Etna Gets Street Wise

WITH AN OPEN INVITATION TO NYT WINE WRITER ERIC ASIMOV

Photo courtesy of La Republica Newspaper.

Photo courtesy of La Republica Newspaper.

Dear Eric,

I hope this finds you well … In February 2012, you wrote an article for the New York Times (NYT) about the wines of Mount Etna. I was preparing to announce to my family and colleagues that I was planning to move to Mount Etna to continue my winemaking career on the Mediterranean island of Sicily.

In the opening of your article, you wrote, “I CAN’T imagine what it’s like to live next to a volcano, much less root my family and my hopes for its future within spewing distance of one. I’ve never seen Mount Etna, or even been to Sicily.” The timing was enough to make me laugh.

Today, after nearly three years of living on the mountain – making wine with the Biondis (one of the producers mentioned in your NYT article), and educating winelovers who find their way to Europe’s largest most-active volcano – I’m happy to report that things on Etna are pretty great and they keep getting better.

I thought of you this week when The Google Cultural Institute released a Streetview mapping experience of Mount Etna’s peak. Thanks to a few intrepid hikers and a couple of backpacks fitted with elaborate cameras, you can now explore our wonderful volcano from the comfort of, well, anywhere. Unfortunately, that does not solve the problem of what-wine-to-pair-with-this-experience.

You could go to your local retailer for a bottle of Etna Bianco or Etna Rosso and virtually stroll through the moon-like craters while reflecting on the refreshing, fruit-forward, and sometimes-unbridled expressions of Carricante and Nerello Mascalese. That would certainly solve one problem – plus it is kind of fun to do the virtual hike this way – but then all we’re doing is clicking and sipping.

In all seriousness, so much can be said about Etna’s history of wine production and the significant investments that are being made in the vineyards and wineries say a lot about the region’s future. In the short time that I have been here, I have seen great strides in wine quality, incoming hospitality, and outward promotions. Ask anyone who lives here, or anyone who has, Mount Etna is a bastion of discovery.

Two years ago this weekend, Etna was added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. One year later the Zibibbo grape vines of Pantelleria, Sicily’s sister island to the south, were added to the UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Much like the release of the Google Streetview of Mount Etna’s craters, the material documentation continues to fold into the strata, proving what a unique destination our volcano truly is.

I know you said that you would never uproot your family to move here, but maybe you would like to come for a visit? It would be a pleasure to show you around.

Best wishes,

Benjamin Spencer

Director, The Etna Wine School

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This link takes you to a slideshow of the hikers with the backpack cameras. You can also click the image above this letter to see the same slideshow.

* A version of Eric Asimov’s review appeared in print on February 29, 2012, on page D6 of the New York Times with the headline: Reds Harness a Volcano’s Energy. Order reprints of the article here.

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