Four people died in Calabria, Italy, from carbon dioxide inhalation on Saturday after they tried to save one another from the fumes given off by their homemade wine.
Two brothers, Giacomo and Valerio Scofano, 70 and 50, and father and son Santino and Massimo Carnevale, 70 and 45, died from inhaling the gases produced by a vat of fermenting grapes in the cellar of their home in the hamlet of San Miceli.
Police say the family had gathered to stir the wine and transfer some of the homemade alcohol into a set of oak barrels.
Valerio Scofano had been making the wine at home while under house arrest for the crime of stalking according to the police.
Four people have died in Calabria, south-western Italy from carbon dioxide inhalation after they inhaled carbon dioxide fumes trapped in a cellar where they were making homemade wine
This is an image of the cellar where the bodies were found. Four men died from inhaling the gases, while a 36-year-old woman was resuscitated by firefightes
It is unknown which member of the family was first to enter the cellar, but all four of the men were found dead underground by emergency services.
A 36-year-old woman, thought to be the daughter-in-law of one of the men, was responsible for raising the alarm before she too fell unconscious from the fumes.
She was resuscitated at the scene by firefighters and subsequently transported to hospital where she made a recovery.
Fermentation is the process that turns grape juice into wine. Over time, yeast consumes the grapes’ natural sugars and produces alcohol, along with a considerable amount of carbon dioxide.
According to Professor Roger Boulton of University of California, Davis, carbon dioxide produced from the winemaking process is five times more concentrated than planes and cars, with one litre of fermented grape juice producing 60 litres of carbon dioxide.
The carbon dioxide fumes sink to the bottom of confined spaces and can be extremely dangerous as they are colourless and odourless, meaning inexperienced winemakers, particularly those who make their own homemade wine, can be easily caught out.
Paola prosecutor Pierpaolo Bruni said that an investigation into the deaths of the winemaking family was underway, and told reporters that their winemaking environment ‘lacked sufficient air ventilation’
The Carabinieri reported that three of the men were found in the cellar by the grape juice fermentation tank, while another was found in the ‘collection’ room where the wine is transferred into oak barrels.
Carabinieri Captain Marco Pedulla said: ‘According to our findings, one of the men lowered himself into the cellar to decant the wine and passed out,’ before explaining the other men had gone down to help before succumbing to the same fate.
Paola prosecutor Pierpaolo Bruni said that an investigation into the deaths of the winemaking family was underway, and told reporters that their winemaking environment ‘lacked sufficient air ventilation.’
The Mayor of Paola Roberto Perrotta on Saturday said that the town, with a population of just 15,000, felt a collective sorrow as a result of the events.