On a warm spring morning in early May, we returned once more to the northern slope of the volcano Etna, this time to discover Azienda Agricola Spuches, a small boutique winery owned and run by brothers Valerio and Renzo Treffiletti.
They meet us with a smile at the front of their property. They are some of the newest producers in the area, but the story of the vines on this little plot of land began decades ago with their grandfather, Vincenzo Treffiletti.
In 1958, Vincenzo and his wife Nunziata Spuches moved back to Sicily after many years in South America, pulled by a passion for their homeland and a dream to grow grapes. They settled on the northern side of Etna, then totally wild and unforgiving, and began working the land.
Vincenzo tended the vineyards right up until his 93rd year, after which the plot was eventually passed down to his grandsons Valerio and Renzo, something for which they feel incredibly grateful. Although the Spuches-Treffiletti family cultivated the land for generations, they only began producing wines under their own name in 2015. For Valerio, there was no better way to give thanks for this gift than to name the winery after Nunziata Spuches.
The brothers describe their setting as we look out over the land, where within a few kilometers it is possible to immerse yourself in a myriad of landscapes and geographical contexts, from volcano to the sea, to Giardini Naxos and Taormina, then passing through the evocative Alcantara Gorges. The idea of recontextualising their wines and area underpins the Spuches philosophy.
“The growing popularity of wines from Etna has been somewhat of a miracle!” says Valerio, “It really is a gift to be able to make and sell these wines, and we want to do so in a way that not only would make our grandfather proud, but will also bring pride to our area.”
We need our sturdy shoes as we take a walk in the vineyards, loose soils littered with oversized volcanic stones that seem to have been placed there by some otherworldly force.
“The macroporosity given by the large rocks is perfect for drainage,” explains Valerio, “And it gives plenty of space for the roots to grow deep in search of nutrients.”
Of the 8 hectares property, just less than 3 hectares are vineyards and the intense attention to detail is evident. The rows look up to the striking slopes of Etna. Although the vines are precisely planted, the land is not overworked, with the rows following the natural curvature of the plot. This symbiotic relationship with the land is influenced by their grandfather Vincenzo’s ethos of working alongside nature, intervening only when necessary.
Vincenzo’s influence doesn’t stop with the vines, we discover, as we head inside for a bit of respite from the scorching midday sun. The brothers’ Etna Rosso, a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, is named Badalarc, a word in Sicilian dialect meaning ‘Bada l’arco!’ or ‘Look out for the arch!’.
“Every day, when my grandfather and Nunziata returned from working the fields on their horses, he would warn her to look out for the arch at the entry of the house,” says Renzo, “I’m sure she never forgot it was there, but it shows a little of his personality, and constant care for the woman he loved.”
By naming the wine in honour of this little piece of history, the brothers also represent their strong connection to their heritage, and the care and personality they bestow to every bottle they produce.
“We only make 4,000 bottles a year,” explains Renzo, “So we have to make sure that every single one is perfect!”
And perfect it is! Badalarc is a scintillating ruby red glass that is immediately perfumed on the nose, with hints of carnation, red currants and tart apricot. On the palate it is luxurious and warm, with notes of black pepper and baking spices from its 6 months spent in oak. The balance of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio is tweaked every year depending on the harvest, with Mascalese offering power, tannin, and a propensity for long aging, while Cappuccio imparts subtler, almost cryptic, notes.
Wide ranging descriptors tumble out of our mouths as we taste- almond, eucalyptus, green apple, preserved cherry, leather, and barnyard. That something so complex can be achieved from wholly traditional winemaking methods is a testament to the Treffiletti brothers’ skilled viticulture.
“Our next step is to build a new cellar,” explains Valerio, “And a place for people to visit and perhaps stay, after that… we’ll see!”
With the progressive refinement of each vintage, the wines are finding more and more international fans, from Denmark to Slovenia to the US . When the wine is this good, and the location this enchanting, and the company is this amicable, this little winery on the slopes of Etna is surely destined for great things.