Our farming philosophy is based on our acceptance of the fact that man will never be able to understand nature’s full complexity and interactions . . . Consequently, this has taken us to avoiding all possible interventions on the land we cultivate, including any treatments, whether chemical, organic, or biodynamic, as these are all a mere reflection of the inability of man to accept nature as she is and will be.
– Frank Cornelissen
Frank Cornelissen is the ultimate naturalist winemaker. He uses no interventions or treatments of any kind. None at all. Nothing is added in the vineyard – not even manure or compost – and nothing is added in the winemaking – not even sulphites. His approach makes biodynamic agriculture with its composting and spray treatments seem downright interventionist.
Each year, Frank simply takes what nature has offered up and presents it to us in as unadulterated a state as possible. His wines are the true expression of the complexity of the variables at play in each vintage. These are wines the way nature intended them to be.
His vineyard is located in the north valley of the famous and still active Mt. Etna volcano in Sicily. The vineyard is an 8.5-hectare patch of high altitude (650-980 metres) volcanic soil. The vines are free-standing bush vines with no wires or supports and they are planted side by side with olive trees, fruit trees, and buckwheat – because Frank does not believe in monoculture.
His wines are made from ancient grape varieties including Nerello Mascalese (red) and Greanico Dorato (white). Some of the vines are pre-phylloxera and date back to 1910. All of the new plantings were planted un-grafted with clippings from the older vines. The yield on the wines is incredibly small – for the top bottling Magma – the yield is less than that of the famed Domain Romanee-Conti in Burgundy – a mere 300g per vine. The wines are aged in terracotta amphorae (giarre) and allowed to mascerate, ferment, and age naturally in the amphorae until they are ready – usually over a year.
Frank is Belgian by background and came to Mount Etna in 2001. There are many words to describe Frank and he has been labelled many things: passionate, dedicated, naturalist, philosopher, extremist, idiosyncratic, and even crazy. Some people find Frank’s approach comforting. Others find it threatening. Why? Because Frank is pushing the boundaries of conventional winemaking in a way that makes us all step back and reconsider the assumptions that we have about our relationship with nature.