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The unusual climatic conditions, the volcanic soils and the autochthonous grape varieties of Etna give rise to wines with great elegance and character. The differences from site to site are sometimes enormous and make the growing area all the more interesting.

You could also call Etna an "island" within an island - so clearly do the soils, climate and wines differ from the rest of Sicily. The Etna DOC wine-growing area stretches from the northern flank of the volcano eastwards to the south-south-west side and wraps itself around the mountain like a semi-circle; it is open to the west. The appellation is characterised by a marked variability of climate and soils, which create different growing conditions depending on the slope and altitude, from vineyard to vineyard.

The main areas of cultivation on Etna are in the north and in the east at an altitude of 300 to 900 metres. Occasional vineyards reach up to 1,100 metres, but most are planted on medium and high slopes between 400 and 500 and 900 metres. Even higher vineyards lie outside the DOC boundary. This is one of the reasons why a number of wines from Etna are marketed as Sicilia DOC or Terre Siciliane IGT.



The soils are volcanic in origin, formed by the periodic accumulation and subsequent weathering of various igneous materials such as ash, sand, lapilli, pumice or lava. They have a loose structure, are deep and well-drained and rich in minerals. In their composition, the soils can be very different. Each individual lava flow and explosion that has ejected ash, sand and rock fragments from the craters have left their very own "fingerprint" and form a multi-faceted soil mosaic with different physical and chemical properties.

Contrade - additional geographical designations

The different soils, together with the mostly very small dimensions of the vineyards, result in a great variety of microzones. This inevitably led to the concept of single vineyards, the so-called contrade, of which there are officially 133. These additional geographical designations have been allowed to appear on the label since 2011 if the grapes come 100 percent from a recognised site.


The climate can be generally described as moderate Mediterranean. However, it can vary greatly depending on the slope and altitude and sometimes even show alpine characteristics. Characteristic are the comparatively moderate summer temperatures, which rarely reach extreme values, especially at high altitudes on the northern and eastern slopes. The pronounced temperature differences between day and night, which can reach up to 30 degrees during the growing season, are advantageous for the aroma of the grapes, while the cool nights ensure that the acidity is maintained.

The average temperatures are lower than on the rest of the island. Especially on the north slope, it is not uncommon for them to drop below zero degrees in winter and during the early budding period. The average annual rainfall on Etna is significantly higher than in the rest of Sicily, with most precipitation falling in autumn and winter. The months of June and July are dry, but from mid-August it can be quite rainy. Rain is also not uncommon during harvest time, sometimes preventing ripening or leading to rot and reduced quality.

Depending on the geographical location, the differences in water supply can be considerable. With 600 millimetres of precipitation per year, it is lowest on the southern and southwestern slopes of the volcano, much higher in the north and highest on the eastern flank, which lies directly on the sea, with 1,200 millimetres. Here, the moderating influence of the sea breeze also causes early budding, moderate summer temperatures and early grape ripening by Etna standards.

Grape varieties

The vineyards on Etna are planted with four autochthonous grape varieties, two white and two red. Among the whites, the late-ripening variety Carricante predominates, which is now almost exclusively cultivated on Etna. Etna Bianco DOC contains at least 60 or 80 percent Carricante, depending on its typology. In future, Carricante is also to be permitted for the production of bottle-fermented DOC sparkling wine. Carricante is complemented by the Cataratto variety, which is cultivated all over the island and is most widespread in the province of Trapani in western Sicily.


Among the reds, Nerello Mascalese plays the leading role; it must be represented with at least 80 percent in Etna Rosso, but can be supplemented proportionally by Nerello Cappuccio. Nerello Cappuccio mainly adds colour to the wine and is rarely bottled as a single varietal.

Nerello Mascalese produces light-coloured, fine, transparent wines with pronounced, at best silky tannins. Only on Etna can great wines be made from this variety; planted elsewhere, it tends to be inconsequential. Because of their elegance, fineness, transparency and depth as well as their characteristic tannins, Nerello Mascalese from Etna are often compared to Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir.

The main cultivation areas on Etna are in the north and in the east. Almost half of the winegrowing is concentrated on the northern flank between the towns of Randazzo and Castiglione Sicilia, where Nerello Mascalese is predominantly cultivated. Only in recent years have Carricante vines increasingly been planted here. Instead, the white variety dominates the steep eastern slope, where the best grapes grow in the high vineyards and produce wines that are characterised by freshness, finesse and longevity.

The grape harvest begins much later on Etna than in the other growing regions of Sicily. It starts in September with the Nerello Mascalese grapes for the sparkling wines and lasts until the end of October, sometimes even until November at the higher altitudes, when the first snow falls. The bringing in of the Carricante grapes lasts from about the end of September to mid-October, that of the Nerello Cappuccio and the Nerello Mascalese for the red wines begins in the first half of October. In the high vineyards in the north, the harvest is not only delayed compared to lower and warmer locations. Due to the shorter duration of sunshine and the harsher climate, the entire growing season is delayed, resulting in wines with a completely different character.

Growing methods

©Consorzio Etna

On the mostly steep slopes, the vines have been cultivated since ancient times, mostly on characteristic terraces enclosed by dry stone walls made of lava rock, forming a unique and fascinating landscape with old farmsteads, wine press houses (palmenti) and patrician villas.

The classic vine training form on Etna is the Alberello training (also Gobelet or Bäumchenschnitt). The vines are planted on coarse, low poles made of chestnut wood in black-grey volcanic soil on the steep slope or in small plots between dry stone walls, stone steps and brick walkways, the so-called "rasule", which connect the individual terraces. Soil cultivation is only possible by hand here; only in the somewhat larger, easily accessible plots is mechanical cultivation possible, at best with very small machines.

Many old vineyards still have vines today ungrafted. It is also still common in traditional vineyards to have different white and sometimes also red grape varieties mixed in one vineyard. In newly planted vineyards, the easy-care wire-frame trellises are increasingly being used and the vines are trained in cordon training with cone pruning. All this makes Etna a landscape of great diversity and historical-cultural value.

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