After a globe-straddling career in which he has sent war dispatches from everywhere from Vietnam to Nigeria and produce wine at almost every degree of latitude, Danish winemaker Peter Vinding-Diers has now settled with his wife on an extinct volcano in south-eastern Sicily. Although ‘settled’ is probably not the right
word, because Peter still harbours a serious ambition of making the best Syrah beyond the Rhone Valley.
To some observers, he’s already made it. His ‘Vignolo’ single-vineyard Syrah combines and elegance and wildness which conjures visions of the hill of Hermitage one minute, the clos of the Cote d’Or the next. His ‘baby’ Montecarrubo, Il Piccolo, a blend of Syrah with Cab Franc and Merlot, is not far behind, expressing the same haunting elegance and the same hedonistic warmth of the Sicilian sun.
The quarter of a century Peter spent in Bordeaux left him in search of inspiration beyond Merlot and Cabernet. He loved Sicily but had little interest in Sicily’s signature indigenous red, Nero d-Avola. Instead, like many a terroir romantic before him, he set his sights on Syrah for his career-defining solo project.
The winery and vineyards for this project are located in Melili. Flanked by the Ionian Sea to the east, the volcanic majesty of Etna to the west and the limestone slopes of the Iblea mountain range to the south, Melili has an altitude which brings long diurnal ranges, while the cooling the strong Gregale wind originating in Siberia which blows down from Greece also provides prime conditions for vinegrowing.
So it was that in 2006 he leased 3ha of Syrah to make his first vintages of Montecarrubo, subsequently, in He wrestled with 6ha of rocky ground in which to plant massal selection Syrah specially selected by Peter’s Cote du Rhone vigneron pal, Pierre Marie Guillaume. He has since also planted a small amount of Grenache.
The vines are trained as bush vines and biodynamic methods are used to provide natural resistance to disease and concentrate the flavour of the fruit. In terms of winemaking, Peter’s wines are fermented spontaneously with indigenous yeasts and Peter notes that the wines are kept apart from the other wines they make from rented vineyards. Ageing takes place in a combination of Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux barriques and Pomerol demi muids.
Peter’s experience and influence in wine cannot be overstated. Together with Hugh Johnson he founded the Royal Tokaji Company in 1989 and helped to arrest the decline of the historic Tokaj wine region; He had a similarly profound effect in Graves in the '80s, while more recently he persuaded his nephew, Peter Sisseck, to start a the now-renowned estate Pingus in Ribera del Duero.
He also conducted pioneering experiments on vineyard yeast populations during his two decades in Bordeaux, as well as being a founding partner of the respected Etna producer Passopisciaro. Montecarrubo is his final port of call and, as already acknowledged by Jancis Robinson MW, among other critical authorities, these are terroir wines of a very significant kind.