Winemaking, you could argue, has always been a heroic venture. For millennia, man has had to overcome physical, environmental and logistical difficulties to cultivate vitis vinifera in unlikely places in his quest to produce one of the world’s most beloved fermented beverages. Quality viticulture has always demanded dedicated expertise but not all terroirs are created equal: producing wine on islands, for instance, requires exceptional determination considering steep terrains, small plots, limited infrastructure and relative remoteness.
One of the most stirring testaments of heroic viticulture can be found on the Aeolian Islands, a cluster of seven volcanic islands located off the northeastern coast of Sicily. Wine has been produced in the ancient archipelago since at least the 1st century AD and the sweet, aromatic Malvasia dessert wine was its leading export throughout the 1800s – much beloved by British soldiers stationed in nearby Messina who enjoyed the golden nectar. The arrival of phylloxera at the end of the 19th century devastated the vines and destroyed the local economy, prompting islanders to emigrate to greener pastures.
It wasn’t until the 1960s when Carlo Hauner, an artist-turned winemaker from Brescia, arrived on the island of Salina that an enological revival on the Aeolian Islands occurred – one that continues to grow and evolve in one of the most geologically rich and culturally fascinating corners of the globe.
Today, wine is produced widely in the archipelago and courageous winemakers are cultivating heroic vineyards on each of the islands, promising wine lovers and curious travelers an exhilarating lens through which to explore the ancient terroir.
The Heroic Vineyards of Salina
Credited with spearheading modern winemaking on the Aeolian Islands, Carlo Hauner is an inadvertent hero in the story of the archipelago’s viticultural evolution. Back when the islands suffered from poor infrastructure, dwindling populations and few economic opportunities, the northern Italian painter bet on the south and purchased a home on Salina to serve as his painting studio.
He quickly became interested in experimenting with viticulture and began to cultivate Malvasia grapes in the hamlet of Lingua where the Hauner Winery is located today. Hauner’s Malvasia delle Lipari was first introduced at Vinitaly, Italy’s leading wine fair, in the 1970s and attracted interest from the acclaimed journalist and wine critic Luigi Veronelli who sealed the fate of the wine’s revival with an enthusiastic review, paving the path for future entrepreneurs to establish new wineries on the island.
Today, Hauner produces 10 labels, including an excellent Iancura, a dry Malvasia and Inzolia blend, Hierà, a velvety red with local Calabrese, Alicante and Nocera grapes, and three aged Malvasia delle Lipari passito wines. With over 120,000 bottles a year, the production is sizable for a small island. The grapes themselves are grown in two vineyards on Salina (in the town of Malfa and the Valdichiesa district) as well as the nearby island of Vulcano. Each evening, Hauner hosts a wine tour and tasting by appointment.
Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia
Set upon a promontory with views of Salina’s lush hills and glimmering sea, Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia is a wine boutique hotel that enophiles won’t want to miss during their stay on the Aeolian Islands. Owned by Tasca d’Almerita, a Sicilian noble winemaking family in its 8th generation, the sweeping estate takes its name from the 19th century lighthouse that rises above white-washed buildings and rows of vines that cascade into the sea. Capofaro is part of the Relais & Chateaux collection, promising a luxurious stay with bright suites that combine Aeolian architecture with sustainable design elements and private terraces.
Selected by Wine Enthusiast as the “European Winery of the Year” in 2019 for its commitment to sustainable viticulture, Capofaro is a conscientious ambassador of the Malvasia grape and produces two dry Malvasia wines (Didyme and Vigna di Paola) and a Malvasia delle Lipari passito with grapes grown on the estate and the nearby island of Vulcano. These wines, along with other labels from Tasca d’Almerita’s five estates around Sicily, can be sampled at Capofaro’s Wine Bar, featuring a new outdoor terrace set above the property’s panoramic “amphitheater” vineyard, and Capofaro’s gourmet pool-side restaurant helmed by chef Gabriele Camiolo.
In addition to guided walks through the estate’s vineyards, Capofaro offers thematic wine tastings focused on interpretations of the Grillo grape, rosé wines and single vineyard labels.
See More: Where To Stay On The Aeolian Islands
One of the most respected winemakers on the Aeolian Islands, Nino (Antonino) Caravaglio oversees the eponymous Caravaglio winery first established in 1989. Born and raised on Salina, he was among the first to produce a dry Malvasia wine and expand the potential of island producers to bottle a product that could be paired with a meal, not just dessert. In addition to producing 7 labels in his family’s winery, Caravaglio has developed a network of dynamic collaborations across the archipelago that speak to his creativity and entrepreneurial vision.
Caravaglio is pushing the boundaries of island viticulture by experimenting with natural wines through his “Nzemi” project, which sees Malvasia grapes aged in oval-shaped Pyramitt® barrels for over 20 months. Nzemi is produced in partnership with Paolo Ferretti of the Bolzano-based HMC communication agency.
Under the frequent eruptions of Europe’s most active volcano, Caravaglio also planted a number of Malvasia vines on Stromboli as part of his Vigne di Mare label, a partnership he developed with Andrea Montanari, the director of Rai Radio 3. Stromboli’s terrain is challenging and the two entrepreneurs had to overcome many challenges to obtain the land, prepare the plot and cultivate the grapes in spite of strong winds. Vigne di Mare’s dry Malvasia wine will be released in spring 2022.
Caravaglio has also joined forces with Giuseppe Mascoli, the founder of the Franco Manca pizzeria chain, to produce L’Ancestrale wines aged in amphora for one year. Produced with grapes from 60-year-old vines, L’Ancestrale features a dry Malvasia and a red Corinto Nero and Nerello Mascalese blend.
The island of Salina boasts a number of producers and Virgona, Fenech and Colosi are also worth highlighting. An excellent time to meet the winemakers is during Salina’s annual Malvasia Day which takes place on the island each July.
The Heroic Vineyards of Lipari
Tenuta di Castellaro
The largest island in the archipelago, Lipari is home to ancient archeological sites, long stretches of blue flag beaches and the Tenuta di Castellaro, one of the archipelago’s most innovative wineries. Founded in 2005 by Massimo Lentsch and Stefania Frattolillo, two entrepreneurs from Bergamo, the winery embraces a philosophy of “contemporary craftsmanship” which is evident from the cultivation of the vines to the sustainable design of the winery.
An ambitious project, the “bioenergy” winery was created to make the most of the island’s natural resources: in addition to solar chimneys which absorb and disperse natural light throughout the complex, Castellaro uses wind towers to cool the evocative barrel room. Built to resemble a Norman church, it features vaulted ceilings supported by dug out pillars that provide insight into the geological evolutions of Lipari – with colors and textures that represent volcanic eruptions that took place over millennia.
Castellaro’s portfolio of wines can be enjoyed during a sunset aperitivo which includes a guided visit of the winery, followed by a scenic tasting on a ledge overlooking the nearby islands of Salina, Filicudi and Alicudi in the distance. Bianco Pomice, the estate’s flagship wine made with Malvasia delle Lipari and Carricante, and Nero Ossidiano, a Corintho Nero and Nero d’Avola blend, are named for Lipari’s prized pumice and obsidian rocks. The Marsili, a Pét-Nat made from Pinot Noir grapes, is one of the few sparkling rosés produced on the islands.
Azienda Agricola San Bartolo
Danilo Conti’s small production of Malvasia and Corintho Nero’s wines are not only surprising for their artisanal spirit but perhaps for the fact that you’ll sooner find them on wine lists in Japan than in Italy. The Azienda Agricola San Bartolo vineyard is set within an ancient volcanic crater that is believed to grow pre-phylloxera vines. Fermented in concrete Nomblot wine tanks, prized for their strength and porosity, the natural wines are popular across the globe with a clientele eager to discover labels that represent the uniqueness of the island’s territory. You can taste Conti’s wines paired with local dishes at the Osteria San Bartolo down by the port.
The Heroic Vineyards of Vulcano
Located on the fertile slopes of Gelso on the island of Vulcano, Punta Aria is a small winery established in 2000 by the Milanese entrepreneur Francangelo Pollastri and now overseen by his son. Set amongst 4 hectares of vines that nearly touch the sea, Punta Aria houses a small winery in a white cottage, alongside an agritourism where travelers can rent sea-view suites and walk to the nearby Canitello beach. Punta Aria produces a dry Malvasia Secco, a sweet Malvasia Passito and a grappa with the same grape. Visits include a tasting of the property’s capers, olive oil and marmalades.
See More: What To See & Do On The Aeolian Islands