Some lava flows are very recent, too recent even to plant on.
The area is broken up into sectors known as ‘contradas’. Each contrada has a name and is linked to one of Etna’s townships.
So San Lorenzo – which is the largest and highest contrada the Russos own vineyards in – is close to the town of Randazzo.
Feudo is nearby, also near Randazzo, whereas Feudo di Mezzo is closer to Castiglione di Sicilia.
Due to its positioning on the layers of lava, ash and other volcanic soils, each contrada has its own character.
In the same way, the wines that are made from each contrada vary as they reflect these differences in terroir.
The other aspect that makes these vineyards so special is way that the local farmers – or contadini – have worked the vines through time. These are difficult vineyards to cultivate. Often comprised of narrow terraces held in place by dry-stone walls, the plants have to be able to live in mineral rich but sometimes very dry conditions. It often does not rain in summer here.
Traditionally the best system for keeping the vines alive here was to grown them as bush vines, ad alberello: as free-standing ‘little trees’ that could find their own balance in these soils and that are cared for by hand.
Each plant is pruned, hoed and tied individually.
More modern systems have seen these alberelli adapted to be trained onto wires, but the principle remains the same. Giuseppe Russo and his small team of co-workers cultivate the vines by hand, using natural fertilizers sporadically and spraying against disease and pests following organic principles.
That’s how he’s always done it, from the time he used to follow his father into the vineyards as a young boy.
Giuseppe left for a time, trained as a pianist and music teacher, and studied literature, but after his father’s death he came back to what he now recognizes is the central theme of his life: making the best wines he can in this exceptional, often challenging but uniquely beautiful area, an area that is now attracting winemakers from the all over the world but that to Giuseppe and his family has always just been home.