COTTANERA

COTTANERA

Sicily

Cottanera – The Story

The Etna territory is unlike any other in the world, with a history of grape growing and winemaking that dates back to the times of Ulysses.  Its unique location, soil type, and elevation make “Etna” a calling card on its own.  Cottanera is a family winery, and together we cultivate the land to create an artisanal product (which means its not standard, but changes year to year depending on the characteristics of the vintage) that we hope people like.  We dedicate the maximum commitment possible in order to produce the most we can from the vineyard, the grapes, the vintage.  We don’t have any regrets.” – Enzo Cambria

The history of Cottanera began in 1962 with Francesco Cambria when, as a retreat from his career in Messina, he purchased 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyards and hazelnut groves near his birthplace in Randazzo, Siciliy, at the foot of Mount Etna.  Francesco grew hazelnuts and initially sold his grapes to the local cooperative, but with the implementation of DOC status for Etna wines in 1968 and a drop in the hazelnut market, he soon decided to focus his attention on growing grapes for bulk wine production, replanting the hazelnut groves to vines. 

In the late 1980’s, Francesco’s son Gugliemo decided to build a winery to produce his own wine from the family vineyards instead of selling the grapes to the cooperative.  His success in selling this wine “sfuso” (in bulk) to locals and restaurants prompted him to shift his focus to quality wine production, improving his father’s vineyards and embracing lower yields.  Gugliemo was joined by his brother Enzo in the new venture and thus, in the mid-90’s the first wines labeled as “Cottanera” were born. The name Cottanera comes from an ancient village positioned alongside the family vineyards, along the banks of the river Alcantara.

The brothers began by planting international grape varieties, but the focus soon turned to traditional Etna grapes, and Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante vines were planted, emphasizing the importance of these local varieties.  Though a niche market remains for a pure Syrah wine, in 2012 the estate’s Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines were grafted with the noble variety Nerello Mascalese, offering Cottanera new possibilities for this indigenous Etna grape. 

The Cottanera philosophy is perhaps best captured in a quote by Gugliemo, “In looking to the future we can but consider all that we have received.  Land, as I was taught by my father, is invaluable, as it is the beginning of all, and is what we will become.” After the death of Guglielmo, Cottanera is now guided by his brother Enzo and Gugliemo’s children Mariangela, Francesco and Emanuele.

Indeed, this undeniable importance of the land is evident in the attention and care the estate dedicates to each particular vineyard.  According to tradition, almost all work in the vineyard (including harvest) is carried out by a team of local families, with a predominance of women, and this know-how continues to be passed down generation to generation. 

“Historically our estate has always employed local families, since the days when my father was producing hazelnuts and had just a small number of vines.  This tradition has continued over the years, and some of the families that worked the land when my father first acquired it, are still here, the grandchildren tending the vines today.  This is a unique characteristic of the Etna region.  There also happens to be a remarkable availability of feminine labor at Cottanera.  We’ve noticed that women have a particular competency for those activities that require gentleness and patience, essential in the care of vineyards.”

Though Cottanera is not certified organic, the estate practices sustainable agriculture, imposing as little impact on the land and environment as possible.  No chemical herbicides are used and natural products, such as copper and sulfur, are preferred.  However, if intervention is necessary in order to save a vintage, the agricultural team acts in the best interest of the overall well-being of the vineyard in order to maintain the health of the vines. 

Resting about 700 meters (2,296 feet) above sea level over lava alluvial and clay soils, the Cottanera vineyards are positioned in 5 different “contradas” (local districts) – Cottanera, Diciassettesalme, Calderara, Zottorinoto and Feudo di Mezzo.  In 2011, after changes regarding the production methods of Etna DOC, the geographic area of origin of the grape could be indicated on the label, highlighting the differences and singularities between the various Etna contradas, giving a voice to the wine and the territory itself.  Indeed, Cottanera strives to express these differences, through both the work in the vineyards and in the cellar. 

Enzo says, “Each vineyard has its own particular characteristics, based on its location, geography, exposure, soil type, variety and age.  All of these factors are independent of human intervention. Each wine is born of a complex interaction of diverse elements – soil, the vineyard, climate – that is different each day.  Based on these interactions, we expect what type of wine can come out of this combination – it’s all about finding the ideal balance.  Then in the cellar, based on the type of product, contrada by contrada (single-vineyard), we establish and carry out the protocols for that specific wine.  Obviously there is no hard-and-fast rule, and the process can be modified year by year, depending on the characteristics of the vintage.  The grapes are always different.  Our objective is to produce the best result with what we have ‘tra le mani’ (in our hands) and to the best of our capabilities.” 

The vineyards and winery are located in Castiglione di Sicilia (province of Catania), where all phases of production, from harvest to bottling, are carried out.  Cottanera is one of the largest estates on Etna with roughly 65 hectares (160 acres) of vineyards on a 100-hectare (247 acres) estate, all positioned on the prestigious northern slope of Mt. Etna, home to most of the volcano’s best-known wineries.  Cottanera and the Cambria family endeavor to create a center of modern, innovative viticulture, with the goal of improving the quality of vineyards on Mt. Etna and producing wines that tell the stories of this unique territory.  

“We own the largest number of hectares (at the moment) of all the wineries in the Etna region, so we undoubtedly feel a certain responsibility to represent Etna in the rest of the world. ‘Ci mettiamo la faccia.’  It’s our face/name that is on the bottle, so we have to do all that we can to ensure the absolute highest quality.  There is a certain spirit and pride in the knowledge that each bottle is a product of our vineyard, our land.  Today Etna is enjoying a significant expansion, especially in terms of notoriety and media attention.  As producers, we all need to work together to capture this market.  When a consumer drinks a glass of Cottanera, they have to remember it – we want make a wine that stays in his/her head.  Thankfully, the overall quality of Etna wines has significantly increased over the last few years.  We need to continue the trend of making quality wines, always with an eye to improvement.”

Cottanera produces a wide variety of wines for a total of 11 different labels, between red, white, rose’ and sparkling wines.  Indeed, each wine has its own unique narrative, based on the distinctive characteristics of each singular vine.  When asked which wine most represents Cottanera, Enzo says, “I would have to say that the wine we find most often in our thoughts, the wine at the zenith of our production, is the Zottorinoto. This is the wine that receives the most attention, with an almost maniacal care and attentive selection in the vineyards and cellar.  The vineyard itself is the estate’s oldest (over 60 years) and is located at an incredible altitude (over 2,500 feet!).  It’s not an easy vineyard, we produce a mere 2,000 bottles a year because it’s simply not possible to make any more.  We produce this wine only in the vintages in which the combination of characteristics come together to create the wine that represents what Cottanera strives for: excellence.”

Wines

Barbazzale Bianco Sicilia DOC

The Barbazzale Bianco is composed of predominantly Catarratto, the most typical, and widely planted, white grape variety in Sicily. As is characteristic of Catarratto wines, Barbazzale Bianco exhibits a pleasant freshness with delicate floral perfumes of wisteria and Scotch broom on a saline backdrop. Barbazzale is the name of the “contrada,” or wine district, in which the grapes are planted in the volcanic soil of Mt. Etna, lending a remarkable minerality to the wine.

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Barbazzale Etna Rosso DOC

The Barbazzale Etna Rosso is based predominantly on the indigenous Sicilian grape Nerello Mascalese, a dark-skinned variety that grows most commonly on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna.  This highly regarded variety tends to produce wines that reflect their surroundings, resulting in firm, fresh reds with fruity, herbaceous flavors, excellent minerality and an earthy nuance and an elegance and finesse often compared to that of Pinot Noir.  Nerello Cappuccio completes the Etna Rosso blend (as is typical of Etna Rosso DOC wines) lending color and perfume, as well as softening out some of Nerello Mascalese’s harder edges.  On the nose, the wine entices with aromas of raspberries, blackberries and wildflowers entwined with a touch of minerality.  The palate is fresh and aromatic, balanced by good tannins.

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Etna Bianco DOC

A pure expression of Mt. Etna, the Etna Bianco is 100% Caricante, an ancient Sicilian white grape variety, thought to have been growing on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna for at least a thousand years. Planted at high altitudes on the steep slopes of Mt. Etna, the grapes ripen slowly and steadily throughout the long growing season. On the nose, the Etna Bianco is bursting with citrus notes of lemon and cedar with orange blossom and jasmine. A full-bodied palate is supported by the marked acidity typical of this variety, imparting freshness and a long finish.

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Contrada Calderara Etna Bianco DOC

The Carricante grapes for the Etna Bianco Contrada Calderara come from 45 years old vineyards in the Calderara contrada, one of Etna’s most highly regarded Cru. The soil in this vineyard is a mixture of black pumice and basalt, the result of thousands of years of lava flows and volcanic deposits and enhances the typical minerality of the Carricante variety. Welcoming perfumes of lemon flowers, elderflower, chamomile, bergamot, sage and fresh oregano are intertwined with white peach and yellow plum. A saline vitality explodes on the palate, enhancing the wine’s supple body. This is undoubtedly a white wine destined for ageing.

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Etna Rosato DOC (Rosé)

The Etna Rosato is 100% Nerello Mascalese, from vineyards in the Diciasettesalme contrada, positioned just north of the volcano, with a mix of volcanic and alluvial soils. This highly-esteemed variety takes its name from the Mascali plain between Mt. Etna and the coast where it is thought to have originated. The variable volcanic soils of Etna combined with high vineyard elevations (some of the highest in Europe) help produce wines with immense character and complexity, and without the excessive weight that sometimes characterize Sicilian red wines from lower altitudes. The Rosato bursts with floral notes of iris, wisteria and rose, paired with the freshness of aromatic herbs. This is a rich, complex, flavorful wine that embodies the typical characteristics of the volcanic soil from which it comes.

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Contrada Diciassettesalme Etna Rosso DOC

The Nerello Mascalese grapes for the Etna Rosso Diciassettesalme come from the contrada of the same name. “Diciasettesalme” indicates the 25-hectare Cru, which corresponds to 17 (diciasette in Italian) Salme, an antique Sicialian unit of measurement. The lava-clay soil in the vineyard yields a wine with strength, dense tannins and an intense ruby red color. On the nose, mixed berry perfumes turn softly into herbal notes, such as mauve, thyme and juniper, interlaced with the mineral sensations typical of the variety and vineyards. Perfectly balanced tannins finish with a balsamic note.

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Contrada Feudo di Mezzo Etna Rosso DOC

Feudo di Mezzo is the largest contrada of the Etna DOC. Here the Nerello Mascalese exhibits an austere, dusky character with autumnal tones and a floral bouquet enhances by spice and red fruits. The palate is structured with rich tannins, destined for longevity.

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Contrada Zottorinoto Etna Rosso Riserva DOC

The Etna Rosso Riserva Zottorinoto is made from 100% Nerello Mascalese from the estate’s oldest (over 60 years) vines, located in the Zottorinoto Cru at incredible altitudes of over 2,500 feet. In this exceptional wine, the grapes express their deepest character with floral notes and Mediterranean herbs interwoven with red fruits (blueberries, raspberries and blackberries) and spicy vanilla and black tea. A velvety palate is balanced by the noble tannins. This is a wine for the most special of occasions.

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