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The story of a natural wine born in Sicily during the pandemic: Border Wine

After losing her job, Sonia Gambino finds herself stuck in her family's hometown and starts a wine revolution.

Border Wine is the story of many of us. It's the story of how we've had to come up with quick solutions, when we thought there were none. It's the proof of how, alone, we're lost, but together we can push forward.

When Covid hit Italy at the beginning of 2020, Sonia Gambino had just moved from Milan to Sicily to work for a winemaker in Marsala. Just a month later, like many others, she lost her job due to the pandemic. As Covid cases surged, the Italian government shut down all the connections between northern and southern Italy. Stuck on the island, unemployed, Gambino decided to temporarily find refuge in Maletto, a small village on the slopes of Etna Volcano. Maletto is her family's hometown, where her father still owns a run-down house. “We would spend our summer vacations in this really old house. We were often missing basic comforts such as running water,” explains Gambino, while speaking about her family.

Days became weeks, weeks became months, and Covid spared no one. “I was unemployed. I was alone. For the first time in my life I was experiencing the real Sicily, the one without all the comforts I grew up with.'' To stay busy, Gambino began to spend her afternoons in the garden, growing all sorts of vegetables. A few weeks went by and she caught the attention of a local older farmer, Don Vincenzo. “He began to give me precious gardening tips,” explains Gambino. “In return, I gave him car rides to his vineyard, located a few miles away from his home. We became friends''.

Photo: Giacomo Bruno

Sonia’s eyes sparkle as she's telling me about Don Vincenzo’s vineyard. “I studied oenology in college. When I saw Vincenzo’s centuries-old uncontaminated grapes, I felt like a kid at the fair.”

Photo: Giacomo Bruno

Inspired by vineyards and grape varieties, Gambino decided it was time to make her very own first wine. She struck a deal with Don Vincenzo and purchased most of his grapes. The deal required that she would pay him back with 360 liters of wine, one bottle for each day of the year! As the word spread, everyone in the village offered to help.

We must take a detour here, and let you know that - before Gambino - Maletto was the place young people with dreams escaped from. New vineyards were abandoned every year due to the lack of young labor. On top of it, winemaking is prominently a male job in Sicily. Gambino started a true revolution. Her fresh love and appreciation for the land were contagious and her dream to make wine became everyone’s mission. "The whole village began to help, children included," she says. "My hometown friends flew down to Sicily during harvesting season to help."

It’s almost been a year since then, and the wine is finally bottled. “Vino di confine” (Border Wine) is the name of the wine produced with Don Vincenzo’s grapes. It was a labor of love of almost 30 people including family, friends and friends of friends. Border Wine encloses the experience of an entire village. It was born from the desire to get through times of uncertainty, together. It tastes like rural Sicily, but also represents the start of a new era. An era in which young people reconnect with their origins, their land and their ancestors. An era in which women are not afraid to step up and lead the change.

Photo: Giacomo Bruno

Only 1,500 or fewer bottles of Border Wine will be ready this year. Follow Sonia Gambino's adventures at @gustinellawine. Join our Sicily retreat and get a chance join the next harvest with Sonia this September.



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