A visit to a vineyard is always inspiring. It brings you closer to nature and reminds you of life. Masses of green leaves resonate with fertility in an almost religious way.
My visit to the Etna area was special in many ways. Nerello Mascalese is a very precious grape to me. The centuries-old Palmento’s (stone buildings where people used to make wine) make time stand still and so do the vines that grow according to the Alberello method.
The Alberello pruning method
Alberello is better known as Gobelet and worldwide most commonly known as bush vines. Alberello in Italian simply means: little tree. This is exactly what the vine looks like. A small tree, between 30 and 50 centimeters high, of thick wood, low to the ground, with arms where beautiful green leaves grow and in the shade of those leaves thick bunches of grapes. It looks like a dog giving milk to her pups and has something touching.
The Gobelet method originated in Greece and was taken to southern Italy as early as the 8th century BC. This pruning method is very suitable for a hot and dry climate and can be found in Greece and in Italy even as in Spain, France and Portugal, also in parts of the New World (California, Australia, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand).
The reason this method is so suitable for a sunny and dry climate is because of the roots that can drill up to 20 metres deep into the ground, looking for water. The foliage allows the grapes to grow in the shade and the filtered sunlight promotes an even ripening.
Challenges of Alberello
In recent decades, the Alberello has been disappearing more and more. Reasons are:
- The low yields; the grapes are small, firm and deliver concentrated juice. Also, the trees are often far apart, so a lot of space is needed.
- The many man-hours; it is a very intensive pruning method and everything has to be done by hand.
- The late harvest; the grapes ripen late and are therefore harvested late (sometimes only in November), this entails many risks due to the changing weather conditions.
Alberello restored to its former glory
Although the above reasons are certainly taken into account, there has recently been a trend where old abandoned Alberello vineyards are being bought up by enthusiastic and passionate winemakers who want to restore tradition. Because the bush vines are less and less newly planted, the vines are often aged. These old vines produce beautifully concentrated wines. Due to the high quality, even the larger commercial wineries around the world increasingly see the value of the bush vine.
On Mount Etna, where bush vine is still the standard, special wines are made and quality takes precedence over quantity. I tasted beautiful Etna Rosso wines and visited beautiful wineries. Read more about the Etna area here.