Wine Aid

08 Jan 2004

Small farmers can be incredibly altruistic and public-spirited, but they can be very individualistic as well. The history of agricultural communities shows that mutual help used to be normal during the busiest times of year. There were even people who would proudly proclaim that they had finished their harvest before everyone else, and could therefore give a hand to their neighbors. But this generous spirit never affected a natural individualism, which might range from making fun of a neighbor’s farming methods to more unpleasantly selfish behavior. In the world of Italian wine this individualism has led to healthy competition in recent years and significant quality improvements in many areas (my Barolo- and Barbaresco-producing Langa, for example). The downside is that, particularly in good times, producers seem to be more self-centered and less aware of the wider picture, whether regarding the land or other farmers facing hardship, nearby or in far-off countries.

Erstwhile small wine growers are suddenly transformed into go-getting yuppies, with all their familiar shortcomings. We see a sector enjoying thriving economic health. Producers are pulling out the PR stops in their attempts to show the world how sophisticated and prosperous they are. You don’t hear many expressions of support for others or resolve to safeguard and conserve a generous land which is being increasingly exploited to its limits, never mind any talk of concrete practical actions. So you really take notice when something does happen, and it deserves proper attention.

Last Sunday, for the third consecutive year, the L’Insieme association announced what it was dong with the 75,000 euros it had collected in 2003. Not chickenfeed by any means. So what is this ‘team’, L’Insieme? It is a group set up through the efforts of seven small high-quality producers from the Langa: Gianfranco Alessandria, Elio Altare, Giovanni Corino, Silvio Grasso, Mauro Molino, the Revello brothers and Mauro Veglio. The seven have become nine this year with the addition of Giuseppe Caviola and Giulio & Paolo Morando. These friends refute the stereotypical view of the Langa small farmer as a self-centered individualist, seeking advantage and always ready to criticize his neighbor’s actions.

These friends decided to do something positive and do what they are best able to do: they produced a wine, called appropriately enough L’Insieme. They use the same label, just changing the producer name and logo. It is a personally expressed Nebbiolo blend of Barolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Cabernet and Merlot from their best grapes. Up to 5,000 bottles per producer of this excellent product are sold at five euros a bottle and the proceeds set aside for worthy causes in need of support. In just three years they have made and donated 450 million in old lire. Each year, an independent committee of people close to the world of wine, selects the recipients of the money from projects applying for support. The projects are of all sizes and located all over the world. The achievements in the last three years are impressive: building a hydroelectric power plant in Bolivia; purchasing hectares of Amazon rainforest in Ecuador to save it from destruction; financing non-denominational missions in Kenya and Gino Strada’s peace work; making paths to link the eleven municipalities of the Barolo; support for a ‘Casa-Famiglia’ home for handicapped people in Narzole (Cuneo) and a building for deprived children in Trezzo Tinella (Cuneo).

There is a lot more too: prosperity has not completely destroyed generosity; the area can still rely on people trying to save it from neglect and the monoculture trap. The Langa needs these projects, but the entire Italian wine sector could start thinking about some public-spirited activity. The L’Insieme association is open to all wine growers and producers who share its ideas and aims: why not get involved?

First printed in La Stampa on November 30 2003

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

Blog & news

Change the world through food

Learn how you can restore ecosystems, communities and your own health with our RegenerAction Toolkit.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Full name
Privacy Policy