Sicily has a colorful yet mysterious reputation, a land of vast diversity and contradiction. In no category is this more perfectly represented than by wine, with the inky, robust wines of western Sicily contrasting with the oxidized white wines of Marsala, the fruity, ripe wines of Vittoria in the southeast, and finally the ethereal, unique wines originating from the live volcano that looms over Catania on the eastern shore. Graci, situated on the north slope of Mount Etna at Passopisciaro, is found in an area where viticulture dates back several thousand years. Their vineyards sit at an altitude between 600 and 1,000 meters above sea level. Planting density ranges from 6,000 to 10,000 vines per hectare. Many of the vines are still on original rootstock, ungrafted, having never been affected by the phylloxera scourge thanks to the unique nature of the volcanic soils.
At Graci, young Alberto Aiello Graci remains steadfast in his respect for local traditions as well as the distinct nature of each vintage and only cultivates traditional varieties indigenous to Mount Etna: the red grapes Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, and white grapes Carricante and Catarratto. Intervention of any kind is extremely limited, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. They do not use herbicides in order to preserve the unique balance and vital energy of the soil. They do not use barriques, but only the big, upright, wooden casks known as tini and large, well-used wood barrels. Their sole objective is to reflect the personalities of their vineyards and the sublime differences between each and every harvest.
As for the volcano itself, Mr. Graci, for one, barely gives it a second thought. “Lava? We are fatalists,” he said. “We don’t care. It’s normal for us.”
The vineyard is 1,000 meters high, or about 3,300 feet, the upward limit at which Nerello can ripen. Interspersed are olive and apple trees and birds, bees and bugs that fill the air with industrious chirps and hums.
“This is a place where it’s possible to have a balance between elegance and rusticity,” Mr. Graci said. “This sensation is hard to find anywhere else.”