Winemaking on the Slopes of Sicily’s Volcano

January 27, 2015 2:28 PM

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VISITING FRANK Cornelissen ’s winery means driving along a dangerously winding road that starts on the shores of the Mediterranean and ends high on the slopes of Mount Etna. Cornelissen, a wiry Belgian-born winemaker, has spent more than a decade in the volcano’s northern valley, often sleeping in his cellar, always toiling in his vineyards and forever explaining his methodology with the voluble erudition of a philosophy professor. But now, as we uncork one of his earliest vintages, Cornelissen is silent. He pours the almost-black liquid from the bottle, with hand-painted calligraphic lettering on its side, sniffing it to make sure it’s OK. He passes me a glass, uttering just two words: “Liquid stone.” That’s not a description I’d ever thought a wine should aspire to. After one sip, I understand what he means. This liquid stone is not just complex and delicious; it’s pushing the boundaries of winemaking.

Cornelissen, beloved by oenophiles from Tokyo to Paris, is one of the most successful entirely self-taught winemakers in the world. “I started with half a hectare of vines that I tended myself,” he says. “I’d never grown grapes or made wine before. For three years I was a gardener. Then I learned to...

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