A black hole in the coffers of Sicily's regional government is threatening the survival of its most important wine institute, the Istituto Regionale della Vite e del Vino.

Since 1955 the Institute has been a major source of technical assistance and viticultural experimentation for Sicilian growers and producers. Now it looks as if funding will be withheld, threatening the Institute with closure.

‘It’s a political scandal,’ said Diego Planeta, owner of Sicily’s well-respected Planeta winery. ‘There’s nothing like Sicilian politics to ruin something that works.’

According to Planeta, funding has been blocked because of power struggles between Sicily’s regional government Regione Sicilia, and the politicians who belong to Italy’s plethora of political parties.

Leonardo Agueci, the president of the Institute, is a political appointee of the right-wing Alleanza Nazionale, while the President of Regione Sicilia is a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition.

The Institute admits it may not be able to pay its 100 employees at the end of the month. ‘However, we are confident the funds will “miraculously” appear at the last moment. We’re used to this sort of thing here in Sicily,’ said Agueci.

The Institute has asked for a minimum funding of €700,000 (US$694,000) to cover salaries and promotion. It depends on additional EU funding for special projects, and expects producers to contribute to promotion at trade fairs.

Sicilian producers have demanded a meeting with Salvatore Caffaro, Regione Sicilia president. Pressure is also coming from Assovini, a growers’ association which includes Sicily’s most prestigious wineries.

‘Sicilian viticulture is the region’s most important economic sector and the pride of Sicily,’ Assovini director Franco Pisa said. ‘We need the Institute and the technical assistance it offers, it’s a disgrace that the Regione Sicilia is so utterly incompetent.’

Written by Michele Shah12 July 2002