Power to the people
Land confiscated from organised crime and turned over to social co-operatives has spawned a new generation of Sicilian organic winemakers who are not only providing fully paid work, but are earning praise for their quality produce.
Story by Gina Tringali
Photos by Susan Wright
As part of the Libera Terra (Free Land) project, the vineyards of Centopassi are a symbol of liberty, struggle and success. I Cento Passi (“One Hundred Steps”) is the name of a film dedicated to Giuseppe “Peppino” Impastato, the young Sicilian radio broadcaster and anti-mafia labour organiser, who was murdered because of his dogged fight against organised crime. Like Peppino, the Centopassi founders are pioneers; planting, growing and establishing the future vines of Sicily.
Founded on 25 March 1995 by Father Luigi Ciotti, a Catholic priest from Turin, Libera (Free) is an organisation that coordinates the efforts of various Italian entities fighting against organised crime. It is the catalyst behind the Italian law (number 109/96) passed in 1996 which grants the use of assets, land and properties claimed from the mafia to social cooperatives for a defined amount of time. Since the legislation passed in 1996, more than 4,500 properties in Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Lazio have been turned over to cooperatives. These companies return the properties to the community to use for socially responsible endeavours, stimulating the local economy and generating lawful work. The underlying philosophy is that the chance of getting these assets back provides the opportunity for people to create a future free of violence and corruption.
In 2001, under Libera, the first Libera Terra not-for-profit cooperative was named for Placido Rizzotto and was created near Corleone. Its immediate focus was on the transformation of seized land - most of which had been abandoned - into fertile fields and agriturismi (farm houses converted into bed and breakfasts). Wheat crops and grapevines were replanted for the eventual production of pasta, wine, tomato sauce and other organic goods. Placido Rizzotto had returned to his hometown after World War II to find a new mafia boss was appropriating land and allocating jobs. His fight to stop this saw him assassinated by the mafia in 1948.
It would take until 2004 before this first Agriturismo Portella della Ginestra was opened as a bed and breakfast. The refurbished 17th-century farmhouse overlooks the pale-green/yellow meadows and jagged granite mountains of the Jato Valley outside of Palermo. At the inn, visitors can feast on the organic food farmed by the diverse range of Libera Terra cooperatives. Guests dine on warm sheep and cow ricotta from a local farmer, pasta draped in a fresh tomato sauce, delicately cooked lentils and on-the-spot filled cannoli. The Centopassi wine, made from nearby harvested grapes, is served alongside each dish.
By 2008, these cooperatives were successfully producing agricultural goods and Libera Terra Mediterraneo was set up to increase participation by the cooperatives - which include Co-op Fond and Slow Food - and to concentrate on the branding and marketing of Libera Terra’s offerings. They are now available in various Italian cities. The Libera Terra products are sold in shops called “La Bottega dei Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalità” (the Shop of Taste and Awareness of Legality).
Centopassi is the winemaking division started in 2002 by two social cooperatives, Cooperativa Placido Rizzotto and Cooperativa Pio La Torre of Libera Terra. It sits on 60 hectares of vineyards confiscated from the “Cosa Nostra” around the outskirts of Palermo and Corleone. Today, this new generation of wine producers are leaving their footprint in the world of wine. Admirable, forward-thinking and passionate; they are finding ways to give back to both the land and people of Sicily by producing high quality organic wine.
When I arrived at the Centopassi office, I had the opportunity to speak with two of Centopassi’s passion-fuelled members, Antonio Castro and Franceso Galante. When asked why he decided to return to Sicily after studying in Florence, 37 year-old, Antonio said that “for one million reasons, how can a Sicilian complain about Sicily and not return and try to make a difference somehow?” He is one of the founders of the Cooperativa Placido Rizzotto and the Centopassi agronomist. Like many of the other co-op members, he aspired to work for a social cause and to change the perception of Sicily from the inside out. Centopassi is giving him this chance.
The Head of Marketing and Communications, Francesco Galante started to work for Centopassi as a volunteer in 2006. His role evolved quickly with the urgency for someone to cover the media outlets and represent the firm in the limelight. After spending five minutes with Francesco or “Ciccio” as he is called by the vineyard workers, it is apparent that this 29 year old is determined to make Centopassi a success story. This young leader has an air of seriousness that belies his age. “As part of our legacy, we have the responsibility to develop, invest and increase the value of our land; to take care of a vineyard, means not waiting 30 years to realise a return to distribute to the surrounding territory. It starts with the creation of fairly compensated work and legal work contracts and the workers themselves,” Francesco says. Full-time employees are given standard work contracts which include pension contributions. This was not possible 20 years ago due to the black labour market. In 2009, after eight years of hard work, the cantina (wine cellar) was opened. Since its opening, 10,000 visitors have graced its interior to hear the story of Centopassi, the surrounding countryside and i ragazzi (young men and women) who toil tirelessly sowing the seeds, pruning the vines and cultivating a future dream of an organised crime-free Sicily.
Significant in name, Centopassi’s initial three single grape varietal IGT wines (Nero d’Avola Argille di Tagghia Via Sicilia, Grillo Rocce di Pietra Longa and Catarratto Terre Rosse di Giabbascio) are dedicated to Peppino Impastato, Niccolo`Azoti and Pio La Torre - three extraordinary people who gave their lives for the land where these grapes are now grown. The 2009 Nero d’Avola is ruby coloured, balanced and elegant with perfume of dark red fruit and spices. The 2010 Grillo Rocce di Pietra Longa is clean and crisp with scents and flavours of green apples. The Catarratto Terre Rosse di Giabbascio 2010 is smooth and fresh with floral and tropical fruit notes. In 2010, Centopassi produced 370,000 bottles of wine including a mono-varietal Syrah, two white blends and two red blends.
As for the future of Libera and Centopassi, spirit, devotion and motivation abound. Both Antonio and Francesco predict further expansion by cooperatives in Campania, Puglia and Sicily and a continual drive toward an economy libera (free) not limited to the social use of beni confiscati (confiscated goods), but including the liberation of all regions of Italy from illegal businesses and labour practices. Centopassi strives for excellence in its all-organic operation of the vineyards while improving and expanding its reach and wine portfolio. The evolution and improving quality of Centopassi wines are praised in the Slow Wine 2011, Duemilavini and Gambero Rosso guides. They are also featuring at major international food and wine shows.
Praised as innovators by many, in 2011, Centopassi is planting a new vineyard of nerello mascalese, pignatello, and nocera grape varietals at a high elevation. It will be three years before we can taste the fruits of this experiment. But, one thing is clear. These progressive, proud and inspiring entrepreneurs are here to stay. Step-by-step, year-by-year, these unwavering soldiers are nurturing their homeland’s natural resources and reaping the rewards.
Giuseppe (Peppino) Impastato was born in 1948 in Cinisi, in the province of Palermo to Luigi and Felicia. Luigi’s brother-in-law, Cesare Mazella, was a major mafia boss and was killed by a car bomb in 1963, when Peppino was 15. The teenager was so shocked by the way his uncle died that he declared he would fight the mafia for the rest of his life. It was not a case of retribution though as Peppino broke off relations with his father and set about exposing mafiosi and the politicians who protected them. Peppino became a social revolutionary, fighting on the side of Cinisi’s poor, championing poorly paid construction workers and helping the unemployed. In 1975, he set up Music and Culture, a group that encouraged youth and also a self-financed radio station that used satire and humour to expose organised crime activities. Cinisi’s mafia Don then was Gaetano Badalamenti. In 1978, Peppino stood as a candidate for the local council and during this campaign, he was found dead on a local railway line with TNT placed under his body. Despite his death, he was voted in as a councillor by the people. The finding was that he had tried to blow up the railway line as an act of terrorism or had committed suicide. His mother, brother Giovanni and his followers refused to accept the finding and continued to pursue an investigation into the mafia’s role in his death. Felicia was the first Sicilian woman to publicly speak out against the mafia. It wasn’t until 1996, when a mafia witness gave state’s evidence naming Gaetano Badalamenti as having ordered the killing, that the investigation was reopened and Badalamenti was given a life sentence. He was already serving a 45 year term handed down in New York for his part in the “pizza connection” case that centred on $1.6 billion worth of drugs that had been smuggled into the United States between 1975 and 1984. The film made to honour Peppino’s life takes its title from the fact that the distance between the Impastato’s family home and that of Badalamenti was exactly 100 steps.
Via Porta Palermo, 132
San Giuseppe Jato (Palermo)
tel. +39 091.8577.655
Wine tastings can be arranged by calling or emailing:
Libera il g(i)usto di viaggiare
tel. +39 091 8577655 –
f. 39 091 8579541
Where to Buy Centopassi Wine and Libera Terra Products
Il Ristorante De Amicis, corso Casale 134, tel. +39 011.8132.559,
La Libreria Torre di Abele, via Pietro Micca 22, tel. +39 011.537777,
La Bottega dei Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalità, Corso Trapani 95,
tel. +39 011.3841.011
La Bottega dei Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalità, Via dei Prefetti 23, - 00187 Roma tel. +39 0669925262 - firstname.lastname@example.org
La Bottega dei Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalità, Via Raffaele De Cesare, 22, email@example.com
La Bottega dei Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalità, Piazza Castelnuovo 13, 90141, +39 091 322023
La Bottega dei Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalità, Via Fiesolana 6/r
tel. +39 335 7015803
Where to Stay
Agriturismo Portella della Ginestra near Piana degli Albanesi in Sicily,
+39 328.2134.597 or +39 091.8574.-810, a single room costs 45 to 55 euros a night and includes breakfast. Lunch and dinner cost between 25 and 30 euros per person.