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It all started with an email retrieved from Lamberto Frescobaldi, in which Maria Grazia Giampiccolo, at the time director of the Pena Gorgona Institute (penitentiary island for 150 years, the last in Europe), invited the Italian wineries to propose themselves as managers of the island’s vineyard, together with the prisoners. It was 2012, the vineyard was just over a hectare large, managed and vinified (as best he could) by a Sicilian prisoner, who owned family vineyards. “The island was beautiful and I thought, full of preconceptions, it was a waste to dedicate it to a detention center. But I was wrong ”, says Lamberto Frescobaldi, because there are no accesses to bathing (apart from the tiny beach where the boats land), making Gorgona an ideal choice for this type of destination. But above all for a much higher reason: its beauty – and its management – allows the unfortunate people who forcibly reside there to regain dignity; to learn a trade that opens a concrete window of future possibility; to be able to actually imagine and plan to do something in a free elsewhere as frightening as it is longed for.
Ten years have passed since that almost casual response (it was later discovered that Frescobaldi was the only company to respond to the call), and today the fortnightly project is an oiled machine that involves 3.5 hectares of organic vineyard – a tiny portion on the total 223 hectares, because the Livorno island is difficult to cultivate, being mainly composed of ferrous metamorphic volcanic rock – planted in 1999 and enlarged in 2015 and 2018, partly terraced and sapling; grapes of Vermentino Bianco and Nero, Sangiovese and Ansonica; a small cellar of used steel tanks and barriques, with two pumps and a pressing machine; 2 or 3 prisoners hired as agricultural workers by Frescobaldi during the year, arriving at 5-6 during the harvest. The contracts are for about 6 months, to give as many people as possible the opportunity to learn the trade, but the other inmates are still employed in the ordinary maintenance of the island and in the care of animals, such as cows and chickens, and of a vegetable garden. . They are only men (female prisoners are not allowed on the island), of which over 50% foreigners, sentenced to sentences of over 15 years, but who for good behavior deserve to spend the last years in Gorgona. The requests are – understandably – very many, but there are only 87 places available.
Despite the bureaucratic rigidities that haunt the management of Italian prisons, the chronic lack of available budget and, in this case, the problem of transporting materials and people at the mercy of the sea and its bulletins (Antigone Report 2018), the joint efforts of administration, prison police, educators and social workers have made Gorgona a welcoming and culturally active prison island. There are, for example, a library available to inmates and a playground for children who are guests during the weekly interviews with families. Gorgona can be visited through organized naturalistic treks, which include the presence of an inmate who tells moments of daily life. Art exhibitions are planned, set up in paths that cross the island, and a small museum has recently been set up containing the finds of a Roman villa, discovered on the spot thanks to an archaeological excavation: the cultural guides who will soon conduct the visits at the museum they will be supported by prisoners, to involve them and provide them with greater skills. There is also the intention to activate training courses in the future in the restaurant of the small colorful village, which prepares meals in the canteen for prison officers.
Frescobaldi is an active part in all this commitment, not only in teaching the profession of agricultural and cellar worker (followed by the project leader Federico Falossi and the oenologists Nicolò D’Afflitto and Francesco Duranti), but also creating small gains of independence for the within the inflexible rules of imprisonment. The daily management of an agricultural profession requires in fact to find sometimes sudden solutions to unexpected urgent problems, which a prison system does not contemplate; but the collaboration between the inhabitants of the island (between company, administration, police and prisoners) is such as to smooth out apparently inviolable organizational barriers, benefiting everyone. To this is added the remunerative aspect, the salary that the cellar guarantees to those who enter the project and which is delivered to the prisoner once released. “Having a fair amount of money at their disposal that allows them to choose, to say no to illegality once they get out of here, is what makes them really free, as in the end it also frees each of us” reflects Lamberto Frescobaldi, thinking about how much it is our precise responsibility to return a little of the fortune, which life has casually destined for us, to those who have not had that fortune instead. Frescobaldi herself has often also made herself available to “ferry” these citizens into a gradual integration into the free society, hiring them for a year in one of her estates.
Gorgona is mainly mountainous and rich in vegetation typical of the Mediterranean scrub; it is defined by suggestive inlets and bays, formed by a coast that falls sheer to the sea; it is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, apparently so similar to Capraia, Pianosa, Elba, Giglio, Giannutri and Montecristo. It is located in the Ligurian Sea, in front of Livorno, 34 kilometers from the coast: an hour and a half by ship that puts us mentally distant from what happens in there. Frescobaldi has overcome that distance, growing in a palpable emotional involvement and community awareness. A process that has transformed the “Gorgona project” – from the risk of being just a beautiful postcard – into a very concrete white wine, not only good (perhaps the best of the group) but above all right. The 2021 vintage label literally expresses it with gratitude, to all those who have made it possible for 10 years: “Those who arrive here feel the same sense of union and experience the same strong emotions of the island. In Gorgona, in harmony with nature, man finds dignity and hope for the future in contact with the earth. Men with 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 of Gorgona, to the directors, the authorities, the police and educators, to the partners and generous supporters, to all those who have lived and told about 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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Marco Ribaudo

Marco Ribaudo

For the love of food and wine! Marco Ribaudo, Certified Sommelier, with 25 years in the food and beverage industry now invites you to join him in his latest adventure, the opening of la Cucina del Vino to share his culture and passion for creating unforgettable memories around the table.

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