Sicilian winemaker Giuseppe Benanti dies

Etna winemaker Giuseppe Benanti stands between his twin sons

A pioneer in Etna's winemaking renaissance has passed.

On 1 February at the age of 78 Giuseppe Benanti, pharmaceutical entrepreneur based in Catania, and who in 1988 founded Tenuta di Castiglione in Castiglione di Sicilia on Etna’s now so hyped north side, passed away. Benanti was the first to champion indigenous Etnean varieties.

From the beginning Benanti surrounded himself with national and international experts and scientists in his quest for quality, among them Rocco Di Stefano, professor at the Experimental Institute for Oenology of Asti, and Professor Jean Siegrist of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (now INRAE) in Beaune, Burgundy.

But it was local agronomist and oenologist Salvo Foti who played a key role in Benanti’s success. Foti has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Etna’s terroir, traditions and history, and on behalf of Benanti started an in-depth investigation of terroir and clonal selection. The results triggered the Etna renaissance long before the arrival of the likes of Andrea Franchetti of Passopisciaro and Marc de Grazia at Tenuta delle Terre Nere, who initially were more interested in making wine on Etna than making Etna wines when they planted international varieties at the beginning of 2000.

Benanti was also one of the first to see the potential of Etna’s south-west side when in 1998 he started to work with growers here. In addition, and also from 1998 onwards, Benanti began producing several wines from outside Etna, notably Nero d’Avola from Noto. Even Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon entered the fray when these varieties became omnipresent throughout the world.

In 2012 Benanti was joined by his twin sons Antonio and Salvino (pictured with their father above). Benanti had already been famous for its Etna Bianco Pietra Marina based on Carricante, but the first thing the twins did around 2015 was to turn the estate’s attention on Etna’s east side by acquiring a 7.5-ha (18.5-acre) vineyard in Milo, a historic Carricante cru, and at great cost rebuilt the terraces. The vineyard was then replanted at a high density of 8,000 vines/ha, all trained on stakes, completely excluding mechanical work.

With their father taking a step back around 2015, his sons tidied up the portfolio by letting go of the international varieties as well as Nero d’Avola, while focusing again, just like their father had in the 1980s, on Etna only. They not only inherit a historic name founded by a pioneer, they also are riding the tide of the tremendously popular Etna wines, something their father contributed enormously to.