Women of Etna – Stef Biondi

Stef Biondi (center, right) with friends and colleagues at Cisterna Fuori, Biondi’s iconic hospitality location in Contrada Ronzini, Trecastagni. Visit the winery website at iBiondi.com | Twitter: @StefBiondi

Stephanie Biondi co-founded Vini Biondi with her husband, Ciro in 1999.

Focusing on the family’s vineyard holdings, Stef and Ciro have played an important part in reinvigorating the southeast slope of Mount Etna by blending a modest line of DOC quality wines with modern-traditional Sicilian hospitality.

Over the last 15 years, Stef has been instrumental in developing the Biondi name into one of the most successful brands on the mountain and one of the most recognizable Etna wineries in the world.

Etna Wine School [EWS]: What advice do you have for a young woman starting out in wine profession?

Stephani Biondi [SB]: I would advise them to think it over very carefully and at least twice.

EWS: Who do you get advice from on buying wine?

SB: I’ll ask my friends and colleagues. I also check out the media and social networks.

EWS: Was there a defining (“ah-ha”) moment that drew to wine?

SB: It was when I was introduced to Sancerre during the early ’80’s British wine bar boom and stopped quaffing Blue Nun.

EWS: What is it about wine that makes you happy?

SB: The endorphins and sharing the mood with like-minded people. These are some of the wine elements that make me happy.

EWS: Name one person who you admire, who you would most like to have dinner with? 

SB: I think it would be a category rather than one person. It’s really funny British women: Miranda Hart, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Jo Brand and Victoria Wood. If there were still spaces around the dinner table, a close second would be my husband’s great-uncle Sebastiano who was the brains behind the Biondi pre-war success, as well as being an accomplished photographer. I would have the chance to introduce him to our current vintages and get him to disclose some of his marketing skills and winemaking secrets.

Etna Wine School – Tribute: Women of Etna – Stef Biondi

Ciro and Stephanie Biondi at Cisterna Fuori during the 2014 harvest

EWS: What led you to choose a career in winemaking on a volcano? In other words, how did you get here/now?

SB: It started as a joint decision with my husband in 1999, to save his family vineyards from neglect and continue the Biondi legacy. Ciro’s great-uncle and grandfather had bottled and exported their wines in the very early 1900’s, winning awards in Paris and Lyon. We felt it was our duty to restore the vineyards to their former glory and produce some wine along the way.

EWS: Do you find that women have made inroads in what is traditionally a male-dominated profession? Has the climate for females in the wine industry changed since you started?

SB: We are living in southern Italy where essentially males still dominate and women do much of the work behind the scenes. However, women are beginning to move to the center stage and become winemakers in their own right.

EWS: Do you think there are differences between Italian women wine professionals and those in other countries?

SB: There are differences between Italian women versus women from other countries, full stop, wine professionals or not. An Italian woman’s role can be challenging, as there is little division of labor within the family and sadly there appears to be little sisterhood, unlike the USA and UK. However, on the plus side, women are publicly appreciated and treated with charm by chivalrous Italian males.

EWS: What personal qualities have benefited you the most in your career?

SB: I think my strength, determination, patience, and perseverance as well as keeping an open mind have been helpful.

EWS: How do you balance home and work life? How does your work as a wine professional affect your day-to-day life?

SB: As my son Alex is in Toronto spreading the Biondi magic, I now only have my husband Ciro, George the dog, and Spike the cat to look after at home. However, our days still need careful planning, as we can be extremely busy with anything from labeling bottles to conducting tastings, so I always carry a diary with me. We share the travelling to our overseas importers, in order for at least one of us to be around to hold the fort. Therefore, all the above, underlined by the seasonal pressures of wine making, makes for a pretty full life.

EWS: Which wine (in your portfolio) is the most unique?

SB: That’s a tricky one, as they are all unique in their own way. Our reds are sexy and seductive while the Outis white is a youthful, kicking crowd pleaser. I think it’d have to be our Chianta Carricante Cru blended with a dash of Minella and Catarratto. The Chianta was inspired by a visit to Romanee Conti in 2011, and I would describe it as lush, sophisticated, deep and complex with a little ‘Je ne sais quoi’ thrown in for good measure.

EWS: What are your future plans? What do you have left to achieve? What do you still want to do with wine?

SB: Nurture the vineyards, aim for excellence, and try to make a fine wine that can be appreciated and enjoyed when I am long gone.

 


Chiara Vigo

Etna Wine School – Tribute: Women of Etna – Chiara Vigo

Chiara Vigo is the owner-producer of Fattorie Romeo del Castello. This photo shows the turning point of the 1981 lava flow which arrived in the estate vineyard. Visit the estate’s website: RomeoDelCastello.it | Photo © Gianluca Torrisi

Chiara Vigo is the owner of her family estate and winery, Fattorie Romeo del Castello, in the Contrada Allegracore, Randazzo, on the north slope of Mount Etna. 

As the natural heir to a sweeping estate, Chiara came to winemaking through art. Though she has only been working in wine for eight years, her earliest experiences with Mount Etna were as dramatic as any on the mountain.

Today, Chiara manages all of the estate’s business, from the vineyard through wine production, to promotions over seas, and her attention to detail has given new life to the estate and its wines.

Etna Wine School [EWS]: Was there a defining (“ah-ha”) moment that drew to wine?

Chiara Vigo [CV]: The defining moment for me was in April 2007, in Verona, during the Vinitaly fair. I was there doing research on wine labels created by artists, for a book that would be published a few months later (Arte e Vino. L’etichetta d’autore come immagine del gusto – Art and Wine. The wine label created by artists as an image of taste. Publisher: Cicero, Venice). While I was at Vinitaly, I had an important meeting that ultimately led to my decision to return to Mount Etna and to manage our estate. At that time I was living in Milan, after a couple of years in Paris. The estate had been a family business that had been discontinued many years before. The meeting was with the enologist Salvo Foti, who had a long history of experience on Mount Etna. By the end of our impassioned conversation, I understood that I was in possession of a real treasure that was not to be overlooked. Shortly after that, I started to produce wine.

EWS: What led you to choose a career in winemaking on a volcano? In other words, how did you get here / now?

CV: Unlike many producers who have chosen the Etna as their ideal place to produce wine, I have been chosen by Etna! Although that may seem like a joke, the choices of my life, of coming to Etna, have been made by the volcano. The property of the Fattorie Romeo del Castello is, in fact, a small part of a much larger property that belonged to the families of my great-grandparents, Romeo del Castello and Vagliasindi, in the last few centuries. The property has passed from generation to generation, and as fate would have it, I am the last heir of this land and Etna, beyond any reasonable expectations, has failed to take it from me. In 1981 there was a volcanic eruption that claimed a large part of our estate and then diverted its course, around our old vineyard, from which today I produce our most prestigious wine: Vigo. In 2007, after 15 years living outside of Sicily, I decided to return to Randazzo, to dedicate my life to improving the estate. Vigo Etna Rosso DOC 2007 was my first wine, and I am particularly fond of this wine, the way someone would be proud of a first child. In 2009 we began producing a second Etna Rosso DOC, which bears the name of the contrada where the estate can be found, Allegracore.

EWS: Do you find that women have made inroads in what is traditionally a male-dominated profession? Has the climate for females in the wine industry changed since you started?

CV: My experience in the wine world is too short to have personally experienced a change in the role of women. Certainly in recent years more and more women have appeared successfully in the field of wine production, creating a sort of trend movement.

EWS: As female wine professional, do you prefer being perceived as a wine professional or do you enjoy the attention that comes from being a female and a wine professional?

CV: Beyond the gender and professional skills, I have always tried to be myself in the best, most honest way. Whatever I do, I hope that others perceive me that way.

Etna Wine School – Tribute: Women of Etna – Chiara Vigo

Chaira Vigo’s first wine on Mount Etna was the estate’s 2007 Vigo, an Etna Rosso DOC. The wine is made from Nerello Mascalese vines in the estate’s oldest vineyard which was nearly reclaimed by Etna’s 1981 eruption. | Photo © Gianluca Torrisi

EWS: What is it about wine that makes you happy?

CV: Making wine makes me very happy for several reasons. On the one hand, it allows me to experience nature in its seasonal rhythms, in a healthy and beneficial way, taking care of the native plants and our loved places. On the other hand, winemaking allows me to enhance and promote the beauty of the Etna by bringing our products around the world.

EWS: What personal qualities have benefited you the most in your career?

CV: The personal quality that has contributed most positively to my career is the curiosity about the world and the desire to expand my horizons in new directions. I like the idea of ​​being an ambassador for Etna in distant places, just as I love imagining the Etna wines scattered in every corner of the planet and matched to the most diverse culinary traditions.

EWS: How do you balance home and work life? How does your work as a wine professional affect your day-to-day life?

CV: In the production of wine, very often, there is no difference between home and work, life and wine. Since 2007, I have lived most of the year near the vineyards, on my property in Randazzo. Every day, and every moment of the day, my thoughts are devoted to my work. My choices in life are now intertwined with the issues of my estate. What I enjoy most, now, is thinking that my marriage will be celebrated on the estate, in May 2015, and that my future husband, Gianluca Torrisi, who is already running the business with me.

EWS: What are your future plans? What do you have left to achieve? What do you still want to do with wine?

CV: Our most important project is still in the process of being realized. We are creating the Vine, Wine and Label Museum. In the eighteenth century farm buildings, winery and cellars [of the estate], we will exhibit the traditional agricultural instruments and tools used on Etna as well as a collection of labels and bottles created by artists.

EWS: What advice do you have for a young woman starting out in wine profession?

CV: To a young woman beginning her professional career in wine, I would say what a nice person told me when I started: “Here is a new star in the firmament of wine!”

 


Valeria Franco

Etna Wine School – Tribute: Women of Etna – Valeria Franco – Vini Scirto

Valeria Franco and Giuseppe Scirto own and operate Vini Scirto, a micro-boutique winery on Etna. Visit their website ViniScirto.com | Twitter: @viniscirto

We continue our week-long series with Valeria Franco, the “Jill of all trades” at Vini Scirto, a micro-boutique winery focused on Carricante and old-vine Nerello Mascalese.

The winery’s vineyards have been worked for three generations, first producing vino sfuso (bulk wine) for the local market. Now under the stewardship of Valeria Franco and Giuseppe Scirto, the new line of bottled wines are wowing wine lovers and journalists in the local and international market.

Whether Valeria is working in the vineyards or promoting the brand, her focus is never far the north slope of Etna.

In the interview below, find out how love led this young winemaker to an unexpected future on the volcano Etna.

Etna Wine School [EWS]: Was there a defining “ah-ha” moment that drew you to wine?

Valeria Franco [VF]: I can’t say that there was a particular moment. It was a series of events that made Giuseppe and I want to change to our lives, to do something that would make us happy.

EWS: What is it the wine that makes you happy?

VF: It makes me happy that the wine can communicate something to us, with every sip, anyone might be able to imagine us in the vineyard, working the vines, or collecting the grapes at harvest, or working in the wine cellar.

EWS: What prompted you to choose a career in winemaking on a volcano? In other words, how did you get here / now?

VF: It was a decision Giuseppe, my fiancée, made first and I was immediately ready and very happy to follow him. We were driven by our love of the land and the memories that bind us to it. Of course, we were born at the foot of the “Mountain” and we have grown up knowing these places where there is a millennia of farming traditions. People have always owned vineyards and the harvest has always been considered a great celebration to share with family and friends. It was a very natural choice [to choose winemaking], though I was almost “obligated” to continue this tradition.

EWS: Do you think that women have made inroads in what is traditionally a profession dominated by men? He has the attitude towards women in the wine industry changed since you started?

VF: I think that women can offer something extra in this world [of wine], and make a business more complete. Naturally something has changed in recent years regarding the industry’s attitude towards women. Now the world of wine is more balanced.

EWS: As a woman of the wine profession, do you prefer being perceived as a wine professional or you do you like being a female in the wine profession?

VF: I like being considered a “winemaker,” as someone who works the land with love and passion, and with a great curiosity.

EWS: Who do you get advice from the purchase of wine?

VF: I am curious about the story behind every bottle of wine. I like to taste a little bit of everything I can because it’s a way to discover new things, but usually I choose a wine based on my personal taste.

EWS: Who do you admire and who would you have dinner with?

VF: I admire many people in this world. There isn’t just one person in particular that I would like to have dinner with. It would be nice to sit at a table with other winemakers to exchange views and share experiences.

Etna Wine School – Tribute: Women of Etna – Valeria Franco – Vino Scirto

Valeria Franco and Giuseppe Scirto

EWS: What are the personal qualities that you have benefited most in your career?

VF: Career is a big word. Surely, the things that have helped me the most are my willpower and stubbornness, but also and especially Giuseppe.

EWS: Which wine (in your portfolio) is the most exclusive?

VF: We produce two wines: an Etna Rosso DOC that we’ve named A’Culonna – made from old vines of Nerellos Mascalese – and an IGT White Carricante named Don Pippinu. There is not one more exclusive because each vintage has its own unique qualities and this is how the wines differ the most.

EWS: How do you balance your life between home and work? How does your job as a professional wine affect the day-to-day life?

VF: It is not that difficult. We work for ourselves and we do all the work ourselves. In the morning we work in the vineyard and in the afternoon we take care of the rest.

EWS: What are your future plans? What you have left to achieve? What do you still want to do with wine?

VF: We hope that the future holds good things. Right now, we are busy growing our business, acquiring more land, and above all, building a new winery.

EWS: What advice do you have for a young woman starting in the profession of wine?

VF: Even if it seems difficult to pursue a goal, do not give up.

EWS: If you were not doing this, what you want to do instead?

VF: Before I got involved in winemaking, my dream was to work for a publishing house abroad. I was studying foreign languages ​​and literature. But to tell the truth, since I started to work the land and make wine I’ve realized that this may be exactly what I wanted to do. I am a very dynamic person. Who knows, maybe one day I might be able to combine the two!

 


Trente Dayini Hargrave

Etna Wine School – Women of Etna: Tribute – Trente Dayini Hargrave

Trente Dayini Hargrave owns and operates the boutique vineyard and winery Terre Di Trente in Linguaglossa, on Mount Etna’s North Slope. Visit their website: TerreDiTrente.it

Trente Dayina Hargrave is the owner-producer of Terre di Trente, a boutique vineyard and winery based in Linguaglossa, on Mount Etna’s Northeast slope.

Trente has been in the wine business for 10 years. Her first job in wine was and is the Terre di Trente project, which she started with her husband Filip Kesteloot.

Trente and Filip are Belgian art dealers who ended up in the wine business on Etna by chance. Theirs is the kind of story that movies are made of.

ETNA WINE SCHOOL [EWS]: What led you to choose a career in winemaking on a volcano? In other words, how did you get here/now?

TRENTE DAYINA HARGRAVE [TDH]: On a cold rainy October day in 2003, Filip and I found ourselves lost on the back roads of Etna. The sun was setting as torrents of rain rushed around the narrow curves, transforming the road into muddy rapids, when we spotted a battered country road, which brought us to the wine estate of Marco De Grazia who welcomed us and offered us tea.

Sipping our tea, we told Marco of our unpleasant experience of agreeing to buy a property in Sicily, only to have the owner sell to someone else. Despite our disappointment we returned to Sicily for a vacation. De Grazia was very enthusiastic about Sicily. In particular, he was focus on the grapes grown around Mount Etna and he began to talk about a vineyard he had come across, which was for sale. He described it as, “A jewel of a property with 2 hectares land.” We responded, “We’re not interested and it’s way too big!

But he continued, “It has a wonderful old impeccable vineyard and plenty of olive trees.” Again we said, “Not interested, anyway it sounds like lots of work.” He continued his enthusiastic description, “There are two old palmentos (indoor wine presses) that need restoring.” Once again we responded, “Not interested, besides being in the art business we also have experience with building and renovations, so we know it is definitely too much work!” De Grazia persisted, “It has a fantastic view of Mount Etna!” We shook our heads and again said, “Not interested though it sounds nice and IF we were interested, the property would have to have a view of the sea.” to which he replied “Ha! It also has a view of the sea as well from the top of the property.” It sounded nice, but we still weren’t interested.

Then came a knock at the door, de Grazia opened it and welcomed in an old farmer. We were introduced and they went out of the room for a meeting. When the man left, de Grazia returned, we asked if we could see the property he had been speaking to us about. “Excuse me?” he said puzzled, “just a minute ago I described one of the most gorgeous properties around Mount Etna and you were not a bit interested. What changed your mind?” I answered, “The man you just introduced us to,” I said.Well, I have Sicilian relatives with exactly the same last name, so this is a sign that we should take a look at this property.

Etna Wine School – Terre Di Trente – Tribute: Women of Etna – Trente_Filip

Trente and her husband Filip are Belgian art dealers. Their story of discovery and making wine on Mount Etna is the kind movies are made of.

The following day, though it was still raining, we drove back to Mount Etna, to see a property we were not interested in buying. Neither Mount Etna nor the sea was visible that day. Yet, standing still in the gentle rain we felt something special about the lush, fertile, semi-tamed property. Call it magic or whatever, we decided on the spot to buy it and that was the beginning of “Terre di Trente.

EWS: Do you find that women have made inroads in what is traditionally a male-dominated profession? Has the climate for females in the wine industry changed since you started?

TDH: [These are] small token imprints compared to the scope of this business. The wine industry has been, and still is a very male-macho dominated profession on all levels. Women who work in any area of business, let alone the wine industry, have to go that extra yard to prove themselves. They either stand out or are stamped out. It’s not a business for pussies.

EWS: Do you think there are differences between Italian women wine professionals and women wine professionals in other countries?

TDH: I’d like to know this! I haven’t had the fortune of coming across any other women wine professionals outside of Italy.

EWS: As female wine professional, would you prefer to be perceived as a wine professional or do you enjoy the attention of being a female and a wine professional?

TDH: I prefer just being …

EWS: Was there a defining (“ah-ha”) moment that drew you to wine?

TDH: Working in the vineyard and watching old vines, that are between 60-150 years old, grow and produce amazing grapes. To witness, first hand, Mother Nature’s wonder and magic stored within each grape. The ‘ah-ha’ moment happens every time we taste our wines – free of chemicals and the grapes nectar exploding my mouth.

EWS: Who do you get advice from on buying wine?

TDH: My husband – he has been a wine collector for many years.

EWS: Name one person who you admire, who you would most like to have dinner with:

TDH: [Andrea] Franchetti – an interesting character who helped put Etna wines on the map.

EWS: What is it about wine that makes you happy?

TDH: Being a caretaker of one of Mans’ oldest and greatest gifts, a gift that nourishes and quenches your body and spirit. A gift that when cared for becomes better with age – this makes me smile with every glass. I will continue to produce wine, whether professionally or personally, to maintain this happiness for myself and for others, a wine that can be savored and remembered. I am fortunate enough to wake up every day, bless the grapes to be ‘the best they can be,’ and to be a part of the process. The silver lining for me is to share this with others.

EWS: What personal qualities have benefited you the most in your career?

TDH: There are many qualities that I have benefited from including being patient, taking chances, being a positive thinker and an optimist, trusting and expressing the joy and the love of life. Countless times I was told you can’t do this, you can’t do that … I can only say I have benefited from ignoring these comments and doing what I always wanted to do.

EWS: How do you balance home and work life? How does your work as a wine professional affect your day-to-day life?

TDH: I don’t separate anything. Each are part of the scale of life and I find it important just being in the flow of the now. This attitude creates just the right balance.

EWS: Which wine (in your portfolio) is the most unique?

TDH: Each year is completely unique, with its own nuances.

EWS: What are your future plans? What do you have left to achieve? What do you still want to do with wine?

TDH: I want to continue to produce limited quantities of “The Best Wine In The World,” made from our selected grapes and enjoy the journey. I want to keep the essence of naturally produced wine without interference or hype. What is left to achieve? I want to finish [writing] the books that I started a while ago, and continue to practice the art of living. In terms of our wine, I am only the caretaker so it is not about what I want to do with wine as much as what the wine wants to do with itself.

EWS: What advice do you have for a young woman starting out in the wine profession?

TDH: My advice to any person young or old, man or woman … listen to your heart and follow it. A successful wine business depends on dedication and sincere intentions.

EWS: If you weren’t involved in wine, what would you want to do instead?

TDH: That answer only comes from not doing wine – which is what I do!

 


Gina Russo

Etna Wine School Tribute – Gina Russo – International Womens Day

Gina Russo holds one of the first wines her family bottled under its current brand. Visit the Catine Russo website: CantineRusso.eu | Twitter: @CantineRusso

Gina Russo is the General Manager of Cantine Russo, a family-owned and operated estate winery in Solicchiata/Castiglione di Sicilia, on Mount Etna’s north slope.

The winery produces traditional Etna Bianco, Etna Rosso, and Etna Rosato wines, in addition to wines from Insolia, Nero D’Avola, and Syrah. The winery holdings include vineyards in Sambuca di Sicilia, in the province of Agrigento; and Riesi, in the Province of Caltanisetta.

Gina has been involved in the wine industry for more than 20 years. Her first job in wine was handling the Russo Winery’s accounts.

Etna Wine School [EWS]: What led you to choose a career in winemaking on a volcano? In other words, how did you get here/now?

Gina Russo [GR]: I grew up in a family that for generations – since 1860 to be precise – grew and produced wines on Etna, and in 1955 we started bottling our own wine from Etna. My earliest memories go back to when I was five years old, which was my first harvest. It’s a beautiful memory of celebration and joy. Since then I have not missed a harvest, this year will be my 40th harvest, not bad right!? Harvest and its lead-up are always a beautiful time of year. It’s no wonder I have not yet tired of them. Me and my brother Francesco, who is our current winemaker, grew up running around our grandfather “Ciccio’s” wine cellar, and playing between the wine barrels. We went there to play and it was there that the passion for this work was created. Slowly it began to overwhelm us. It slowly sucked us in without us ever being able to get out. We are true autoctone [natives] of Etna!

EWS: Do you find that women have made inroads in what is traditionally a male-dominated profession? Has the climate for women in the wine industry changed since you started?

GR: I think the wine sector, unlike other sectors, has been faster to open the doors to women. When I started in 1995 there were already women managing wineries in Sicily, but I’m quite sure I am the first local woman to be managing a winery on Etna, if only because my other current “etnee” colleagues were all younger when I started. If I’m not mistaken Alice Bonaccorsi, another female manager, began a few years after me. In Sicily, today there is a large presence of women in the wine industry and I think the attitude of Sicilian men has also changed toward us, in family and business.

EWS: Do you think there are differences between Italian women wine professionals and women wine professionals in other countries?

GR: I think not, there are a lot of Italian women wine professionals who are very prepared and competent. A woman who enters the world of wine may have different reasons, but the common thread in the end is the same for all, a passion for the land and a love of wine. In Italy, unlike other countries, everything is bureaucratically more difficult, so it is more difficult to achieve what you want.

EWS: As female wine professional, would you prefer to be perceived as just a wine professional or do you enjoy the attention of being a female and a wine professional?

GR: I like to be perceived as a woman who is good at her job and this is a result obtained with time and experience. I like to feel that people respect me as woman and a wine professional.

EWS: What is it about wine that makes you happy?

GR: When I drink a glass of wine I think about all the work behind it. From a bunch of grapes you can get a wine with many facets, the wine can change with every sip, and it provides you with different emotions every time.

EWS: Who do you get advice from on buying wine?

GR: I often ask for advice from my husband, Robert, who is Australian. He has traveled extensively and has a good experience with foreign wines, especially French and Australian wines, of course! 

EWS: Name one person who you admire, who you would most like to have dinner with:

GR: I deeply admire Aung San Suu Kyi, who I consider a mild-tempered woman but with nerves of steel. It would have taken extraordinary strength in the fight to free her people from oppression of a dictatorial regime. Her story is a symbol of the sacrifice of a woman who fought for an ideal. I suggest you read her book a “Freedom From Fear (Penguin Books; 2010).”

EWS: What personal qualities have benefited you the most in your career?

GR: I am a tenacious person. I am able to revolutionize my life, when necessary, to move forward. I do not accept lack of respect from anyone. But at the same time I think I am friendly and communicative.

EWS: How do you balance home and work life? How does your work as a wine professional affect your day-to-day life?

GR: It is not easy, this I won’t deny. I have to thank my mother for the great contribution that she gives me. I also have to thank my husband, Robert, who helps me in the winery and also with our son. He is a very good father.

EWS: Which wine (in your portfolio) is the most unique?

GR: Hard to say really, I love all of our wines. Our Etna Rampante is a complex wine. I generally don’t like young wines. I think that Etna wines really express there true characteristics after some ageing. But if you ask me for the most exclusive, I will have to say my favorite is the latest addition to our wine list – the MON PIT classic method sparkling wine made from our Etna white – carricante and catarratto [grapes].

EWS: What are your future plans? What do you have left to achieve? What do you still want to do with wine?

GR: We will continue to focus on the sparkling wines, and there will be some news that will surprise you. This year, we will celebrate 60 years of bottling and at Vinitaly we will be presenting the “Rampante” wines with new bottles and labels. Another area we intend to expand is incoming visits to our winery.

EWS: What advice do you have for a young woman starting out in the wine profession?

GR: What I can recommend is to have tenacity and perseverance because [the wine business] is not always as easy and beautiful as it may seem from outside. It is necessary to have a lot of passion, and do not be afraid to bet on yourself.

EWS: If you weren’t involved in wine, what would you want to do instead?

GR: The sea is another one of my passions. I have always had a soft spot for chartering boats … really big boats!!


Visit us this week for more interviews as we celebrate Women of Etna and International Women’s Day …

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