Sicilian wine frees itself from the clutches of the Mafia

By Lucas Minisini

Posted today at 4:25 p.m.

San Giuseppe Jato is almost invisible. Hidden between the Sicilian hills and the Mediterranean Sea, an hour’s drive from Palermo, this village of less than 10,000 inhabitants welcomes hundreds of tourists every year, charmed by the winding streets and typical farms of the Italian island. They are thrilled, according to online reviews of several agritourism establishments. Agriturismo Portella della Ginestra: “A great place, exquisite pizzas and a very nice staff. From a property confiscated from the Mafia, this cooperative has created a farm which is worth the detour ”, describes Adriana Lucia Turdo, a client. According to a visitor, we find at the Centopassi vineyard, “Good wine and even more social commitment”.

Despite their innocuous appearance, these cases are not like the others: they have long belonged to the Brusca, an important family of Cosa Nostra, high in the Mafia organization. Giovanni Brusca, right-hand man of the ruthless godfather Toto Riina (died in 2017), is behind more than a hundred murders. “But less than 200”, he said in front of a judge.

Nicknamed “‘U Verru” – “the pig”, in Sicilian – or “‘U scannacristiani”, or “the killer of people”, the mafia leader traumatized the entire region. In addition to his involvement in the attack on anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, in 1992, he was responsible for the kidnapping and death of 12-year-old Giuseppe di Matteo, whose body he dissolved in a tank of nitric acid in 1996. The criminal is arrested the same year and sentenced to life imprisonment (his parole was authorized in June 2021). Since then, San Giuseppe Jato and its vineyards are free.

Haloes of a unique story

As in most cases linked to organized crime in Sicily, the vineyards and the rest of the cultivable land were seized by the State and then rehabilitated by several associations. Among them, Libera Terra (“a land freed from the Mafia”), an agricultural version of Libera, the most famous of the anti-Mafia organizations. Created by the priest Luigi Ciotti in the mid-1990s, this structure employs more than 150 people, spread over hundreds of hectares. Including a part of vines that should not be left abandoned. “Our goal has always been to restore their value, their dignity and their beauty to marvelous as well as difficult territories”, says Pietro D’Aleo, current manager of Libera Terra.

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