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‘Prison wine’ from Italy will be locked behind US bars

By Fiona Barry , 24-Jun-2013

(Picture credit: Kudumomo, Flickr)
(Picture credit: Kudumomo, Flickr)

Seven hundred year-old wine producer Marchesi de Frescobaldo has ‘released’ the first vintage of a wine made by prisoners on the Italian prison island of Gorgona, as authorities claimed such work helped lower reoffending rates.

Frescobaldi per Gorgona is a wine manufactured by 50 inmates in a project overseen by Lamberto Frescobaldi, the VP of Marchesi de Frescobaldo.

1000 of the 2700 bottles produced will be imported to the US in the fall by Folio Fine Wine Partners. It is estimated that bottles will retail for $66. Others are already being sold to high-end Italian bars and restaurants.

The white wine is a blend of Vermentino and Ansonica grapes.

The project arose from a partnership between the wine manufacturer and Gorgona Penitentiary's Directorate, and began in August 2012 after the Frescobaldi family purchased a hectare of old vineyards.

Work lowers repeat offending rates

And the directors of the scheme are confident that it will benefit the prisoners by according them the skills to find jobs in the outside world.

Reoffending rates are 80% for prisoners who do not find work after release, according to the Italian Ministry of Justice.

Work is the most effective way to reduce the rate of repeat offenders when the job is real and inmates can get some professional experience they will use after serving their time in prison,” said John Drummer, head of the Department of Penitentiary Administration. 

The project ‘Frescobaldi per Gorgona’ enhances administration resources by investing in inmates. This is a great example of a prison that gives inmates a real opportunity to change their lives,” he said.

The winemaker has committed to hire some of the workers after their release. “I am personally committed to this project and proud of the work done by the population of Gorgona as well as my team,” Lamberto Frescobaldi said.

Escape is unheard of…

Italian Justice Minister Annamaria Cancellieri spoke in support of the scheme at a presentation at the Museum of Criminology in Rome, and announced plans to install solar panels on the island to produce alternative energy which will help cover the vineyard’s expenses.

Lamberto Frescobaldi claimed that the venture also owed its success to three partners: the company Agrotractors lent an orchard tractor for use in the prison’s vineyard; Enoteca Pinchiorri, the three-star Michelin restaurant in Florence, plans to promote the wine; and Simonetta Doni of Doni & Associates Studio donated creative services for the bottles’ labels.

The island of Gorgona lies in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Tuscany.

Italy’s prisoners are keen to transfer from crowded mainland conditions to Gorgona’s prison, which has space for 136 inmates. Prisoners are only locked down at night and are otherwise free to roam the island and participate in agricultural work, which also include producing olive oil and cheese.

Despite the relative freedoms of Gorgona, escape is unheard of, as the island can only be accessed by a weekly ferry from the mainland 23 miles away. In the history of the prison, one inmate has disappeared – presumably by swimming – but was never found.

Marchesi de Frescobaldo has stated that it plans to expand its vineyards on Gorgona.