Wine is flowing from a two-mile long rock.
At the island of Gorgona, 22 miles off of Italy’s Tuscan coast, hardened criminals — murderers and thieves — arrive after an hour-and-a-half ferry ride. They’ve come to serve final blocks of time away from the mainland’s overcrowded prisons — and to make wine.
Gorgona prison, built on the grounds of a medieval monastery, was established in 1869 as a penal colony and remains Italy’s last island penitentiary. Gorgona is only a few miles north of Elba, Napoleon’s one-year resting stop before Waterloo and Saint Helena. The island requires hard labor and isolation; in return, it offers a salvation of sorts.
Lamberto Frescobaldi, president of 700-year-old wine producer Marchesi de Frescobaldo, has extended mercy to Gorgona’s 50-plus prisoners. The Frescobaldis, as one of Italy’s oldest wine clans, command respect: This is a family that once made wine for Donatello and Michelangelo. Frescobaldi, serving as benefactor, has helped inmates carve out a two-acre vineyard and 2,700 bottles of white wine from Gorgona’s Mediterranean scrub. (About 1,000 of the bottles are headed for the U.S. market.) The wine — Frescobaldi per Gorgona — is part of an attempt by private businesses in Italy to offer inmates gainful training and preparation before release. Frescobaldi has pledged to help Gorgona inmates find jobs on the outside: “Give these people a little bit of money and the know-how because who wants to hire a prisoner? Who wants to hire someone that has killed maybe one or two people in their lifetime? Not very many,” he tells PRI.
Frescobaldi stops at Gorgona almost monthly, but his wine production team visits far more often, teaching inmates how to cultivate, and overseeing planting and actual wine production. Gorgona prison already has a long past of agricultural production — cheese and olive oil.
Despite his lineage, Frescobaldi once chose UC Davis to sharpen his wine skills, as he describes to Fox: “I went there in 1985 and it was an amazing school where you were taught and learned about grape growing and wine … these were things that in those days, for Italy, were quite unusual — really specific subjects.”
Frescobaldi is a firm believer in the future of ‘prison wine’ — “I am personally committed to this project and proud of the work done by the population of Gorgona as well as my team.”
With success from the initial 2,700 wine bottles, Frescobaldi is backing his words and is set to begin increasing Gorgona vineyard acres.
*Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Lucarelli
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