Group outraged by Hitler-labeled wine from Italy
An Italian winery that labels some bottles with images of Hitler and other Nazi leaders has raised the ire of a Jewish human-rights group that sees the novelties as indicative of rising anti-Semitism in Europe.
The New York Times
COLLOREDO DI PRATO, Italy — Vini Lunardelli is no stranger to controversy. Every year, it seems, usually during the summer, a tourist will happen upon its wines with their outrageous labels and make a fuss that is then picked up by the local — and sometimes national and international — media.
This year, the fuss picked up some extra heft when it was raised by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Infuriated by wine labels that portray Hitler and sundry members of the Nazi hierarchy, the Los Angeles-based Jewish human-rights group called on distributors this month to stop handling Lunardelli wines.
Although Lunardelli has been selling Nazi-themed wines for 20 years, the once-idiosyncratic marketing device is even more intolerable these days, center officials said, with the rising incidence of anti-Semitism in Europe.
“What is the condition of Jewish life in Europe: is it getting better or worse? It’s getting much worse,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal center, citing recent disturbing episodes in France, Greece, Hungary, Eastern Europe and Spain, where earlier this week a banner appeared at a bullfight with the slogan: “Adolf Hitler was right.”
“This is not a time where we can say we defeated anti-Semitism, we are being marginalized,” Hier said. “This is not the time to drink wine with Hitler’s image. It’s an insult and the desecration of the memory of the Holocaust.”
But the winemakers believe they are doing nothing wrong.
“It’s history, not propaganda,” Andrea Lunardelli insisted during an interview on a warm August morning in his family’s modest wine cellar where a lone employee was busy attaching labels — Hitler giving the Nazi salute; a portrait of Hitler with his autograph; another portrait with the motto “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (one people, one nation, one leader) — on bottles waiting to be boxed and shipped.
It is not just Hitler. The company offers about 30 Nazi-themed labels, including glorifying images of Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Göring, Eva Braun and others.
Bottles with labels from what Lunardelli, the son of the company owner, Alessandro Lunardelli, describes as the “historical line of products” occupied a shelf on a wall.
The discriminating buyer could choose among Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin and Tito, indicating that when it comes to despots, Lunardelli wines are equal-opportunity merchandizers.
“It’s pretty absurd because Hitler was a teetotaler,” said Lunardelli, who seems genuinely aggrieved that people might be upset about his wines, but is nonetheless unrepentant.
These products “are a way of not forgetting history and the monsters it produced, ensuring that they never return,” he said. At least the past had identifiable tyrants, he added. “Today’s monsters are faceless multinationals.”
To assuage criticisms of promoting fascism or Nazism, over the years, Lunardelli developed a historical and artistic range of products that produced some hits — the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, the Mona Lisa — and many misses — Churchill, Napoleon and even Dracula’s Blood, which all “sold very few bottles,” Lunardelli said.
Only Che Guevara popped corks when it came to leftist figures.
But Lunardelli had to pull the plug after the widow of Alberto Korda, the photographer who took the famous image of Che wearing a black beret, asked for 20,000 euros (about $27,000) and 15 percent on each bottle sold. “So we sent her all the unused labels,” Lunardelli said, a little wistfully.
Nazi bottles, he acknowledged, are among the company’s best sellers. “Eighty percent of the sales are Hitler,” he said, or around 20,000 bottles a year, about a quarter of Lunardelli’s total production, which consists mostly of table wines using local variety grapes.
For Fabio Bogo, who started a similar line of historical wines out of his home near Belluno in the Veneto region 13 years ago, the percentages are even higher. “Ninety-five out of every 100 bottles sold are Adolf,” he said, though a line featuring Dolomite peaks is also popular.
Several lawsuits and investigations by public prosecutors have failed to prove in court that the wines are an apology for fascism or Nazism, which is against the law in Italy.
National legislation also bars Lunardelli from selling the Nazi-labeled wines in Austria and Germany, he said, though he believes that most people who buy these wines are from those countries, as well as from Eastern Europe.
He suspects there is a brisk black market, with truckers moving boxes of wine over northern Italian borders, “but no one admits it,” he said.