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I think of wine iconoclast Salvo Foti as Don I Vigneri of the Mt. Etna area of Sicily.

He is the leader of the natural wine movement in this volcanic, southeastern corner of Sicily. While extreme in some respects (racking and bottling under a lunar cycle), he is a pure spirit of natural viniculture and if you want to understand Sicilian winemaking in the Etna DOC, start with Salvo Foti.

Foti is the organizer and leader of the I Vigneri project, named after a Vintner’s Guild founded in 1435 to align the small vineyards in Sicily around the cultivation of the Alberello bush vine. 500 years later, the intent of the project is the same.

I Vigneri is an agricultural collective dedicated to indigenous grapes, natural cultivation and an obsessive attachment to the terroir of Etna. Today it provides the economic incentive for local wine experts and trades people to continue to work in the trade, keeping the skills intact. We of course are the beneficiaries of this.

Screen shot 2010-05-20 at 4.31.49 PMFoti believes that wine has its own composition that is created by the grape, the vine, the vineyard, the climatic conditions and the individual (vineyard worker and winemaker). In his own words “It’s important that there is harmony and respect for each variable to make a wine that truly sings”.

Salvo Foti’s own label is called I Vigneri as well. And to be expected, the process is as natural and ageless as Mt. Etna itself. No fertilizers or pesticides. Hand cultivation and harvesting. No added yeasts. Unfiltered. Few sulfites.

The ’06 Etna Rosso Il Vigneri is a blend of Nerellos Mascalese and Nerellos Cappuccio. Comparisons to Biondi’s Outis make sense as the blend is similar, Foti consults to Biondi and the vineyards are adjacent.

This bottle is unique from all of the other indigenous grape blends I’ve tasted from Etna. It’s like a rustic cheese or dinner at a local inn in some corner of Italy. Like strong country fare, just pulled from the ground, spiced to bring out natural strengths in taste and strong by nature.

The wine is juicy, fruit forward with strong and tannins. Not overpowering but not for the light tasting palate. This is wine of the place…as unencumbered and as representative and as local as it gets.

I put a way a few bottles of this as a baseline for the Etna DOC. If you want to understand what wine without the modifications of time and modern culture and new techniques, grown on the steep slopes of an active volcano tastes like…this is it.

And it’s a pleasure.

Available from Chambers Street Wines for $32 a bottle.

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