Four words to describe themselves: “Vineyards in Solicchiata, Etna”. You can’t get any earthier than that. The name, too. Pietradolce. Literally, “Sweet Stone”. Pietradolce soil, true enough – lavic in origin – is very stony, sandy and minerally thanks to the Etna volcano. The volcano’s abundant mineral components and microclimate – cool nights, warm days and wide-ranging temperature variations – endow Pietradolce wines with extraordinary richness, minerality, fragrance and depth. Etna is no ordinary volcano; ’a Muntagna, as locals call it (“the Mountain” in Sicilian) is very active indeed – one of the most active in the world. There have been major episodes well into this millennium. In 2002/’03, they provoked an enormous column of ash (see photo above) that could easily be seen from space and reached as far as Libya, 370 miles south across the Mediterranean Sea. Mount Etna is also Europe’s highest volcano, soaring up to 10,990 feet. Terrain on its flanks and the surrounding area is so unique that Sicilians have ignored the inevitable risks and planted vineyards and orchards all across ’a Muntagna’s lower slopes. The Pietradolce winery is far enough from the actual summit for safety; yet close enough to make the most of this special terroir. You can see the location on the satellite map below – Solicchiata, part of the municipality of Castiglione di Sicilia on Mount Etna’s northern slopes. Surface under vine is 11 hectares, a little over 27 acres, split into three plots, two at Rampante and one at Zottorinoto. Altitude is considerable, going from 650 to 900 meters above sea level i.e. approx. 2,135 to 2,955 feet. This makes for particularly fragrant, focused aromas. The winery itself is young – founded in 2005 – and so are its owners, brothers Michele & Mario Faro. Yet Michele and Mario come from a family to whom vines, roots, stock, grafts and scions have no secrets – they are, according to Gambero Rosso’s 2013 Wines of Italy, “fra i massimi florovivaisti al mondo” i.e. “two of the world’s top experts in nursery gardening”. (The family business was founded by Venerando Faro in 1972…) Not surprisingly given their background, the pillar of Faro philosophy is the brothers’ total respect for their territory – “our volcano”, as they call Mount Etna, with its own native grapes: Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante; and the most ancient and traditional of training systems, bush-trained vines. Combining the best of tradition and modern technology, Pietradolce’s boutique-sized production – 35,000 bottles yearly on average – is eco-friendly (“ours is a hands-off policy in the vineyard and winery”) and authentic – “maximum respect for the Etna heritage”. It represents “i vini dell’Etna”, this ancient volcano’s purest and fullest expressions, from very, very old vineyards: Pietradolce cru wines (Vigna Barbagalli – vineyard pictured below – and Archineri in its red and white version) come from pre-Phylloxera vineyards aged 80 to 120 years old! Conversely, image, logo and packaging are as new, impactful and fresh as it gets. Michele and Mario chose the “perfect shape”, the triangle, to represent ‘their’ volcano, doubling it up into its mirror image to symbolize Etna’s beneficial effects on terrain. Their gorgeous labels feature a boldly portrayed “volcano-woman” in brilliant color for the three higher-end items. In Michele’s words: “We wanted an elegant and powerful emblem for our cru wines.” The regular Etna Rosso and Etna Rosato, in turn, “foreground a series of frenzied, hand-drawn crayon strokes that are meant to incarnate the volcano’s explosive energy.” The Faros’ ultimate goal – together with consulting enologist Carlo Ferrini’s – is “estrema qualità sull’Etna”: extreme quality on Etna soil. To the Faro family, preserving and enhancing “Etna’s soul” in all its vividness and energy is priority number one. Judging from results, they have scored five straight hits with their range: in few, brief years, Pietradolce has reaped numerous awards both nationally (Tre Bicchieri from Gambero Rosso, maximum scores from Duemilavini and Veronelli) and internationally (scoring as high as 100 out of 100 from James Suckling, 92 from Robert Parker and Antonio Galloni’s Vinous, 91 from Wine Enthusiast, 17.5 out of 20 from Decanter etc.). As they say in Italy – Buona Continuazione!
11 hectares, a little over 27 acres
Michele & Mario Faro
Solicchiata (Etna volcano)