Gorgona: the Italian wine made by prisoners

The world of wine is evolving each day, how wine is made has stayed the same standardised process for hundreds of years. But who is making your wine? Ideal Wine Company discovers some of the truths behind one of the most highly sought of Italian Wines.

Ideal Wine Company vineyard
The makers behind your wine.

The makers

Just a short hour’s boat ride away from the Tuscan coastal town of Livorno, the island of Gorgona peacefully strides into view. The island is a fair distance from a mainland grocery store, therefore produce is grown on the island. Along with this is a small vineyard that produces some of Italy’s finest white wine. Made by prisoners that have committed some of Italy’s most serious crimes.

The island of Gorgona was established as a penal colony in 1869, today it houses 70 inmates who are in the final stages of their convictions. Prison authorities will receive numerous requests from inmates who wish to be transferred to Gorgona to escape from the overcrowded jail in Florence – in which prisoners will often be incarcerated in their cells for 22 hours a day.

The prisoners are locked up at night and work during the day, there is no physical boundary necessary between the prison and the village around the harbour – inmates are aware of the consequences should they break any rules. Vinified for the first time in 2012, the wine is the result of a partnership between the prison authorities and the Marchesi di Frescobaldi franchise. The company have been making wine for 700 years and produces 11 million bottles on its six Tuscan estates.

The vineyard

In 1989, a single hectare of vines had been planted, however they soon became overgrown and were abandoned. In 2008, an inmate with viticultural experience asked the prison director if he could revive the patch. He managed to save the plantings of white Vermentino and Ansonica as well as four rows of red grapes. In 2010, a wine was made by another inmate under supervision, however the wine was awful and the prison director realised they needed expert help.

At present the vineyard is in immaculate condition with rows of healthy vines stretching as far as can be seen. Frescobaldi employs 15 workers in the vineyard and winery, as well as having extra help at harvest time. They are paid he same union pay as those that work within Frescobaldi’s other wineries. This is a major upgrade for inmates who receive only a nominal salary for other jobs on the island. The aim of the prisoners being a part of the vineyard is so that they learn valuable skills that will help them on release.

Costs

The cost of the project is considerably higher than usual, the company pays €13,000 a year to rent the vineyard; as well as other investments for necessary equipment. Overall the investment costs €100,000 per year for a total production of 4,000 bottles.

The turnover of the staff is high, it is important that as many inmates as possible can benefit from the experience; which means continual training of new recruits. The level of productivity is not as high as it may be elsewhere in the industry. This is because the inmates are not accustomed to normal working after being in prison for long periods of time.

The wine has been served to Pope Francis and Italy’s president, as well as other high profile figures. It has turned out to be a great success due to the commitment of the management and workers.

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