Frank Cornelissen

Country of Origin: Italy
Location: Mt. Etna, Sicily
People: Frank Cornelissen, Owner & Winemaker
Viticulture: Practicing Biodynamic


Media Links
Sprudge: The Very Best of Third Coast Soif 2018
The New York Times: The Evolution of a Natural Winemaker
I'll Drink to That!: Episode 129: Frank Cornelissen
Food & Wine: Sicilian Wine from Mount Etna
Vinography: Frank Cornelissen, Etna, Sicily - Upcoming Releases
Chicago Tribune: Nero d'Avola is king in Sicily, but another red grape turning heads

Social Media Links
Frank's Blog
Twitter: @Akicornelissen, @CornelissenEtna

"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. We therefore choose to concentrate on observing and learning the movements of Mother Earth in her various energetic and cosmic passages and prefer to follow her indications as to what to do, instead of deciding ourselves. 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’s wines are like none we've have ever tasted, and there is no doubt they have raised a stir throughout the industry. He uses amphorae for maturation and feet for crushing, and he works without SO2 or any other treatments. These wines express the absolutely unique land of Mt. Etna in a way that no other wine has. You really have to taste the wines and watch the color and flavor evolve in your glass to understand them. Yields are extremely low, and the U.S. allocation is extremely small.

The surface area of the estate is 12 hectares, of which 8.5 are vines in the classic free standing alberello training system (aka Gobelet, or bush-vine). The remainder is olive, fruit and nut trees, and brush. In abandoning monoculture to avoid classic diseases, they have inter-planted various local fruit varieties and keep bees to regain a complex ecosystem. The new vineyard (2003-4) was planted without grafts, using the cuttings of our existing pre-phylloxera vines. The training system used is the alberello, at a lower density of vines per hectare than is traditional. This greatly improves ventilation, as well as facilitating cultivation of other plants and species in between the vines, such as buckwheat, balancing soils low on organic material without recourse to compost. They avoid soil-moving, and all treatments whatsoever in the vineyard, orchard and surroundings, in which we succeeded even in difficult vintages such as 2004 and 2005.

Vinous 9/2017
"Cornelissen was born in Belgium but moved to the Etna region in 2000 because he grew up in a wine loving family and wanted to make important terroir-based wines. As he likes classic wines that speak of a specific terroir, it was easy to fall in love with Etna’s landscape and the presence of high quality indigenous grape varieties. Other factors played in his decision as well: for example, Etna’s long history of viticulture, intact nature with no industry warehouses and inevitable pollution, no long history of pesticide use, and great geologic diversity of the soils. Cornelissen owns roughly 35 hectares under vine and has just bought six more hectares. His winemaking has changed over the years, moving from the production of highly “natural-like” wines that spoke more of the technique employed (and ironically enough not much about the specific terroirs) to wines that are now truly magnificent (some of Italy’s most interesting red wines, in fact). Vinification is essentially the same for all his wines: he destalks, presses lightly, then has the must sit on the skins for one month or slightly more, depending on the vintage. Only indigenous yeasts are used and wines are bottled unfined. The range of wines I tasted on my visit to the estate were amongst the most exciting Italian wines I tasted this year."

Vinous 11/2015
"The wines of this idiosyncratic Etna producer have a strong cult following. Cornelissen farms roughly 15 hectares, of which 12 are vines trained in the alberello, or bush-vine, system typical of the area. New vineyards are planted without grafts, buckwheat is used to help soils low on organic material, yields are low, and the grapes are harvested late, from mid-October to mid-November. Cornelissen generally avoids all treatments, and only in exceptionally difficult vintages does he use copper sulfate and sulfur treatments."

Beyond Barolo and Brunello by Tom Hyland (2012)
"You only need to be with Frank Cornelissen for fifteen or twenty minutes to start to understand what drives this man. A former mountain climber from Belgium, Cornelissen brings the same determination he used to conquer the peaks of the Alps to his natural winemaking. Everything about what he does at his vineyards and winery in Etna district is with the highest degree of purity; he does not add sulfites to any of his wines and he uses no oak barrels or stainless steel tanks in his cellar. Thus he needs to bring in the cleanest, purest grapes he can to produce his distinctly individual wines."