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Gorgona prison project celebrates 12th vintage milestone

Published:  10 June, 2024

The Gorgona project, a unique collaboration between Marchesi Frescobaldi and the Gorgona island prison, has marked a significant milestone with the release of its 12th vintage. Launched in 2012, the initiative offers inmates nearing the end of their sentences a chance to learn viticulture skills, earn a wage and prepare for reintegration into society.

During a visit to the island in the Tuscan Archipelago, Harpers toured the 2.3ha vineyard and tasted the latest vintage of the Gorgona Bianco, a wine from Vermentino and Ansonica grapes, yielding approximately 9,000 bottles.

40km off the coast of Livorno, Gorgona is a small, serene island, with pastel-coloured houses and an eerie silence. If it wasn’t for the sight of Jeeps labelled ‘Polizia Penitenziaria’, one could easily mistake the island for a tropical oasis.

Gorgona is Italy’s last remaining prison island, where, amid the rows of vines, men serving long sentences for serious crimes find a new purpose.

The idea began with a call from the prison director to Frescobaldi during the typically quiet month of August. Intrigued by the potential for rehabilitation and producing unique wine, Frescobaldi visited the island. Despite the director sending hundreds of requests to wineries across Tuscany, Frescobaldi was the only one to respond.

Since then, the programme has had a remarkable success rate; while Italy's national recidivism rate is around 85%, Gorgona boasts a 0% rate for those who participate. 

“Every vintage makes us prouder, and the 2023 vintage, the 12th of our Gorgona, furthers that project,” Marchesi Frescobaldi, president of Lamberto Frescobaldi told Harpers. “Here on Gorgona, we see the uniqueness of a terroir, and of a project that, though a mere handful of bottles, never ceases to gift us excitement and make us proud.” 

While the relationship with guards is different, Gorgona remains a prison. Inmates are usually locked in their cells and allowed out only for work tasks. However, during the wine harvest, cell doors swing open, and inmates work long hours to gather grapes at peak ripeness.

“Everything on Gorgona is done by hand, from tending the vines to making the wine,” added Frescobaldi.

Each year’s label is different, conveying a new element of the island with each addition. The 2023 iteration marks the influence of wind on the island and the crucial role it plays.

The weather leading up to the 2023 harvest was marked by contrasts. After a rainy autumn in November and early December, winter brought only scarce rainfall, with a few scattered storms in January. Temperatures were notably above average, occasionally reaching up to 20°C at midday.

May experienced an abrupt temperature drop, partially due to rains, which helped the vines manage the low groundwater reserves from the relatively dry winter. As summer progressed, conditions gradually warmed, with the sea's influence preventing excessive heat spells.

Unlike recent years, August was relatively cool, but the final ten days saw higher temperatures. These conditions extended into September, ensuring healthy fruit and extending the harvest into the first week of October, achieving ideal ripeness at picking.

The resultant wine stands as a testament to its island terroir, with the compelling story behind it extending its market appeal even further.

“The wines of Gorgona are born from dedicated human care, hope for a better life, the sea’s influence and an extraordinary environment. This modest 2ha vineyard produces a wine that is truly inimitable and symbolises hope and freedom that resonates worldwide. We take immense pride in nurturing this project since 2012,” Frescobladi concluded.