Frank Cornelissen,  Natural Winemaker on Mount Etna, Natural Wine, Primal Wine -
Natural Wine Producers

Frank Cornelissen – From Belgium to Mount Etna

What would you have thought if, about 20 years ago, someone told you that, in just about a decade, a previously unknown Belgian wine broker would become a veritable superstar in the global natural wine scene? Fast forward a few years and no one would argue that today, from Tokyo to Paris, from Stockholm to New York City, Cornelissen’s high-altitude volcanic masterpieces have become akin to objects of worship, with several cuvées and back vintages going for astronomical prices.

Frank is undoubtedly one of the most magnetic charismatic figures in the natural wine world, since his wines have long since transcended the fast-growing but at times a tad self-referential confines of the natty galaxy and are now very sought after even among non-believers. Having grown up in Belgium in a family of gourmands and art and wine lovers, Frank became a wine collector and connoisseur first, then an esteemed wine importer, with a particular focus on rare and esoteric Bordeaux and Bourgogne bottles.

Having been exposed to the primeval power and beauty of Georgian wines during a trip there in the 1990s, he began then to awaken to a new vision of wine appreciation, spiritually and culturally connected to values and ideas universes away from the international and Parkerized world view which then held sway. It was therefore with a compelling vinnaturist vision that Frank arrived on the volcanic peaks of Mount Etna, or “A Muntagna” (The Mountain) as is referred to by locals. At the time Etna was not the crazily coveted terroir that it is today, with giant conventional wineries acquiring parcels at sky-high prices.

Frank found a pristine terroir of unique personality and incredible yet untapped potential, with venerable old vineyards utilized by local farmers mostly for bulk wine. Completely self-taught, Frank began patiently studying and experimenting with unflinching focus and dedication, with 2001 being the first officially bottled vintage. Frank’s vision is best summarized in is own worlds:

“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 and imposing ourselves. Consequently, this has taken us to possibly avoiding all treatments on the land we cultivate, whether homeopathic, organic or biodynamic. Accepting and following nature is our guideline as the divine ability to understand the ‘Whole’ was obviously not given to man as we are only a part of this complex and not God himself.”

Today Frank farms about 10 hectares at an altitude of 600-900 meters, with a focus on ancient local varieties such as Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante, Grecanico, and Minnella Bianca. Yelds are ridiculously low, 300-600g per plant, and his favorite vessels are fiberglass, cement, and amphorae, as he firmly believes they are the ideal ones for preserving the inner soul of the fruit and the uniqueness of each vineyard. Whether it be the Unicorn wine Magma, an object of Gollum-like desire if one exists, his Nerello Mascalese single cru’s, or the Susucaru rosè, these are wines of passion, inspiration, and unending expressiveness.