Gorgona wine: a white that smells of freedom
Dino Frescobaldi, Dante’s friend, daringly recovered the first three cantos of the Divine Comedy. Seven centuries later, Lamberto Frescobaldi has already recovered four souls: prisoners on Gorgona island who found jobs after learning vinegrowing skills. It’s a lovely story. The scenario is marvellous, to say the least: an island of the Tuscan Archipelago, mountainous, covered with Mediterranean bush, among rocks, olive trees, vines, lashed by the wind and flooded by sun. The players are special ones: the Italians Marco and Paolo, for example, who have been there for five years, the Chinese Jorge who takes care of a lush vegetable patch, and about 60 prisoners who have been given the privilege to learn a skill and work outside in the open air, instead of the established two hours of fresh air.
The start of the journey on the island of Gorgona
They only go back to their cells after dusk. We aren’t on Alcatraz, therefore we are not looking for maximum isolation, but to offer a bridge to the future, for a serious re-integration into society. And it seems to work: only 30% of the inmates on Gorgona return to a life of crime. Does that seem high? We must consider that unfortunately the national average for repeating crime is 70%. On Gorgona, there used to be a town. A village still exists, defended by the port, but today it is uninhabited, with one exception: Luisa, the octogenarian who was saved by a miracle from the 2005 flood: the rescuers mistook her for a rubbish bag. Struggling in the strong wind on the road that leads to the vineyard, we discuss this project with Lamberto Frescobaldi, Santina Savoca, director of this special prison, and Carmelo Cantone, regional prison administration director.
A prison for rehabilitation
“We can only accommodate 60-70 people, a limited allocation, because it is a serious rehabilitation project and everyone must get the chance to work. And by law they must also be paid. We give temporary three-month contracts, thanks to Frescobaldi. For the rest of the time, when they don’t work for a salary, the inmates see to the maintenance of the island, the structures, and grow many products for their own consumption.” It is clear that the “vinegrower’s” salary is very desirable (around 1,400 euros), without counting that there is also the chance (as has already happened in four cases) of finding yourself with a skill and a good job in vinegrowing, once you have paid your debt to society. We greet two inmates. We talk about the island, but the director warns us to avoid asking them about their crimes. They are here to change, to imagine a future and it’s not appropriate to ask them to pose for a sensationalist photo with the caption “armed robbery”. This is a programme for people who have committed serious offences and who are serving medium-long sentences, Cantone tells us. Life, 10 or 20 years, for murder. Not exactly skirmishes, but not the worst either: no “rewards” for organised crime, rape and paedophilia, but isolation.
It cannot be said, however, that it is all a bed of roses (and vines) here. In the 1990s someone managed to escape, and in 2004 there were two murders to settle scores. In any case, in the last ten years things have improved a lot, much due to this winemaking project by Frescobaldi, which produced its first results with the 2012 vintage. The Gorgona vineyard, which produces a bright white, with 2700 bottles sold in luxury packaging, only covers 2 hectares, mainly of Ansonica grapes, the main variety on the small Tuscan islands and the Argentario peninsula, and Vermentino. The oldest vines are from 1989, planted by the Region of Tuscany, and this year another hectare has been added, considering the good results. It might be because I tasted it among the golden reflections of the Tyrrhenian, but the wine is intriguing, with aromas of tropical fruit, Mediterranean bush and a lingering, delicately salty finish.
Gorgona wine: the 2012 and 2014 vintages
Nicolò D’Afflitto, the Frescobaldi winemaker, explains to us that after fermentation, the wine rests on the fine lees in barriques until March, acquiring creaminess and complexity. The barrels are finally transported to the mainland for bottling. And it starts its life of freedom, as an emblem of this commendable project, on the tables of the world: 1,800 in Italy, 600 in the United States and 112 in Hong Kong. I taste the first vintage, the 2012: evolved notes of honey, butter, pineapple and ripe apricot begin to emerge. It is creamy and warm on the palate, with a stimulating, moderated acidity and a long tropical finish (92/100). The 2014 vintage is thrilling: a complex bouquet of citrus, sage, bergamot orange and elderflower. Very balanced and lingering on the palate, with a hint of saltiness that invites you to drink it until sunset (95/100). But unfortunately it finishes before and we return to Leghorn with a great story in our pockets, an Italian case to be proud of.
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