12 Jan 2006

Scientists are always telling us that, consumed sensibly and in moderation, wine, has beneficial effects on the arteries, free radicals, cholesterol and all sorts of other aspects of our health — to the extent that this has become part of popular wisdom. That wine can bring benefits in the most tangible sense of the term — i.e. that it can bring real help to those in need — is instead one of its least known properties. But such benefits are possible … thanks to a wine called L’Insieme. For every bottle of L’Insieme produced €5.16 is set aside and each year the money accumulated is assigned to social and cultural projects.

The wine has one rather unusual, probably unique characteristic: though it is always sold under the same label, it differs each year, just as a piece of music changes depending on the conductor. L’Insieme is made by a group of growers, each with his own grapes from his own vineyards, and each brings his own instincts and skills to it. This is the insieme, the coming together of individual work and of team spirit for the purpose of doing good.

The wine also expresses the characteristics of the Langhe, an area that is now prosperous and fortunate but which retains the memory of the hard effort and poor rewards that used to come from working the land here until just a few decades ago. The producers of L’Insieme have not forgotten the poverty that surrounded them until they were freed from it by their soils, which is why they are using their know-how to help those who are less fortunate than themselves, whether they be close to home or in the farthest flung countries of the world.

The original group is gradually being enlarged, the initial names of Elio Altare, Giovanni Corino, Federico Grasso, Mauro Molino, Fratelli Revello and Mauro Veglio, based in La Morra, and Gianfranco Alessandria from Monforte, already having been joined by Giuseppe Caviola and Giulio and Paolo Morando.

In the five years it has been going the project has already given around 400,000 euros to charitable projects, an average of 80,000 euros a year. This significant sum says much about the enormous potential of these lands. But just think what could be done if the L’Insieme experience were to be repeated elsewhere, or if every restaurant allocated a few euros from each meal – how about that anachronistic cover charge? – to ethical projects. Still, let’s concentrate for now on what we have, L’Insieme.

What the producers wanted was not simply to add another drop to the ocean of generically targeted aid, but to assist where tangible needs could been ascertained and followed, and finance feasible projects where the donations could be seen to bring effective results. In this they are supported by a committee of ‘wise men’ who meet annually to determine what goes where.

The producers and their committee recently met to discuss what to do with the money collected from L’Insieme in 2005. They decided to allocate the sums as follows:

– 22,000 euros to the La Carovana non-profit association of voluntary workers in Alba. The funds will be used to employ a professional trainer for a year to support and coordinate the activities of the volunteers who accompany and organize recreational activities for the handicapped, either with their families or to give the latter relief.

– 10,000 euros to the Pausa Caffé cooperative, which has set up a coffee roasting plant inside the Le Vallette prison in Turin, the beans coming from Huehuetenango (a Slow Food Presidium) in Guatemala. The money is to train a further two prisoners, enabling them to enter the workplace.

– 15,000 euros to the Patch Adams Clown One Italia association to contribute towards the creation of a reception center in Nepal, comprising a school and workshop, for children and young girls who have been sexually exploited and/or have Aids.

– 10,000 euros to the non-profit Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity to go to the Cacao Nacionàl Presidium in Ecuador. This supports a group of Quichua families for whom cocoa processing will ensure their financial survival and the preservation of their natural resources. The money will serve to build a fermentation and drying shed for the cocoa beans, which will be processed according to specific procedures and techniques, thereby yielding cocoa of a reliably even standard. Previously each producer was picking his own small crop of beans and processing them in his own home, which made the product difficult to sell and utilize.

– 8,000 euros to Alba’s prison to set up a handicrafts workshop for inmates.

– 18,000 euros to the University of Gastronomic Sciences, which L’Insieme producers expect to develop a serious food and wine culture and high-level professional training.

Last but not least, the committee also made a voluntary donation of its own to the Volunteer Aid Group of La Morra-Verduno.

Paola Nano works at the Slow Food Press Office

Translation by Maureen Ashley

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