It is no coincidence that almost all the wine bottles of the Benanti family are adorned with the image of Etna. After all, their vineyards are located at the foot of this famous volcano, and some of them are even on the volcano itself. Day after day, the Benanti are willing to take risks to bring their unique volcanic wines to the world.

Four generations of winemakers, each of whom brings new ideas and new achievements to the family business. They call themselves the pioneers of Etna, which is, without a doubt, a well-deserved and very accurate definition. During his visit to Riga, Antonio Benanti, a representative of the fourth generation of the Benanti family, kindly agreed to meet and talk about his family, about the magic of wines that are born almost on the volcano itself, about the risks and costs of success.

– In one of your interviews, you talked about how your great-great-grandfather started making wine in the 19th century. Why do you think that at the origins of Etna winemaking was not he, but your father?

– My father founded a winery with the idea of ​​creating special wines! He invested in wine cellars and brought in a team of professionals to help him get things done. You see, making wine and making wine of the highest quality are two big differences. My great-great-grandfather, like many other winemakers in Sicily at that time, grew grapes and made ordinary wine, which he then simply sold for bottling. And his son, my grandfather, generally liked the pharmaceutical business – he practically did not work in a winery. It was my father who revived the family winery in 1988 and set himself the task of producing unique wines of the highest quality.

– What made your father make wine a priority? After all, he was associated with pharmaceuticals for a long time and did not even have the necessary knowledge in this area?

– Being engaged in the pharmaceutical business, my father traveled a lot. He had the opportunity to visit wineries frequently and taste various wines, many of which he bought and collected. The wine simply bewitched him. And the creation of my own winery for my father became a kind of challenge, a great desire to glorify my homeland, showing the whole world the powerful potential of local grape varieties. My father was born and raised in Sicily, near Etna – his soul and heart are forever connected with these places. Even in 1980, when the pharmaceutical industry was experiencing an unprecedented rise and we had the opportunity to move to Rome and build a factory there, he decided to stay here. My father grew up in a winery – wine was in his childhood memories, wine was in his blood. And besides, the wine business is very social, it makes it possible to travel and meet a lot of interesting people on its way.

Виноградники семейства Benanti на Сицилии. Вы можете купить вино Benanti в винном магазине Noble Wine в Риге

– Once in one of the wine clubs, looking through the wine list of the institution, your father did not find there a single wine from Etna. Rumor has it that this particular case was the reason for his decision to revive the family wine business.

– Yes it’s true. This event, figuratively speaking, became the coal from which the flame subsequently flared up! It was at the Picciolo Golf Club in Rovittello. My father had dinner there with an old friend of his. He asked the waiter to bring some of the local wines to the table. The staff of the club could not fulfill this request, being afraid to spoil the exquisite dishes with inexpressive wine, and nothing more worthwhile was found on Etna at that time. My father exclaimed emotionally: “Oh, I would like to find a good oenologist, and I myself would start making wine here!” To which his friend replied that this is not a problem, since he personally knows one good specialist. Our life is a series of happy accidents, which, perhaps, are not accidents at all. But this dinner at the golf club did turn out to be life-changing, and in 1988, at the age of forty-three, my father started his own wine business.

– And then your father invited a team of professionals, counting on their knowledge and experience. Were they local experts or did he seek advice from experts from other countries?

– Local winemakers at that time were not particularly worried about the quality of wine. Even the noble Katani clan produced wine without any ambitious plans. And since my father wanted to achieve completely different results, he specially invited two professors-oenologists – one from Piedmont and the other from Burgundy. He also consulted with some winemakers from the Langhe and a young oenologist from Etna who was then working in wineries in Sicily. This was my father’s team. Today we do not depend on the “flying” oenologists. We are, of course, open to everything new, but we have our own special style, which has remained practically unchanged for 28 years.

– Is it really typical for Italy when the whole family works together? For example, your grandfather, your father and you have been in pharmaceuticals for a long time, and now that your father has completely switched to wine, you are here with him in this business.

– My brother and I have lived abroad for a long time. School, college, university, banks, etc. If your family has any business, then you have only two options: either you are actively involved in the management of the family business, or you simply sell it. My brother and I wanted to take care of the prosperity of the family and returned to the pharmaceutical business with the aim of making it profitable and subsequently selling it. In the end, my brother and I sold our shares to investors and since 2012 have completely switched to wine. Family business – yes, it’s very Italian!

– You mentioned that, as a child, you spent a lot of time abroad. And what are your childhood memories associated with Etna? Did you help your father in the vineyards, in the cellars?

– My first memories of the winery date back to the time when I was about nine years old. I remember our big Palmento (the room where grapes are pressed and fermented). Then, in 1983, I took part in the grape harvest for the first time. When I turned 15, my brother and I went to study in Switzerland, and then spent ten years in London. Later I decided to go to Mexico. The only thing that connected us with wine at that time was visiting Vinitaly exhibitions. Well, and, of course, my brother and I always spent our holidays on Etna, tasting wines and helping with current work. But for us it was still a bit of fun. Later, everything changed. As I said, my brother and I got seriously involved in the wine business in 2012. At some point, we realized how important it is for us – to create unique wines that will bear the name of your family. The prosperity of small wineries is impossible without the full dedication, passion and support of like-minded people. During these four years we have managed to significantly increase the circle of our clients. Of our 38 partners, 30 appeared only after 2012.

– You are a representative of the fourth generation of Benanti winemakers. What do you think, will there be a fifth, sixth? Will Benanti become a historic winery?

– As far as I know, I have no children. No one has called me and congratulated me on Father’s Day yet, although my phone is always on. (Laughs) But my brother has a son who is only seven months old. He was born on October 20, one of the last days of the grape harvest. This is very symbolic, don’t you think? In fact, from the moment we learned that my brother’s wife was expecting a baby, we all began to think about the future of our winery, about what it would be like when the baby grew up and took over the management of the business. My father was a kind of monopolist, he was one of the first to create wines of the highest level on Etna. My brother and I are already having a little harder time – our competitors are not asleep. There are already about 130 wineries around us. But we will definitely preserve the value of our enterprise and will proudly hand it over to the heir when the time comes. We will definitely give him the contacts of the well-known Latvian company Noble Wine. (Laughs.) We will do our best to instill in the boy a love of winemaking, but, one way or another, it must be his voluntary choice.

Винный погреб в винном хозяйстве Benanti на Сицилии. Вы можете купить вино Benanti в винном магазине Noble Wine в Риге

French oak barrels in Benanti wine cellars

– What do you think is the reason for the rapidly growing popularity of Sicilian wines?

– Two hundred years ago, Sicily was the richest Italian region. We have always had a huge geographic potential. Our nature, land, wine, food, culture, archeology, active volcanoes are all unique and incredibly interesting. Sicily is like a small continent. A magic triangle that you remember forever. Try asking someone to draw Sicily, most will draw a triangle. (Laughs) This is a place with a very strong energy. When you travel from Calabria to Sicily, you can feel it very strongly. It’s right in the air. When you drive in the opposite direction, this feeling disappears. I’m serious! Try it! It’s very funny!

Sicilian wines are unique. They have power and great potential. They are a reflection of our country, and their popularity is natural and deserved.

– Please tell us about the Sicilian grape varieties. Which ones do you use for your wines?

– The idea of ​​our project is to offer the consumer the highest quality local wines. At one time we experimented very actively: at some point we produced wines using 15 different grape varieties, but gradually we came to the conclusion that it was necessary to change our concept. We go to make local wines from local varieties. Having made this decision, we even sold several vineyards. Now we are working with only three varieties: Carricante, which you can find only on Etna, Nerello Mascalese, which is considered the number one grape variety here, and a very large local rarity Nerello Cappuccio. For reference: Nerello Cappuccio accounts for only 2-3% of Etna’s vineyards. The decision we made allowed us to preserve the identity of our wines. We want to show the world what kind of wealth we own. It’s not a secret for anyone that each particular grape variety manifests itself best in a particular place: remember, at least Lange or Burgundy. And it is very important to understand this and use it correctly.

Префилаксерные виноградники на склонах вулкана Этна - вина бенанты Вы можете купить в винном магазине Noble Wine в Риге

Old prephylloxera vines on the slopes of Mount Etna

– Very often Etna is compared to Burgundy. Why do you think? Is it the soil or the potential of the wines? Do you agree with this statement?

– As I already said, when my father began to seriously engage in winemaking, he consulted with experts from Lange and Burgundy. And this choice was not made by chance. He clearly knew what information he needed to implement his plans. Like Burgundy, we cannot boast of the vast areas of our vineyards, and just like our French colleagues, we rely on local grape varieties. In my opinion, Etna Rosso wine is very similar in color to Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. If I were a sommelier and my task was to sell wine from Etna, which is not as popular as Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, I would definitely point out the similarities between our wines. I would convince my client that if he likes, say, Pinot Noir, then he will undoubtedly also like the taste of Etna. I am delighted that our wines are being compared to those of Burgundy or Piedmont, which are the standard of sophisticated wine style. And Carricante is often compared to Riesling or Chardonnay. So we are very flattered by such comparisons!

– You are in Riga for the first time. What are your impressions?

– I have already heard something about Latvia and Riga, because three or four times a year we usually host guests from your country. I was told about Riga as a very elegant city. Therefore, my expectations were quite high. And I was not disappointed. Thanks to our partners, the Noble Wine company, I had the opportunity to visit the best restaurants in Riga and get to know the most interesting local sights. I met a lot of competent specialists here. You are not a wine country, but you know a lot about wine. For example, in America, Singapore or in many Russian restaurants, some sommeliers do not even know that wine is made on Etna.

Винодел Антонио Бенанти гостит в винном магазине Noble Wine в Риге

Antonio Benanti visits Noble Wine shop in Riga

– Aren’t you afraid to do winemaking at the foot of an active volcano?

– No, we are not. On the contrary, the constant feeling of danger spurs us on, makes us move forward faster. We must have time to do everything quickly and efficiently, because at any moment a large eruption can occur. Little ones happen quite often – we are already used to them. Large eruptions destroyed Catania about seven times, the last time it happened in 1963. By the way, here in Catania, there is the second largest amphitheater after the Colosseum, but few people know about this, since it is almost completely buried under lava.

We are aware of constant danger, but we do not live in fear.