Michele Faro loves his mother, and I do too. In fact, I wanted to kiss the woman after a long day of driving from the northern tip of Sicily down to the eastern slopes of Mount Etna. Tired and hungry, I arrived at the tiny boutique hot...
Michele Faro loves his mother, and I do too. In fact, I wanted to kiss the woman after a long day of driving from the northern tip of Sicily down to the eastern slopes of Mount Etna. Tired and hungry, I arrived at the tiny boutique hotel that Faro has named after his mother, Donna Carmela, and sat down to a bowl of her rustic pork ragu and freshly made pasta, and practically burst into tears it was so good. Simple, essential, bursting with flavor, and perfectly spiced -- the tangy tomato sauce playing counterpoint to the rich, fatty saltiness of the pork and the starch of the paste.
Faro grinned as I tucked into the bowl enthusiastically, and confided that it was among his favorite dishes growing up. He waited patiently while I apologetically scarfed up several more mouthfuls before turning to my notebook and pen to learn how he had become the proprietor of a small winery named Pietradolce on the slopes of the volcano that boomed occasionally in the background as we ate, talked, and drank.
The Faro family are perhaps most easily described as nursery magnates. They run a vast and highly-successful ornamental plant business that spreads over many hectares just outside the little hamlet of Carruba di Riposto in the province of Catania, Sicily. From precious small plants to large palm trees, the Faro family exports plants all over Europe, with delivery trucks rumbling down the improbably narrow back streets of Carruba at all hours to the massive shipping terminal that attaches to the orderly nursery grounds and greenhouses.
The 18-room hotel that Faro has named after his mother sits at the heart of this nursery operation, and is clearly funded by the former's great success.
"My family were winemakers three generations ago," says Faro, "but my father strayed into landscaping agriculture and we stayed there." Still, Faro remembers his grandfather making wine from a three-acre plot when he was growing up, and he distinctly remembers his first taste of wine at 10 years old, a sip of Nerello Mascalese ceremoniously drawn from his grandfather's old oak cask.
As Faro began his professional career as part of the family business, he found himself increasingly interested in wine and at the same time wondering why his family had abandoned their winemaking roots.
"I had fallen in love with wine at that point," says Faro, recalling his thinking in 2000 when the idea to start a winery came to him, "and I thought why not get back to winemaking?"
In 2001, vineyard land wasn't hard, nor expensive to procure on Etna, thanks to the utter impracticality of making a living growing grapes in the 21st century. The small villages that ring the slopes of Mount Etna were surrounded by countless tiny plots of old vines, abandoned in favor of pursuits more economically sound.
With the help of hired winemaker Carlo Ferrini, Faro sought out a total of 16 acres of old vines high on Etna, which he carefully rehabilitated. Some are 120-year-old, pre-phylloxera Carricante vines whose twisted trunks produce precious little fruit each year. Already trained in the ancient albarello (head pruned) style, Faro eliminated every trace of modernity, ripping out the formed cement posts that supported many vines and providing wooden stakes to those gnarled vines that couldn't hold up their own weight.
The vines are mostly dry farmed, and have never been treated with insecticides, or herbicides. They occasionally get a small dose of organic fertilizer mixed with water drawn from a well that sits next to the tiny stone hut that is slowly crumbling next to the vineyards.
Faro's oldest vineyards are in the Contrada Rampante area of northern Etna, and at the upper limit of altitude for the DOC growing area.
A few days after our dinner, early one morning we bounced up an irregularly maintained dirt road to take a look at some of his oldest vines.
"We've just got these small pockets of soil, and then other than that it's just rocks, rocks, rocks, rocks," s
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