I spent my first few days in Italy down on Mt. Etna, observing the harvest at Passopisciaro. Andrea Franchetti, its owner, showed me how the color of the leaves and slope of the hills could allow him to predict what would be ready first – the vines with yellowed leaves were already bare, the sugars directed to the grapes on the areas where the soil wasn’t as rich (the deeper the green, the later the ripening goes his approach); and where there were depressions in the vineyard, however slight, those grapes too were still left to ripen, while the edges of the rows on higher ground were already plucked. We tasted from plant after plant, and for the first time I could really understand how much a single vine could vary from its neighbor. Some were just on the cusp of ripeness, with sweet juices bursting in my mouth and the seeds easily falling apart, where as others still maintained a tart, green edge.
A few months ago, I took an amazing two-week trip through Sicily with my mother. We traveled from Rome to Agrigento, through Enna and Piazza Armerina, up to Mt. Etna, down to Ragusa, Modica and Donnalucata, and over to Noto and Siracusa. Driving through the island, we were amazed by the sheer diversity of this Maine-sized plot of land in the middle of the Middle Sea – from red sandstone temples high on the hillside of Agrigento to the southwest, to the white limestone walls lining the countryside of dusty Ragusa’s farmlands, to the Baroque gems of Noto and Siracusa in the southeast, and finally to the black lavic stone of the Catania region, with Mt. Etna looming above us.