RIOMAGGIORE, ITALY: Four women, Alessandra, Karin, Amy and Claudia have joined forces to save the walls of the Cinque Terre. Together a number of wine growers from the Cinque Terre, they hope to raise funds through a crowdfunding campaign called Grapes and Heroes.
With the funds, they aim to rebuild stone dry walls that over the centuries have been crucial in maintaining the balance of this incredibly fragile landscape. Storms in one of the wettest November and a final torrential storm in December 2019 were the straw that broke the camels back.
These walls are the backbone of the Cinque Terre, keeping the steep hillside erect and safeguarding the villages below. The Cinque Terre, five picturesque villages that dot a dramatic stretch of coast along the Italian Riviera, became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997 thanks to its unique, man-made terraced landscape.
“At this rate, the number of walls that collapse will always be greater than those we can rebuild. What makes matters worse are the prohibitive costs involved: we are all micro-vintners,” says Riccardo Fino, winemaker and President of the Riomaggiore Vintners Association. “The Cinque Terre National Park has recognized the problem and has earmarked resources specifically for the dry stone walls. But even with those and other funds that arrive from the EU for rural development, it’s just not enough for this monumental task. The future of the Cinque Terre is in the hands of all those who are able to assist us.”
This collaborative and 100 per cent volunteer effort is made up of a team of four women: Alessandra, a photographer who started the project and was born and raised in Ligura; Amy (a Cinque Terre Insider), from California who married a local 17 years ago and is now raising her family in Riomaggiore. Active in the village, Amy is a powerful voice and advocate for maintaining local culture. The two other women are Claudia and Karen who have each visited the Cinque Terre independently in 2007 and 2008. Each of them befriended a local winemaker and both visit regularly to help in the vineyards, harvest and press wine and maintain the dry stone walls.
Every year, 2.5 million people visit one of the most stunning places in Italy, the Cinque Terre. Those who have visited these five perched villages in Liguria are welcomed by a stunning landscape and pastel-coloured houses that pile on top of each other clinging on to cliffs that plummet to the sea.
Before tourism the region was primarily inhabited by farmers. In the past, every bit of hillside in the region was farmed. Grapes and olives, as well as vegetables were cultivated on terraces held up by dry stone walls. In the 1800s, over 3,400 acres of land were cultivated in the Cinque Terre. Today, the number has dropped to just 250 acres.
Wine growers play a key part in keeping this balance. Without the wine growers, there would be no one to monitor or repair walls and without the walls there would be no Cinque Terre.
Mass tourism has led to the decline in land cultivation. Tourism has been very important for the region because it brings needed money but it has also caused increased physical wear on the territory with trails and paths which pass along the top of the dry stone walls not accustomed to absorbing a lot of people.
Before tourism, wine growers had to protect their grapes from wildlife; now they must use nets to protect their harvest from foraging hikers.
Tourism also offers a very enticing alternative source of income, pulling locals further and further from the vineyards and their agricultural heritage. It is a lot less physically demanding to run an AirBnB or work in a restaurant than to grow grapes and make wine in the Cinque Terre. As residents negotiate these changes, they do so amidst an unpredictable physical environment. Changes in the climate are bringing an increasing number of violent storms. The walls, which provide structural support to the region, are more critical than ever.
The four women said that while in theory public funds are available they will never be enough. “Our goal with this action is to help fill the gap,” they said. “We know the wine growers, we know the village, we know that without financial assistance, there is no way that the miles –and miles– of walls will be maintained,” they said.
Supporters of the crowdfunding initiative will be able to get custom designed t-shirts and tote bags, photography, private picnics, a 1- and 2-day hands-on experiences helping to work on the dry stone walls, 3-day tour including a boat ride, hikes, aperitivo and private wine tasting; wine tastings and visits to cellars, private hikes as well as a 9-day “live like a local” experience in Riomaggiore helping to make the local wine Sciacchetrà among others.
About Grapes and Heroes
Inspired by the resilient spirit of farmers in the Cinque Terre, “Grapes & Heroes” started as a photographic project by Italian expat Alessandra Spairani. The project evolved into a grassroots campaign to raise funds for a group of Cinque Terre winemakers to help offset the ever-rising costs associated with maintaining the dry stone walls that support the terraced land of their vineyards.
The four Cinque Terre winemakers participating in this project represent four agricultural enterprises, all based within the municipality of Riomaggiore: Riccardo Fino (Azienda Agricola “Fino Riccardo”), Davide Bordone (Azienda Agricola “Bordone Davide”, Alessandro Crovara (Azienda Agricola “Cantina Crovara”) and Heydi Bonanini (Azienda Agricola “Possa”).
The cost to rebuild a stone wall in the Cinque Terre is estimated at €26.60 per square foot. With circa 25,400 square feet of stone walls requiring repair within the vineyards of the four winemakers, the estimated cost of repairs surpasses €676,000. Collectively the four winemakers cultivate 15 acres of land, produce 27,400 bottles of wine each year, and maintain miles and miles of dry stone walls.
The Grapes & Heroes social action crowdfunding campaign will be hosted on Indiegogo and went February 14, 2020. The campaign will last 40 days and the initial goal is €50,000. The international, all-female and 100% volunteer team working on the crowdfunding campaign includes: Alessandra Spairani (England), Karin Mallory (USA), Claudia Cappo (USA), Amy Inman (Cinque Terre) together with crowdfunding consultant Alexandra Korey (Florence).