New Obsession: GUSTINELLA

“When I arrived here, many told me, 'in Maletto there is nothing.' But I found a treasure, made of uncontaminated and powerful nature, of an ancient and precious agricultural culture.” - Sonia Gambino

 2020 was hard. A time when shutdown forced people to reflect on every aspect of their life; and, make unforeseen choices. For Sonia Gambino – a Milanese doing vineyard work in Sicily’s Marsala (with Nino Barraco!) – this meant becoming literally stuck on an island. Her one escape: traveling 200 miles to the east side of the island, to her parents’ Etna-adjacent hometown of Maletto. They had left decades ago for Milan, but a family homestead (and her grandfather, Peppe Gustinello) remained behind. This is where Sonia would settle and navigate her COVID life.

Sonia in her garden; 📷 via Corkhoarder

With plenty of solo time to kill, she started a pandemic garden. Soon enough a friendship formed with Don Vincenzo, an elderly resident of the village who stopped by on his daily walks to admire her vegetables’ progress. He had a garden of his own, he said, which he could no longer drive to. An offer to take him there for a visit revealed an expansive “secret garden”, teeming with fruit, flowers and, you guessed it – vines.

Don Vincenzo; 📷 via @gustinellawine

With a degree in viticulture and oenology, and work experience which includes Marco Tinessa (Ognostro), naturally the first impulse was to make wine from these grapes. Don Vincenzo agreed, with one kind of amusing condition: that she make enough for him to receive 365 liters for his daily ritual bottle of wine.

The arrangement went viral among Don Vincenzo’s peers in the village, who asked Sonia to revive their abandoned vines, too. A few years in, she’s now producing wine from a dozen different high altitude parcels; some farmed herself, some rented, and others paid Don Vincenzo style 😉

Despite being in the shadow of Mount Etna (and in fact the volcano’s highest elevation village at 960m) Maletto is not part of Etna DOC. It’s inaccessible by state road, a place you have to know about to find.

Etna’s usual suspects, like Nerello Mascalese, don’t thrive here – it’s a climate that has driven the area to be more well known for strawberries. Instead, a couple centuries of trial and error led to the planting of more international varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet; and the more local Grecanico Dorato (aka Garganega).

Sonia is making wine with natural methods most suited to this place: hand harvesting, spontaneous fermentations, and a mix of stainless steel, cement and demi-johns. Regardless of grape variety - they retain a distinctly Etna feel, volcanic energy and pristine fruit. And, a sense of place that captures her unforgettable journey.

 Details on the wines below


2022 Gustinella Jungimmune Bianco, Etna, Italy $56 →
A selection of native white berried grapes grown in the high altitude vineyards of Maletto (between 1000 and 1200 meters above sea level), where old vines of Grecanico Dorato are found, a specific biotype of Grecanico native to this area of Etna. The Grecanico Dorato is vinified together with other local varieties (Minnella, Albanella, Moscatella, Trebbiano and other minor vines not yet identified). Fermentation is spontaneous and takes place in stainless steel vats. The aging is about ten months in steel and demi-johns.

2022 Gustinella Jungimmune Rosato, Italy $42 →
A wine from a single vineyard in the contrada Nave located at almost 1300 meters above sea level, surrounded by woods. (Close to where Salvo Foti's Vinudilice is from.). About 10 different native varieties pressed directly and fermented spontaneously in stainless steel vats. (Grenache, Minnella Nera, Grecanico, Minnella Bianca).

2022 Gustinella Vino di Confine, Italy $48 →
"Vino di Confine" translates to "a wine from the border." The symbolic wine of Maletto, obtained from grapes grown in a small vineyard at 1100 meters above sea level, from centenary albarello vines. About ten different white grapes (mainly Grecanico Dorato) and red (mainly Grenache) grape varieties are vinified together, as local tradition dictates. After manual destemming carried out with the help of a perforated wooden frame, the grapes are delicately pressed and macerated for a couple days. Once natural fermentation is completed, aging follows in cement barrels and demi-johns for about ten months.

2022 Gustinella Jungimmune Rosso, Italy $62 →
The main grape variety in this wine is Grenache, present on this side of Etna since the mid-1800s. It was brought from France at the time of the Duchy of Nelson, of which the town of Maletto was part. Together with it, grapes are also harvested from some centenary vines of Nerello Mascalese, Tinto Nero and other minor vines that are not yet fully identified. The old vineyards of Maletto are often co-planted with old varieties. The grapes are harvested by hand and delicately crushed in steel vats where they remain to macerate on the skins for about 25 days. After racking and a light press, the wine ages for about twelve months in steel, cement and demi-johns.