I Custodi delle Vigne dell’Etna
Owners: Mario & Manuela Paoluzi
Winemaker: Salvo Foti
Vineyards: 18ha, mostly estate-owned
Vineyard management: Certified organic, in accordance with the I Vigneri manifesto
Soils: Volcanic and sandy
Grapes grown: Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante (Grenache), Carricante
Annual production: 70,000 bottles
- Mario and Manuela Paoluzi work with oenologist Salvo Foti of I Vigneri to make wine from some of Etna’s most beautiful old vineyards and preserve them for future generations.
- Mt. Etna is Europe’s biggest and most active volcano, and it has a winemaking history going back more than 3,000 years.
- “When people come to visit I Custodi, you would get the impression that we are running an open-air museum of Etnean viticulture and not so much a winery. That we have been able to make also some quite drinkable wines in the process (mostly thanks to the hard work that Salvo Foti’s Vigneri are doing every year in the vineyards) is of course a source of gratification. But mostly we are happy every day to be able to have the most wonderful job in the world: to preserve the vineyards of Mt. Etna and to make the wines that this spectacular terroir deserves.” – Mario & Manuela Paoluzi
With a name that translates to “the guardians,” native Sicilians Mario and Manuela Paoluzi at I Custodi consider themselves guardians of Etna’s vineyards. Their four plots each sit at different elevations around Mt. Etna, providing a diversity of expressions of their native grapes. During their first visit to the Moganazzi vineyard, Mario and Manuela were inspired by a natural amphitheater framed by walls of black lava blocks, with a traditional wine pressing house in the center. They used the healthy, half-century old vines found there to make their first red wine, called Aetneus. They also found an extraordinarily high concentration of ungrafted vines in their Vigna Saeculare vineyard, with some of them more than two centuries old.
Although winemaking on Etna goes back more than 3,000 years, the combination of phylloxera, inequitable taxation, and widespread emigration in the early 20th century nearly wiped out this history. Mario and Manuela are working with oenologist Salvo Foti to revalorize these unique terroirs. They continue to prioritize an investment in the conservation of Mt. Etna’s viticultural landscapes: preserving the land, maintaining the traditions, and respecting the people. From these values spring the wines of I Custodi, the result of the generosity and minerality of the warm volcanic soil, the moderating influence of the muntagna, and the sun of Sicily. Winemaking is as hands-off as possible to most purely express this terroir: fermentation takes place with indigenous yeasts, and most elevage is in stainless steel tanks (with the exception of the longer-aged reds).