People

A story full of people in a context rich in tradition

The protagonists of the adventure of SantaMariaLaNave are our heroic vineyards, climbing at high altitudes on an active volcano and enduring harsh temperature changes, which enrich the aroma of the grapes; Mount Etna, that reaches the highest degree of its wild fertility in the area of the Contrada; the botanical and climatic landscape, helping to preserve a healthy environment where to grow our fruits; our collaborators, from the agronomists to the enologists, who help us respecting what nature gave us.

The Fruit of the Passion of the Mulone Family

The Mulone family has decided that its grapes and wine should be the ones speaking and has refused to assume a leading role: a choice uncommon in this sector. The love between the family and its vines is very old and dates back to 1954, when Giuseppe Mulone (called Peppino), a gentleman farmer of Regalbuto, a town in the province of Enna, moved with its family to Catania, following a common trend of the period, in order to look for better-off and steadier living conditions. He found his first job on Mount Etna, where Peppino would take part in the harvests of Zafferana.

He was fascinated by the fertility of this volcanic soil, by the richness of its vineyards and by the magnificence of the grapes. His relationship with Mount Etna and its vineyard lasted for several years, until his last son who was still in Sicily, “spared” by the migratory flows that emptied Sicily of many tireless workers, bought a property on Etna, in the municipality of Viagrande.

In this property, there was a small and ancient vineyard of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. Peppino Mulone helped to cultivate this vineyard for some years with love and passion, taking part in the first harvests and in the fascinating artisanal vinification of the grapes.

He passed on the same passion and respect, along with his genes, to the future generations and today these principles are the heart of the SantaMariaLaNave project. Nowadays the vinification techniques are faster and more efficient, but our passion for the vineyards and our care for the vines are just the same. We harvest manually, as in the past, and with the maximum degree of carefulness, respecting every grape. We, as a family, think of ourselves not as protagonists of this adventure, but as keepers and warrantors behind the scenes of the cardinal values that animate SantaMariaLaNave; the same values that our Grandfather Peppino taught us with his good example.

The Collaboration with the Benanti Family

Our friends Benanti supported us in our project with their highly qualified experience. Our understanding is based on mutual trust, on the thirty-year friendship between our families, and on the common love for our magnificent volcano, Mount Etna.

Enzo Calì: a Local Enologist

We think of vinification as a minimally invasive process, which should strongly respect the nature of the specific vine variety and the characteristic of the year. The enologist Enzo Calì, technical director of the Benanti Winery, perfectly enforces this philosophy of work. Enzo, born in 1975, has already taken part in more than 15 harvests as an enologist and wine-technician, but we could say that, as a farmer son, he has had a visceral tie with Etnean agriculture since he was born. Enzo has been fascinated by harvests and vinification since he was a child; this irresistible attraction got a hold of him at once, led him to his choice of study first, and has guided his work as an enologist specialized in Etnean wines thereafter: he has dedicated his entire life to this profession.

Enzo has worked with illustrious enologists and researchers and has led several projects of experimental vinification, mainly on Nerello Mascalese, and of sparkling winemaking, using the “metodo classico” technique on local Etnean grapes. Furthermore, over the last ten years he has been working on the selection of indigenous strains of yeast. Some of the most awarded Etnean wines has passed through Enzo’s hands, but he keeps using the same ingredients that have brought his products to success: hard work, love and respect for the grapes and their history. Enzo always says, “I try to instill my experience and passion in the wines I work on. I consider them a success only when their color, fragrance and taste reflect their vineyard and their territory of origin, and also the year in which they are produced. I do not change their nature and I don’t make it up to improve it, I respect it: you can taste it through my wines”. We are proud that is Enzo the one taking care of our wines.

Vincenzo Avellina: Caring for Vineyards

Vines, as every living being, need their nature and environment to be respected in order to express their full vitality. Knowing the specific characteristics of a territory, of its microclimate and of the local plants is therefore a key factor to grow healthy and rich grapes.

The care of our vineyard is entrusted to the experience of Vincenzo Avellina, who we have known for more than twenty years. He was born and still lives in the near municipality of Maletto, a few minutes away from our vineyard. He is just as indigenous as our Grecanico Dorato! Vincenzo has always been close to Contrada Nave and Grecanico Dorato, he knows their life cycle and their reactions to climatic events and to different prunings.

Vincenzo is the son of Salvatore Avellina, called “il Mazzola”, famous in Maletto for his dancing skills. Vincenzo took part in his first harvest when he was a little child: his father owned a little piece of land on the highest area of the Contrada, where he had grown approximately 700 plants of Grecanico Dorato, a vine that, in some Etnean areas, is still called “Coda di Volpe” (Fox Tail) due to its elongated shape and its pink color. During the harvest days, the habitants of Maletto left their town by mule or by horse, taking with them all their equipment and their whole family. They harvested the grapes manually, just as today, putting them in wicker baskets called “panari” and later moving them into by far larger wicker baskets, called “cufini”. Vincenzo still takes some “cufini” with him during our harvests; we measured that a single “cufino” can contain the same quantity of grapes as six of the standard crates that are employed today, namely more than one hundred kilograms of grapes.

50 years ago, “il Mazzola” left Maletto riding his mule, taking with him some “panari”, full of provisions for the day, and two “cufini”, one on each side, containing two children each. Mazzola’s wife, just like all the women of the period, who helped their husbands during the harvest, rode on the mule when her husband did not, in order not to tire the animal. When she walked on foot, she would sometimes ease the strain on the uphill path tying her hand to the tail of the animal. Little Vincenzo shared the ride in the “cufino” with his brother. When they went back, they took the grapes to a small “palmento”, a wine making area, and began to press them manually with a hammer press that needed the strength of at least four people to work.

It was a day of hard work, but also a day of celebration for everyone! It is wonderful to notice how, even after decades, the memories of past harvests are still indelible in farmer communities and almost full of the same joy as in the past. Our harvests nowadays are just the same: days full of hard work and fatigue, but also of joy and closeness to the vineyard and its fruits.

Many decades have gone by since the first harvests in Contrada Nave; in these years, Vincenzo has worked with some of the best Sicilian wineries, but his deep love for Contrada has remained unchanged. Even if the available technologies have undoubtedly grown, Vincenzo, with his wife Maria and his sons Salvatore and Antonino, still takes care of the SantaMariaLaNave vineyard following the same rules and traditions that, more than half a century ago, “il Mazzola” employed to get the best from his plants of “Coda di Volpe”. It is also thanks to Vincenzo that our harvests are still a day of happy celebration!

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