A native of the city of Catania, Salvo studied enology and began his career in 1981 as a technical and agrarian advisor to some noted estates in eastern Sicily. He continues that work today for estates such as Gulfi, Benanti and ViniBiondi, all of whose wines are universally recognized as among the best in Sicily. But it is still working with and for someone else. Salvo wanted his own project to really make a wine that sings. Salvo is the leader of the natural wine movement in this volcanic 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.
The vines are concentrated at 700 metres altitude on the north side of the volcano near the town of Calderara. Here, the climate is more like the north of Italy than Sicily, winters are harsh and cold, the summers are hot and dry and there can be extreme fluctuations between night and day temperatures. The soils are broken or decomposed lava stone of varying depth mixed with sand. Many of the vines are rehabilitated old vines, some over 100 years-old, planted at 10,000 plants per hectare in albarello, the only system Salvo considers for producing great fruit under the climatic conditions of Etna. All of these factors allow for work only by hand or mule in the vineyards. Because these vines are so old, there is great diversity within the vineyard and different strains of each of the varieties appear. The grapes are the autochthonous Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio with Alicante (Grenache) and a smattering of vines referred to as Francisi, because their variety and provenance are unknown.
No fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides are used. The grapes are harvested by hand at the end of September until mid-October. Fermentations are done in open vats, without the use of yeast inoculation, enzymes or thermal control (the nights by this time of year are quite cold). Racking and bottling are done under lunar cycle. The wines are bottled with little or no filtration. The wine is fermented in open topped stone containers cut into the volcanic rock.
Vinupetra (wine of stone) is a blend of Nerellos and some Francisci from centenarian vines, 70% destemmed grapes, the rest whole, fermented at ambient temperature for a long time. Like the I Vigneri it has great energy, an amalgam of smoky fruit, stone-crunch and bristling acidity.