┼rgangsrapport fra TERRE NERE - Etnas kulthus nr 1!

TERRE NERE VINTAGE REPORT - 2011 

The 2011 vintage carried with it the teaching that here on Etna there is no rule, thus there should be no expectations of a normality with respect to the growing season, or ripening, or even harvest. Just a multiplicity of conditions, impossible to predict, difficult to negotiate, where navigation requires perilously rapid decision-making, and therefore where experience at the helm is more important than elsewhere.

While the rest of Europe was racing to harvest two to three weeks ahead of schedule,  (including the rest of Sicily!), on Etna we had unripe grapes until the very last weeks before an orthodox harvest time. Visitors who had travelled through Italy's wine country before coming here couldn't believe their eyes seeing all the grapes still hanging in early October.

A cold and rainy spring full into mid june, and very cold nights through mid July had stunted ripening and drastically limited production. A three and a half month long drought followed, along with a scorching august and a neverending veraison.

The young vines suffered bitterly from lack of water, berries staying small, skins toughening in self defence. The old vines took it all in stride, those that were well worked - "A good ploughing is like a small rainfall", our Don Peppino never forgets to repeat. And, indeed, poorly kept vineyards quickly started loosing leaves, and with them their photosynthetic capacity to bring their fruit to ripening. In many vineyards autumn colours appeared much too early.

On the other hand, clusters were small and loose, grapes as healthy as can be, and the loads per vine very light and balanced.

Finally, a rich rainfall at the end of September gave nature a second wind. Lackluster leaves  regained their sheen, and as if by magic the tough clusters began to ripen and little by little lose their turgidity.

Weeks of warm, balming weather followed,  with occasional beneficial rainfalls. The earth opened its womb and took it all in.

Shily we began tasting the grapes, chewing the hard skins, examining the pips inside and the hardening stems. Sweetness and tartness surely were harmonizing, and complexity and length of flavor followed, wondrous as ever.  The yearly miracle of ripening, the slowly spinning wheel of the seasons coming to a peak: I don't recall ever living it so vividly.

So harvest began. And,  riddled with doubts, exhilaration and misgivings,  causing us to start and  stop every step of the way, in its full three weeks, it was the longest of the ten vintages I've harvested here.

Production clearly was down. That I had figured early on. So I had scavenged the neighboring vignerons for fine grapes, contracting a good quantity. In fact,   carried away by my usual pre-harvest enthusiasm, and seduced by many offerings, I had booked way over my needs.

But when I harvested Feudo di Mezzo - always the first to ripen -  and the yields were down over 40%, I was satisfied. With few exceptions this was to be the case throughout the harvest. In the end,  my over provisioning rampage had landed us exactly where we wanted to be, more or less the same quantities as 2010.

The 2011 wines, now, before malolactic (a hazardous time to speak), judging from the quality  fo the grapes that came in, the bouquet and flavor of the musts, from the rich sugar counts and the powerfully tannic textures, appear very fine: probably wines that will want time to express themselves in full, and that will ride that time with grace.

 The 2011 Etna Bianco is fresh, fragrant, and deploys a haunting, fleshless poise. Its structure is bony, its tartness saline. I am indeed very fond of it, but I find it difficult to assess its shy finesse, knowing that malo with powerfully affect it. The higher percentage of Carricante in this year's blend may help explain the wine's need for time.

 The 2011 Vigne Niche is easier to judge. Deep, gentle, generous and evocative, it is a close sibling of the 2010. Which could mean that, perhaps, at Terre Nere we have found our bearings somewhat as regards Carricante.

 The Etna Rosato is a mystery - as every year - if only because I change vinification every vintage, in quest of what I love in rose', of my ideal rose': a red wine with the soul of a white one. The two cuvees we have, which will be blended in the end, are very exciting: one nervous and explosively perfumed; the other lush and seductively silky. The result should be devilishly fine.

 

I believe the 2011 is the best Calderara Sottana ever. So fine that it strives to rival Calderara's other child, the Prephylloxera; who, in turn,  navigates effortlessly in its own universe: elegant, powerful and as sophisticated as ever.

I also think we'll release a memorable Feudo di Mezzo. Cool, steely, gripping and introspective, it will find many more fans than the bottles produced.

The Santo Spirito will rival the superb 2008. Even better balance and finesse behind its brooding force.

And Guardiola? The 2008 was virtually the perfect vintage for this highest of vineyards. Having said that, the 2011 grapes were harvested a full week later, perfectly ripe, perfectly healthy, production being far lower, with a stricter selection operated in the vineyard. A difficult call. Certainly very very fine.

But the absolute king of the vintage will be the Etna Rosso, easily worth the crus of a minor vintage.

And last but not least, we'll bottle 1,000 bottles or so of a precious little novelty, just to tantalize friendly palates, just for fun, seriously good fun! The beginning of a petite project:  small quantities of cru wines from acquired grapes. A learning process. No  pressure. If I land on something really fine, I'll bottle the result.

All in all the 2011 at Terre Nere seems to me a very  strong vintage. Powerful, complex, tannic wines that will deliver great satisfaction, particularly as they unfold with age.  One of the best at Terre Nere.

"Another season, another reason, for making whoopee!"

Marco de Grazia

Tenuta delle Terre Nere