Meet the man making wine on the edge of Europe’s largest active volcano
By Willem Marx and Hollie Wong
Perched on the side of Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, lies an ancient vineyard.
At around 900 meters high, Frank Cornelissen’s wine estate sits at the limit of where viticulture was done historically, and also today.
Wine has been growing on the slopes of Mount Etna for over 2,000 years and only now is it catching the eye of investors, with several large Italian wine producers recently investing in the region.
But for Cornelissen, it’s more than an investment opportunity.
“Every morning you wake up the first thing you do is looking at this mountain,” he told CNBC.
“It (Mount Etna) is a sign of life. It’s pretty fearsome when it explodes; it is, for me, very attractive also.”
The Sicily-based winemaker employs 20 young workers and along with himself and his wife, they run the 24-hectare wine estate.
Cornelissen’s natural approach to wine and the resources he has in the foothills of Mount Etna have defined his product.
“My approach to wine is very much combining the ancient with what today is available in quality. I think this is a great period for people who can make choices,” he said.
“Now the soil is black, it’s very unusual because it can go from literally rocks, and then compact rock, to a powder. It is full of minerals, it has a great quality of drainage and so vines can last centuries,” added Cornelissen.
Cornelissen’s top vintage wines now sell for more than US$250, but starting the estate wasn’t an easy ride.
“Running a wine business, not only in Sicily but in Italy, is bureaucratically quite a challenge.”
Italian vineyard managers can spend over 25 per cent of their time on paperwork; a frustrating reality for Cornelissen.
“If I would have known all the difficulty and let’s say the bureaucratic, and administrative problems, and the investments, and all the risks, and the challenges, I would never have done this.”
Despite the difficulties, Cornelissen is carving a reputation for himself as an all-natural winemaker, with one of his top wine’s, Magma, made virtually by hand and without additives, filtering or sulfur dioxide, the main preservative used in conventional wines.
He won’t compare his product to others, as he believes his wines “should represent a territory.”
“You have this multi-layeredness and it doesn’t leave you alone, you’re not going to forget it,” he said.