Angelo Gaja, the Piedmont winemaking legend who for more than 50 years has helped lead Italy’s quality wine movement, announced this week that his family wine company is investing on Sicily’s Mount Etna by forming a joint venture with Etna producer Alberto Graci.
Gaja, 77, and Graci, 41, purchased 51 acres together on the active volcano’s southwest face in Biancavilla. The site includes about 27 acres of vineyards in production with Etna indigenous varieties Carricante and Nerello Mascalese. The winemakers plan to plant another 10 acres, and eventually build a winery for their new company, Graci told Wine Spectator.
The venture onto Etna—one of Italy’s hottest wine scenes, which has attracted producers and investors from across Sicily and Europe—represents Gaja’s third wine-producing foray outside of his native Piedmont, having expanded to Tuscany in Bolgheri and Montalcino in the 1990s.
“Why Etna?” Gaja told Sicily’s Chronace di Gusto, whose owner introduced the two winemakers in 2015. “It was something that I have been feeling under the skin for some time.”
Gaja's daughter, Gaia Gaja, told Wine Spectator, "We are very happy to start this new adventure on Etna. We always found the Etna wines very interesting for many reasons, and in particular because they have in common with Barbaresco and Barolo the fact of not being immediate and of having a delicate and elegant character. But we would have never done a step on Etna alone as we don’t have specific and deep knowledge on the region."
The purchase in this part of Etna is notable for its contrarian positioning. In the past 15 years, scores of new wave producers have flocked mostly to the mountain’s cool northern-facing vineyards, where Graci is based.
The southwest face, Graci said, “is a new area for modern Etna, but the southwest was very important in the past—in the 19th century. We arrive humbly in this part of Etna to learn. You only learn about a vineyard by cultivating a vineyard and producing wine there.”
The deal comes after several excursions to Etna by Gaja, starting in 2015, when the two men met.
“We have a lot of things in common—one is curiosity,” Graci said. “We were in touch often—talking about wine and life, and we spoke about the idea of doing something together. Everyone who comes on Etna falls in love with it. Angelo on Etna is like a volcano on a volcano.”
Gaia echoed the theme of partnership: "While we got to know Alberto better, we also felt more and more in tune with him and discovered his passion, his artisanal approach to wine, his curiosity and his will of learning, so the desire of working together came naturally. It's the first time my family has decided to enter into a joint venture with a partner, and we would have never started if we had not met Alberto and his family."
Graci, who already cultivates about 50 acres on Etna’s North face and whose Passopisciaro-based winery, Graci, produces 7,500 cases annually, said the pair had not yet thought about a name for the wine: “We are thinking about the vineyards—not the marketing.”
Graci said that he and Gaja are taking a long-term approach with their venture. “We will make the wine this year and then see if we did a good job and if we will bottle all of it.”
The news of Gaja’s investment was welcomed by other Sicilian producers who believe that the presence will draw more attention to local terroirs.
“Angelo Gaja is of course a fantastic producer, and Alberto Graci has fantastic knowledge of Etna,” said Antonio Rallo, of Sicily’s Donnafugata and president of the DOC Sicilia appellation consortium. “I am sure they will do great things together.”