Workers for Italian vineyards dry up in migrant crackdown

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The Independent Online

With the temperature of the Earth higher, according to one Italian climatologist, than at any time in the last half a million years, the wine-growers of Italy are expecting an exceptional harvest this year. Experts believe this could be a year for Bonarda, Pinot Nero, Pinot Grigio and Spumanti, to trounce even the famous vintage of 1986.

With the temperature of the Earth higher, according to one Italian climatologist, than at any time in the last half a million years, the wine-growers of Italy are expecting an exceptional harvest this year. Experts believe this could be a year for Bonarda, Pinot Nero, Pinot Grigio and Spumanti, to trounce even the famous vintage of 1986.

But there is one thing bothering the vintners, and that is who is going to bring the harvest home.

As well as seasonal workers from Albania, the viticulturalists of northern Italy traditionally rely on students. But this year the harvest is expected to begin nearly a month early, close to the start of the traditional exodus of Italians to the beach in early August. "Our only hope is foreigners," says Giovanni Desigis, president of the Agricultural Union of Pavia Province in the heartland of the xenophobic, anti-immigrant Northern League.

Along the hills of Otrepo Pavese in Pavia province, they expect to start picking the grapes in the second week of August. "My family has run this company for the past 150 years," said Giuseppina Doria, aged 48, in her home among the vines, "and there has never been a season like this. The grapes are so far advanced that we will have to begin harvesting from the middle of next week, always supposing that we don't get hail."

Violent hailstorms this time last year wiped out 30 per cent of the grapes in the region. So this year the farmers are studying the sky anxiously lest the forecast of a break in the hot, dry weather for Wednesday should bring another disaster.

Even without hailstones, the crop this year in zones which lack artificial irrigation, such as Oltrepo, is bound to be small; but what they do harvest, given a bit of luck over the next week, promises to be splendid.

Elsewhere, on the slopes of Valtellina and high above Lake Garda, where artificial irrigation is the norm, the harvest promises to be superb in quantity as well as quality, with the hot sun of recent weeks ensuring a higher degree of alcohol than last year, when July and August saw heavy rain.

But throughout the north, growers are scouring the horizon anxiously for immigrant labour. Rural depopulation has left farmers more and more dependent on outsiders, includingillegal immigrants from north Africa, for help during the harvest.

But immigration is a growing political issue. New legislation which makes life harder for illegal immigrants is beginning to bite. The Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is under pressure from his coalition partner Umberto Bossi, leader of the strongly anti-immigrant Northern League, further to tighten arrangements. Tunisia, where many of the migrant workers come from, has also cracked down.

Italian coastal patrols have been told to turn back boatloads of immigrants if their vessels are capable of making the return journey and Mr Bossi has even urged the navy to open fire on ships transporting illegal migrants . Now his constituents are pleading for their help.

Leading article, page 12

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