The Great Dane and his Improbable Vineyard
When you think of the Sicilian vineyards, you can imagine these vines planted up to about 900 meters above sea level on the road that leads to Etna or in the landscapes of Montreale or even in those of the center of the island. Never would we imagine planting somewhere between the city of Catania and the beautiful Syracuse, and not far from a highway moreover. However, a Dane named Peter Vinding-Diers took up the challenge. Portrait of an iconoclast.
With his commanding size, Peter Vinding-Diers looks like a quiet force, always ready to face the winds and tides in order to do what he always wanted to do: wine. The one who left his native Denmark long ago branched out to the wine world. First to Stellenbosch in South Africa where he vinified 5 vintages at Rustenberg. Then to the traditional terroir of Bordeaux. It is where that he succeeded in bringing Château Rahoul into the Union des grands crus and transforms the style of white Bordeaux into fresh and fruity wines, particularly at Domaine La Grave. Expert of indigenous yeast strains and elected member of the Bordeaux Academy, he worked endlessly in the vineyards of Bordeaux until he fell in love with Sicily.
In 2005, while some of his age would rather think of retirement, he settled on a vineyard in the south-east of the island that he named Montecarrubo. Located near a major road, this vineyard is on the edge of an volcano extinct for the past two million years ago. The volcanic character is also illustrated in the soil by the presence of limestone, black volcanic dust and clay. At first he oticed that in the vineyard, there was much to do because much of the place was littered with big rocks, not very welcoming for the cultivation of the vine. But nothing to stop the great Dane, passionate about wine.
Basta nero d’avola!
In the Sicilian countryside, apart from the region of Etna, where nerello mascalese is cultivated among others indigenous grapes, nero d’Avola reigns, even if it’s a bit rustic and very distinctive. Since the beginning of his Sicilian business, Vinding-Diers has struggled with nero d’avola. But then he just got rid of it. He explains in impeccable French that « it is a primitive grape with which one makes totally boring wine. If it were planted in France, it would not even exist anymore today. » Anyway, he adds, the syrah is present since longer than the nero d’avola, I do not think that the search of the Holy Grail will lead Sicily towards the latter. » He then decided to plant Syrah from the Rhone Valley in this rough landscape.
When he takes possession of the few hectares of his vineyard, he can only note that a good part is planted with merlot and cabernet franc. « Unfortunately, he (the former owner) planted some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. I said unfortunately because after working for 25 years in Bordeaux, I was not missing those grape varieties! » Thus, he bottles some blends of Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot for its entry-level wines. But, for its best, he obviously keeps his Rhodanian syrah that he vinifies with care to keep the wild and mineral notes that you can find in this landscape where the lemon trees and the wild olive trees swarm in the neighborhood. His wines are scented with herbs, are quite racy and have matured in barrels to give them a rather charming spherical character.
New challenge, no regrets
Not so long ago, he was cultivating some vines on the property of one of his old friends. But since the recent death of the latter, he was litterally fired by the heiress. He then had to « fall back on his feet » and start building a new winery. While some workers cement the wall of the new premises, today he welcomes the visitors next door in the cellar where he stores his barrels filled with the 2018 vintage.
Next to the remains of construction dating back to 1879, in the presence of his wife Suzanne, Peter Vinding-Diers makes his visitors tasting directly from the barrel. Using a plastic syringe, he pours samples into the glass of those « Guinea pigs ». In doing so, the least we can say is that, because of his outspokenness, he sometimes doesn’t hesitate to blast the Sicilian wine industry of which he is a part. « We can do everything here. There is no big union like in France. But there is politics and bureaucracy, it’s like hell. We must avoid the tiny minds in Sicily and this bureaucracy.. My rule ? Self-sufficiency ! »
Now at 76, does he regret having left Bordeaux ? His answer is laconic with a smirk: « Here, I’m not among the bourgeois… »
« Making wine, I just love it. It’s not my job, it’s my mistress. »
Among the Vinding-Diers making wine is a family affair since his younger son, Hans, 48, accompanies him in his Sicilian adventure. He works on all kinds of projects, including « lavender-laden lava water. » And his elder, Anders successfully grows Malbec in Patagonia, in the depths of Argentina. « He makes very good wines, » he says with some pride. And tomorrow? The Great Dane is not ready to give up his secateur because he wants to vinify a local varietal that has existed for 6,000 years in Sicily. But no details, the project has not been unveiled yet, so it is too early to talk about it. To be followed then…