Impact International / August 1, 1998
By Larry Luxner
An Italian company, Fantinel International, has inaugurated Cuba's first wine production plant, in a joint venture with Coralsa, a Cuban state-owned food processor.
Gianfranco Fantinel, president of the company, attended the ceremony along with Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage and Rino Serri, Italy's undersecretary for foreign affairs, as well as Italy's ambassador in Havana and his Cuban counterpart.
Late last year, Miami-based CubaNews reported that Fantinel would invest $8 million in the venture, known as Vinos Fantinel. So far, say officials, the Italian firm has spent $4.45 million.
The winery is located 60 miles west of Havana, near San Cristobal on the western tip of the island. Sources say Fantinel's first vineyards were planted over three years ago with Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio grape varieties. The bottled product will consist of four different lines, with the most expensive range to be sold in Cuba's dollar-only tourist hotels and restaurants.
"Italian wine masters will work in Cuba and transfer their experience and knowledge of fine wine-making techniques to Cuban specialists," said a press release from Coralsa, which owns 51% of the venture.
The company's processing plant has an initial output capacity of 4,000 hectoliters (about 105,000 gallons), and employs a dozen Cubans plus two Italian managers.
Under the venture, Fantinel will receive a 20-year grant of land covering 300 hectares. According to the Milan financial daily Il Sole/24 Ore, the company is also getting an exemption on the customs duty levied on wine imported into Cuba.
CubaNewsreports that Vinos Fantinel is the fourth major investment made by an Italian food-processing firm in Cuba since 1995. The others are San Pellegrino mineral water, Papas (mayonnaise and snacks) and Cioccolati Stella (chocolate manufacturing in Guantanamo).