ILLUSTRATION BY MARTIN ELFMAN
The whole idea was a shot in the dark. Stefano Turbati, the director of the Gorgona Agricultural Penal Colony, on a rocky, windswept island off the coast of Tuscany, sent a blanket email to about 100 winemakers in Italy. An old five-acre vineyard lay dormant on the island, and he envisioned teaching a roster of about 20 inmates about organic viticulture and winemaking. Turbati received just one response, from Lamberto Frescobaldi, the 30th-generation president of the Frescobaldi winemaking empire.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Frescobaldi says of the email he received seven years ago. “To give back to people who are not as lucky as you is important. Each of us should try to do something for the community. If you don’t try, you’ll never know if that was your moment.”
Since 1869, Gorgona island has been home to a prison, where up to 120 men have worked a variety of jobs: animal husbandry, beekeeping, gardening, and now winemaking, all with the goal of acquiring work skills on the path to reintegration into Italian society. Frescobaldi released its first vintage of Gorgona white, a blend of ansonica and vermentino, in 2012. The wine has since earned raves—former Wine Spectator European bureau chief James Suckling gave the 2016 vintage a 96—and the partnership has become a model prisoner rehabilitation program. While the overall rate of recidivism in Italian prisons hovers around 80 percent, Gorgona’s is a mere 20 percent. Many of these men not only stay out of the prison system but go on to wine-making careers—a few of them at Frescobaldi’s Tuscany vineyards.
“We give a second chance to these people,” Frescobaldi says. “Some of them have never experienced a regular job in their life. We are taking a chance to give them a chance.”
Frescobaldi’s Gorgona wine is an extremely limited release—only 4,000 bottles, which retail at approximately $100 each, were produced in 2017—although it is expanding this year, with the first Gorgona Rosso. The vermentino nero and sangiovese that are blended into the new wine were grown just downhill from the celebrated white vintages, and the 600 bottles to be released will cost $125 each. But to Frescobaldi, none of this is about profit: Every bottle sends a message of hard work and redemption.
“In order to bring awareness to the project, the wine has to be good,” he says. “We want to taste the care in the vineyard and in the winemaking that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.”