Here in the U.S., snow and ice have been keeping many of us indoors this week, but on the Italian island of Sicily, the skies were filled with smoke and ash. Mt. Etna, Europe’s tallest active volcano, erupted late Tuesday afternoon, spewing a spectacular display of lava and other pyroclastic material.
“[It] was a super explosion, with a ‘cocktail’ of bombs, lapilli (stony or glassy lava fragments) and black ash,” said Alberto Aiello Graci of Etna’s Graci winery.
The Feb. 16 eruption, which was followed by a second eruption on Feb. 18, collapsed part of the cone of Mt. Etna’s southeastern crater. The lava flow traveled nearly a mile, and the explosion discharged smaller stones and ash primarily into the valley below. But savvy Sicilians learned long ago not to develop an area directly beneath their active volcano and, not surprisingly, the valley is largely unpopulated. No injuries or deaths have been reported.
“Luckily, [the main activity] happens at 3,000 meters (almost 10,000 feet),” said Alessio Planeta, whose Planeta winery includes an Etna-based estate. He explained that it’s considered good luck when the volcano, known locally as “the Old Lady,” erupts. “The population was impressed, because this time the lava and the fire itself went really high.”
Etna’s vineyards top out at about 3,300 feet elevation, well below Tuesday’s volcanic activity. Although some vineyards may have received a layer of ash and other material, this is par for the course for Etna vintners. “[This time of year] there are no soft plant parts to be harmed,” Planeta noted, while Graci enthused, “The ash in the vineyards is what makes them unique in the world.”
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