A Beginner’s Guide to Volcanic Wines

This article introduces Italian wine from grapes grown in volcanic soil.
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Vines growing the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Photo Credit: Cantina del Vesuvio

Volcanic Activity

It’s one of society’s most fascinating and upsetting stories: Pompeii.

…and the walls kept tumbling down, in the city that we love…grey clouds fall over the hills bringing darkness from above… ~Bastille, Pompeii

From HISTORY: “Ever since the ancient Greeks settled in the area in the 8th century B.C., the region around Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples attracted wealthy vacationers who wanted to soak up the sun and the scenery…In August 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted… The blast sent a plume of ashes, pumice and other rocks, and scorching-hot volcanic gases so high into the sky that people could see it for hundreds of miles around. As it cooled, this tower of debris drifted to earth: first the fine-grained ash, then the lightweight chunks of pumice and other rocks. By the time the Vesuvius eruption sputtered to an end the next day, Pompeii was buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash.”

Those millions of tons of volcanic ash eventually became a major constituent of the regional soil. Mount Vesuvius, of course, isn’t the only instance where volcanic ash exists in the soil. There are 1,500 known land volcanoes on Earth and the possibilities for unknown and marine volcanoes are exponential. I first studied volcanic soil found in Provence located at the Esterel Massif. Though volcanic activity had certainly contributed to the geological make up of the area, I hadn’t heard the term “volcanic wine” used for their production. It was when I began to know Italian wines more intimately that this classification became clear.

Volcanic Wines from Cantina del Vesuvio

To learn more about how soil containing volcanic material impacts vines and wine, I took a virtual trip to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. It is here that Cantina del Vesuvio exists.

From the estate’s website: “In 1948, just as Italy was recovering from World War II, Giovanni Russo founded his small family winery on the volcanic slopes of Mount Vesuvius. At the time, wine was transported to Naples by horse-drawn wagon, where small, rural vintners sold their wines to larger merchants, who then supplied shops and restaurants around the city. Giovanni’s son, Maurizio, began working at a young age in the family business, starting out as a humble field hand. After years of working in the winery, Maurizio decided to make a change: 18 years ago he opened his doors for visits and tastings, invested in improving the quality of the wines, and limited distribution exclusively to the winery shop.


This seems to be the way in many wine regions, estates begin as growers and, upon realizing the potential of their own label, begin to craft their own wines. These often become beautiful expressions of not only the winemaker-grower but also of the relatively small and specific plot of land where he or she cultivates their vines. The concept of terroir can emerge unable to formerly be expressed through co-operative wine crafting.

To understand, then, the terroir of the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, I approached Cantina del Vesuvio to take a closer look at how they express the volcanic soil through wines. I feel that they are able to maintain an undiluted presentation because they are a Certified Organic vineyard. Of this, the estate is rightfully proud, “We have been using organic methods since 1996, fertilizing this sandy, volcanic soil exclusively with organic products and treating the vines only with copper sulfate and sulfur. We recently obtained all the necessary certifications to officially produce organic wines. Our wines do not contain sulfites.”

Cantina del Vesuvio grows Piedirosso, Caprettone, and Aglianico varietals. Their volcanic-soil vineyards are potassium rich, planted in 1996 at an average altitude of 220-265 meters above sea level. In addition to wine, they also produce extra virgin olive oil from Vesuvius, apricot distillate, Lacryma Christi (more on this in a moment) vinegar condiment; it is not uncommon for growers to maximize the bounty of their soil by planting other crops near the vines. Cantina del Vesuvio grows Piennolo tomatoes, which are used in many of the foods provided at the estate for tastings, and it is evident that they love to entertain guests on their terrace (the Mediterranean and Isle of Capri are in view).

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Lacryma Christi D.O.C. has been produced since Ancient Roman times, made from native grapes. Cantina del Vesuvio continues to cultivate and produce this wine grown from vines “rooted in dark and porous lavic soil, which does not need to be irrigated as it naturally retains humidity, releasing it as needed”. That the soil allows the vines to self-regulate water intake, makes an important growing indicator. A red (rosso), a rosato and white (bianco) are produced. What does this ancient volcanic incarnation present in the wine?

Lacryma Christi Bianco

  • Color: pale yellow of varying intensity with golden undertones
  • Bouquet: pleasantly vinous, with floral broom undertones
  • Flavor: dry and slightly acidic, with a floral and fruity aroma and long finish
  • Grapes: Caprettone 100%
  • Alcohol: 12% minimum
  • Serving suggestions: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco should be served at 8-10 °C in medium stemware
  • Pairing suggestions: Ideal with fish and seafood, vegetables, and fresh cheeses

Lacryma Christi Rosso

  • Color: ruby red, like the lava of Vesuvius
  • Bouquet: pleasant, with notes of red fruits and spices
  • Flavor: dry and full-bodied
  • Grapes: Piedirosso 100%
  • Serving suggestions: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso should be served at 14-46°C in large stemware
  • Alcohol: 12% minimum
  • Pairing suggestions: This fully-bodied wine is suitable for meat sauces, roasts, and aged cheeses

Lacryma Christi Rosato

  • Color: salmon of varying intensity
  • Bouquet: pleasant, with fruity notes
  • Flavor: dry and balanced
  • Grapes: Piedirosso 100%
  • Alcohol: 12% minimum
  • Serving suggestions: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosato should be served at 8-10 °C in large stemware
  • Pairing suggestions: a versatile wine which pairs well with fish, white meat, and risotto
Italian Food Wine Travel

Though I’ve focused on specific spot, there are many areas in Italy that support vines on volcanic soil. Curious about these spots? Want wine recommendations and meal-pairing suggestions? Considering a trip to Italy and want to explore?

This month our ItalianFWT group presents a set of articles on the topic of volcanic wine. Here is what to expect:

Live #ItalianFWT Twitter chat September 3, 10 a.m. central: Participating bloggers and others interested in the subject will connect via a live Twitter chat. Everyone is welcome to join in. Say hi and let us know you are there. Find us with the hashtag #ItalianFWT.

How to Buy Your Own Cantina del Vesuvio Wines

The team at Cantina del Vesuvio welcomes visitors into their shop Monday – Friday, 8am – 5:30pm; Saturday 8am – 2pm; Sunday 10am – 1pm. Tastings are available Monday – Friday, 11am – 4pm (last reservation); Saturday and Sunday 11am – 2pm (last reservation).Please note they are closed on Sundays in January and February.

Wines can be purchased online, here.

Azienda Agricola Vitivinicola Cantina del Vesuvio

Via Tirone della Guardia, 18 – 80040

Trecase (NA) ItalyTel. +39 081 536 90 41

Thank you to Cantina del Vesuivo for the use of these lovely photographs.

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