Portland wholesaler ready to run for Sicilian wines

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PORTLAND — Ned Swain has work that will keep him on the run next week.

“When I get off the plane, I am going to start running. It is the scariest and most exciting thing I have done in years,” Swain said Monday of his eight-day business trip to three wineries in Sicily.

Swain, 33, owns Devenish Wines, a West End wholesaler specializing in wines from smaller vintners who ferment only with the yeasts that are present in the grape skins.

He said it is a growing practice, but still mostly found in France’s Loire Valley and areas of Italy, Sicily and Spain.

Swain said his love for wine developed when he was a student of Renaissance history studying in Florence, Italy, about 15 years ago. He is also a highly competitive runner, a passion he said developed through a friendship with Gary Allen, a founder of the Mount Desert Island Marathon.

So when Swain arrives in Catania, Sicily, on Saturday, his travels will be feet first, covering 400 kilometers, or about 250 miles, in eight days. While he will average 50 km per day, he said some runs will be about half that, and some will be double.

He will travel lightly, carrying only a backpack he was road testing this week. Inside will be a change of running clothes, a toothbrush, phone, wallet and passport.

He will blog about his trip at devenishwinesgeek.typepad.com.

Swain’s intent is to learn more about the Sicilian landscape, culture and vintages, and how the wines are naturally characteristic of their climates and environments. Somewhere along the most arduous leg, heading west around Mt. Etna and then south, Swain will celebrate his 34th birthday.

This will be Swain’s first trip to Sicily, and his first time back in the region since he left Italy in 2003, he said.

“I was more successful focusing on wines I was passionate about and avoiding trends everyone else was following,” he said of his work.

At the same time, he never anticipated it would be his job.

“I didn’t think wine was a career; I just kept getting pulled back into it,” he said.

His first visit will be to Frank Cornelissen, whose Mt. Etna vineyards remain as untreated as possible by any “chemical, organic, or biodynamic” processes, according to the winery’s website.

Swain will then run to Passopisciaro, “another winery that helped establish Mt. Etna as one of the top wine regions in the world,” he said.

The last visit on the itinerary is Arriana Occhipinti, who has been making wine for about 12 years near the southern coast of the island.

“(She is) a brilliant and iconoclastic young woman wine maker,” Swain said.

From there, he will run north and east again; he has to be back in Catania for a flight home on Feb. 29.

“That is the only structure I have,” he said. “I haven’t even booked a hotel room.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Ned Swain of Portland wholesaler Devenish Wines holds wine made at a Sicialian winery he will visit next week. Swain will run between three wineries on the trip, a distance of 400 km (250 miles) in eight days.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.