Allegrini 2018

Gorgona Island 2012 - 2022: Frescobaldi celebrates the 10th harvest of its “fair wine”

The re-education project between the prison and the Tuscan Estate is now a solid bridge to envision an honest life after imprisonment

It all started when Lamberto Frescobaldi retrieved an email from Maria Grazia Giampiccolo, who was at the time director of the Gorgona Penitentiary Institute (a penitentiary island for 150 years, the last one in Europe), inviting Italian wineries to accept managing the Island’s vineyard, together with the prisoners. It was 2012, the vineyard measured just over a hectare, and it had been managed and vinified (as best he could) by a Sicilian prisoner who owned family vineyards. “The island is beautiful and I thought, full of bias, that it was a waste to dedicate it to a detention center. But I was wrong”, Lamberto Frescobaldi said, “because since there is no access for bathing (apart the tiny beach where the boats land), it makes Gorgona the ideal choice for this type of project.There is a much more important reason, though, which is the beauty of the Island and managing it, therefore letting the unfortunate people who are forced to reside there regain dignity. And, learn a trade which opens a real window of future possibility; that is, to be able to actually imagine and plan doing something as a free person elsewhere, which is as frightening as it is longed for”.
Ten years have gone by since that practically casual response (it was later discovered that Frescobaldi was the only company to respond to the call), and now the two-week project has become an efficient machine involving 3.5 hectares of organic vineyard. It is a tiny portion of the total 223 hectares, because the island off the coast of Livorno is difficult to cultivate, as it is mainly composed of ferrous metamorphic volcanic rock. The vineyard was planted in 1999 and enlarged in 2015 and 2018, partly terraced and partly ad alberello (sapling style). The grapes are Vermentino Bianco and Nero, Sangiovese and Ansonica. There is a small cellar containing used steel tanks and barriques, with two pumps and a pressing machine. Frescobaldi hires two or three prisoners as agricultural workers during the year, and up to 5-6 during the harvest season. These are 6 month contracts, to be able to give as many people as possible the opportunity to learn the trade. The other inmates, meanwhile, are employed in the routine maintenance of the island and the care of animals, such as cows and chickens, as well as a vegetable garden. There are only men (female prisoners are not allowed on the island), and over 50% of them are foreigners, which have more than 15 year sentences, but who, for good behavior, deserve to spend the last few years on Gorgona. There are, understandably, a multitude of requests, but only 87 places are available.
Despite the rigid bureaucracy that haunts management in Italian prisons, the chronic lack of budget available and, in this case, the problem of transporting materials and people, which is at the mercy of the sea and its weather reports and (Antigone Report 2018), the joint efforts of the administration, prison police, educators and social workers have made Gorgona a welcoming and culturally active prison island. There is, for instance, a library available to inmates as well as a playground for children that are guests during the weekly family meetings. It is possible to visit Gorgona through organized naturalistic trekking companies, which include an inmate who narrates various moments of daily life. Art exhibitions are planned, set up in paths across the island, and a small museum has recently been organized, containing the finds of a Roman villa, discovered on the spot, thanks to an archaeological excavation. Cultural guides who will soon conduct visits to the museum and they will be assisted by prisoners, allowing them to participate and providing them with more skills. In the future, there is a project to activate training courses in the restaurant of the small, picturesque village, where meals are prepared in the canteen for prison officers.
Frescobaldi has taken an active part in this commitment, not only teaching the profession of agricultural and winery work (conducted by the project leader, Federico Falossi and the winemakers, Nicolò D'Afflitto and Francesco Duranti), but also creating small windows of independence within the inflexible rules of prison life. The daily management of an agricultural profession requires sometimes finding solutions to sudden, unexpected and urgent problems, which a prison system does not contemplate. However, collaboration with the island’s inhabitants (the company, administration, police and prisoners) has been working so well as to smooth out apparently ironclad organizational barriers, benefiting everyone. Then, one must add the wages aspect, the salary that the winery guarantees to those who become part of the project and that the inmates will receive once they are freed. “Having a fair amount of money available allows you to choose, to say no to illegality once you get out of here. It is what makes them really free, just the same as it also makes each one of us free”, Lamberto Frescobaldi commented, reflecting on our precise responsibility to give back a little of the fortune that life has randomly destined for us, to those who have not had that fortune. Frescobaldi has also often made himself available to “lead” these citizens into gradually integrating into a free society, by hiring them for a year in one of his Estates. Gorgona Island is for the most part mountainous and rich in the typical Mediterranean scrub vegetation. It is characterized by picturesque inlets and bays, and the coast line falls straight to the sea. It is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, similar to the islands of Capraia, Pianosa, Elba, Giglio, Giannutri and Montecristo. It is located in the Ligurian Sea, 34 kilometers off the coast of Livorno. It takes an hour and a half to reach the island, putting us mentally distant from what is happening there. Frescobaldi has overcome that distance, growing in a tangible emotional involvement, and community awareness. The process has transformed the “Gorgona Project” from being just a beautiful postcard, into a very real white wine, which is not only good (perhaps the best of the Group) but more than anything else, fair. The 2021 vintage label literally expresses this concept with gratitude, to all those who have made it possible over the past 10 years. “The people who arrive here feel the same sense of unity, and experience the same strong emotions on the island. Man finds dignity and hope for the future on Gorgona, in harmony with nature and in contact with the earth. Men that have different histories and paths finally speak the same language, join forces and skills for a higher goal, a just social project that "tastes good". This tenth harvest is dedicated to all the men on Gorgona, to the directors, the authorities, the police and educators, to the partners and generous supporters, to all those who have lived and narrated the Gorgona Project, but above all, to the prisoners and winemakers, who got involved by learning and teaching a new profession. To the uniqueness of this extraordinary project”.

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