“A visual temptress” is how JancisRobinson.com wine book reviewer, Tamlyn Currin, described Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte.
What a delight to see my independently published book, my labor of love, garner a place on the esteemed 2016 wine book list in Jancis Robinson’s newsletter and a receive a positive review.
Please enjoy Tamlyn Currin’s review on “Book Reviews 2016: Places Well-Known” on JancisRobinson.com. And yes, getting lost in the rain and fog while in search of wineries is all part of the process of getting to the heart and soul of Piemonte and her people.
And yes, getting lost in the rain and fog while in search of wineries is all part of the process of getting to the heart and soul of Piemonte and her people.
“This was the second large hardback book to come my way for reviews. This is rich in colour, a feast of glorious photographs and illustrations on thick, sumptuous-feeling pages, and is laid out with a feeling of space and light – a visual temptress.
Suzanne Hoffman has chosen remarkably specific subject matter. It’s not just about one, well-publicised region of Italy, it’s about the women in that one region, and furthermore it’s the women in the wine families of that one region. It’s unusual for a wine book to have such a narrow focus, and the pitfalls are obvious, so it was with some trepidation that I opened these pages. Hoffman is American, from Louisiana. An attorney and journalist, she’s lived in five different states and spent 20 years in Switzerland, and it was while in Switzerland that she discovered Piemonte, visiting more than 20 times over a 14-year period. Her indefatigable curiosity and a growing love for the wines and the region led to this book.
Labor of Love is in many ways a history of Piemonte. The overview, which includes a great map of the provinces and some of the DOCs of Piemonte, has an ‘At a glance’ page with timelines of the rulers and occupiers of Piemonte, and the first chapter of the book is about the remarkable Giulia Colbert Falletti, Marchesa of Barolo, 1785-1864. Through the stories of these women, we see a changing Piemonte as it is shaped and scarred through the First and Second World Wars, depression, poverty, the disastrous vintages and the sublime vintages, oenological revolutions, scandals and a growing international respect and demand for wine from this region.
Hoffman selects 22 wineries from Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero and Monferrato. With each, she describes her first trip to the winery, her first meeting with the woman (or women) involved. Clearly in almost awed admiration of these women, Hoffman then recounts the family past, often following the thread from great-grandmother to grandmother to mother to daughter, bringing ghosts back to life, and acknowledging, to the outer world, the tremendous work that these women have done – so much of it unseen.
Some of the stories are deeply moving. She tells of the staggering courage of Beatrice Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose as she stood between the guns of German soldiers and local teenage boys, telling them, ‘They are young. Shoot me, I am an old lady’ – this being the same woman who burst through the prison gates with a wagon-load of food for starving wartime prisoners, and ordered the gobsmacked German guards to feed them. She writes about the quiet depth of resilience and strength in Ornella Correggia, who picked up the pieces of their shattered lives when her young husband was killed in a freak accident in the vineyard, and she and her two young children carried on making wine and carrying his vision. She writes about ordinary women who struggle to juggle child rearing and homes with demanding jobs, and women who helped hide young partisan resistance fighters from the Nazis. It’s a book full of memories.
It’s a very personal story. I was surprised at how much of Hoffman’s life and emotions are told in these pages. I wonder whether she identifies with them in some way. It’s almost as much Suzanne Hoffman’s journey through Piemonte as it is the stories of the women of Piemonte. Her family birthday celebrations, her friendships, her travels, her own roots, her love of cooking, her fears, her own memories and inspirations are woven inextricably into each chapter. Sometimes I wondered if perhaps there was too much of the author – I don’t really want to know, for example, what she wore when she met Chiara Boschis, whatever the temperature might have been or whatever Chiara herself was wearing. I wasn’t sure whether what she ate with her Mom on her first trip really added to the book in any way. But arguably she has gone behind closed doors, sat at kitchen tables over cups of coffee, befriended women, sifted with them through old family photos. A wine journalist sits at these tables and asks questions about the age of vines and lees stirring, listens to summaries of the vintage; Hoffman has asked questions about courting, love, babies and hardship, listened to stories about German occupation and tragic personal losses. She has spent hundreds of hours understanding the challenges of being a woman in the not-too-bygone days of male-powered Piemonte (‘women who failed to produce male heirs were seen as weak. Even if a woman produced many girls, other women looked down on her as though she were childless’) and the different, modern-day challenges of being a woman in Piemonte wine. Perhaps the only way to tell these tales is to walk right through them, side by side with the women one writes about. Perhaps her stories of getting lost in the rain and fog en route to wineries is part of what this book is about – the simple, gritty, everyday humanity behind great wines.”
Note: Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte is available in the USA on this website, at all USA Eataly stores, and Amazon.com and in Piemonte through Cà del Baio winery and fine bookshops in the region.
LABOR OF LOVE
CHRISTMAS AND HANUKAH
USA SHIPPING SPECIAL!
USPS PRIORITY SHIPPING (1-3 BUSINESS DAYS DELIVERY) AVAILABLE BY SPECIAL ORDER!
The time has passed to be assured of receiving Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemontein time to be under the tree for Christmas or to give to that special someone for the first day of Hanukah. Until Tuesday, December 19th, I am offering Priority Mail shipping for $12 for up to two books in lieu of $7.00 media shipping for one. The book sells for $55.00.
It has certainly been a momentus year for Barolo with the sale of a historic winery in Castiglione Falletto to an American businessman. Yes, it was definitely their choice to sell and no doubt a painful decision to make. For the good of the region and the selling family, we wish them all well.
But as the year winds down and rumors of a more painful sale of another Barolo family-owned winery — one not in my book! — fly everywhere, I opened Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonteto read again, and find reassurance in, the passionate words of Elisa Scavino of Azienda Viticola Paolo Scavino when I asked her about the possibility of the “Tuscanization” of Piemonte. Hers was not a unique answer to this question I asked of many families.
So, will iconic Barolo wineries remain in the hands of the Piemontese or end up owned by faceless, souless foreign corporations? No one really knows. The economy and financial considerations may be what dictate the future. What I do know is that I am even more dedicated to hearing the wine families’ stories and committing them to paper for all to read in years to come. Their history must not be forgotten.
Post Script (12/5/16): As the rumors of a seismic sale swirl around the hills of Barolo, it has become painfully apparent that the low birth rate in Italy (and all of Europe) could be the catalyst for sales now and in the future. If readers look at the genealogies of each of the 22 families in my book, they will see an unmistakeable thinning of generations over time, the reasons for which are many.
Of course, it only takes one to carry the estate forward into the next generation. However, when there are so few offspring — as we’ve seen in so many of wine families across Italy — the future of the estate as a family owned and operated entity relies on a near 100% occurance of the same passion to perpetuate the patrimony in future generations.
I’m optimistic that will be the case with the current generation of wine family women of Piemonte. Beyond the horizon, it’s anyone’s guess.
Just past sunrise on a crisp, bluebird sky morning in June 2007, I boarded the train at Sierre station for Geneva Airport. Behind me was over 20 years of life in Valais filled with warm memories of loved ones, many of whom, like my parents, were no longer of this world.
To say I was sad to repatriate to the United States is an understatement. Robert Goulet’s words he crooned to Vanessa Redgrave’s Queen Guinevere came to mind. There really was no season to leave Valais, certainly not summer, not spring, not autumn, and definitely not winter, the season filled with Advent and Christmas, my favorite time in Europe.
Nine years later, we decided to spend another Christmas on the eastern side of the Atlantic, but this time in the hills of Piemonte, my continueing connection with Valais, not high in the Pennine Alps in Bluche. As I began writing my packing list, I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt from my book,Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, about Christmas (Natale) with the Deltetto family.
It is with this lovely Roero family and the Grassos of Cà del Baio in Barbaresco — a family to whom the Deltettos are joined through the marriage of Carlo Deltetto and Paola Grasso — that we will be spending Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day we will join the two families in the Cà del Baio tasting room in Treiso. These are some of their traditions that we will be privileged to experience.
Celebratory Food and Wine
Toni Deltetto’s decision in 1997 to plant Pinot Noir led to a new, exciting market for the winery: bubbles. What began as a fanciful endeavor to produce spumante for both private consumption and presents for friends and clients quickly evolved into a major part of the Deltetto portfolio. In 2003, Toni released approximately 100 bottles of his first Spumante Extra Brut metodo classico. By 2015, after major renova-tions to his cellar and the addition of state-of-the-art equipment, Toni and his son Carlo were producing on average 25,000 to 28,000 bottles of sparkling wine per year. From the original Extra Brut offering, the portfolio grew to three different styles for all tastes: Extra Brut, Extra Brut Rosé (a blend of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo), and Brut. Although the costly, labor-intensive process is the same as Champagne production, Toni and other European producers outside of the French appellation were forbidden to use méthode champenoise on their labels. But thanks to great marketing and the assistance of wine writers who help educate consumers, global demand for well-priced, beautifully produced Italian spumante metodo classicogrew.
The sparkling wines are very important to the Deltetto family, not only for the excellent return on their investment, but for the pleasure the wine brings them and their clients. “There is no occasion that we don’t open a bottle of bubbles when a friend comes over, with a cele-bration of something very nice, or to comfort us when something goes wrong,” Toni said. Christmas is one of those celebrations when they pour copious amounts of their spumante.
Natale, Deltetto Style
Having lived in Central Europe for so many years, I particularly enjoy European Christmas traditions. After years of experiencing the joyous holiday in Switzerland and developing traditions with cherished friends, I felt lost when I moved back to America in 2007. It seems the French and the Italians do Christmas — at least the feasting — like no others on earth. The Deltettos are no exception.
After months of hard work in the vineyards and cellars, one would think wine families have a chance to relax and enjoy the season. In fact, they are nearly as busy at Christmas as they are during the harvest. Wines coming up, as well as those aging, need attention in the cellar. Clients near and far are anxious to buy wines for their own celebrations. Packages usually filled with tasty goodies are packed and sent to importers and representatives around the globe. Since the producers are masters at multitasking, they manage to keep their clients, their wines, and their families happy while they dive into their own Christmas celebrations.
In 1992, Toni and Graziella moved their family into their new house, where they now live above the tasting room. The wood-fired oven built into the wall of the tasting room became the star of their Christmas Eve tradition that lives on today — pizza al forno legna — pizza baked at 700° Fahrenheit. It all began as a ruse to distract the children when Santa Claus arrived upstairs. While the children feasted on pizza in the tasting room, Santa Claus quietly delivered presents that they would discover later. When Cristina began dating Giorgio, an experienced pizzaiolo, Toni passed the pizza-making responsibilities on to him. “Giorgio is a great pizza maker, and he has a lot of fantasy in doing them,” said Claudia, who helps Giorgio make the pizza dough. He makes 10 different types of pizzas with sausages, ricotta, stracchino, onions, and several other tasty, fresh ingredients. According to Claudia, no one has a favorite, and they delight in tasting the wide variety of pizzas Giorgio creates.
Since Carlo and Paola married, the Deltetto and Grasso families share their Christmas Day feasts, rotating between the families’ two homes in Treiso and Canale. By early Christmas morning, the fire that had been stoked to make pizzas on Christmas Eve cools to about 400° Fahrenheit, a perfect temperature for baking bread. After days of work in which everyone pitches in, it’s time for their Christmas feast.
That March evening after we enjoyed Graziella and Cristina’s Friday “light” supper, Toni recited the Christmas menu as though he was savoring the dishes still nine months away. They begin with foie gras paired with bubbles — spumante from Deltetto and Champagne. Toni admitted it’s not a very Piemontese dish, but he said it is irresistible with the bubbles. The least sinful of the luscious dishes is panzanella, a salad that features fried rosemary bread cubes, quail eggs, pine nuts, and pomegranate.
Traditional Piemontese meat dishes include carne cruda (finely chopped raw Fassone veal), tajarin al sugo (thin golden noodles rich in egg yolks and topped with meat sauce), brasato (beef braised in Nebbiolo), tagliata di fassone (seared Fassone beef sirloin served rare), and bollito (thinly sliced beef stew similar to the French pot-au-feu). Like the meat selections, there are several pastas to choose from: tri-colore agnolotti, small ravioli signifying the colors of the Italian flag — beet colored (for red) stuffed with fish, shrimp, salmon, and roe; spinach (for green) stuffed with fonduta; and normal pasta (for white) stuffed with meat. Of course, numerous bottles representing many memorable vintages are sacrificed in the course of this feast. Dessert always includes pears cooked in port with honey, vanilla, black pepper, lemon, and lime zest. Tajarin requires approximately two dozen egg yolks for each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of flour, resulting in a large bowl of egg whites. Nothing goes to waste in a Piemontese kitchen, neither food nor energy. By late Christmas Day, the pizza oven cools to approximately 180° Fahrenheit, perfect for baking meringues made from the leftover egg whites. The combination of food and wine for celebrations like Christmas allows the wine families to enjoy the fruits of their labor and prepare their spirits for the coming vintage.
It’s that time of the year again. Harvest is underway throughout the Northern Hemisphere, a signature agricultural and cultural event for wine countries. In Italy, it’s also time for Gambero Rosso’s annual Anteprima Tre Bicchieri , the announcement of the wines that garnered the coveted Three Glasses from the respected Italian Wine Guide.
This year, nine of the recipients were wine families from my book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte:
These wines represent Gambero Rosso’s recognition of excellence in the Italian wine industry, but one stands out with particular poignancy this year — Albino Rocca 2013 Barbaresco Angelo. The wine is made from Nebbiolo grapes from vines ranging in age from 20 to 70 years from the Ronchi and Ovello vineyards of Barbaresco and Montersino vineyard in San Rocco Seno d’Elvio.
Appropriately named for the late, esteemed Barbaresco producer Angelo Rocca who perished on October 8, 2012, this is the first vintage his three daughters — Daniela, Monica, and Paola — and his son-in-law, Carlo Castellengo, faced alone without his presence during the entire growing season and wine production. Or perhaps he was present in their hearts and all of those who knew him then and who have come to know him through his family’s wines.
In memory of Angelo, and all the vintners who once walked Piemonte’s vineyards their descendants now tend, I would like to share excerpts from the Albino Rocca family’s chapter in Labor of Love.
October is a celebratory time in Piemonte’s wine country.
Months of sleepless nights and worried gazes at dark, stormy horizons are put to rest until the next growing season as grapes come home to cantine (wineries) for the next phase of the vintage. Regardless of the quality of a vintage, joy and relief are common emotions throughout the region. But in the autumn of 2012, one week after the harvest ended, sadness, shock, and despair struck like a dagger in the collective heart of the Langhe and devastated a renowned winemaking family. It did not, however, destroy it, thanks to three talented, determined women.
On October 8, 2012, shrouded in the dense autumn fog so common in Northern Italy, the ultralight plane Angelo Rocca piloted fell to the ground shortly after takeoff near Alessandria. The crash, just 45 minutes east by car from Angelo’s home near the village of Barbaresco, took the life of the highly respected vintner and his companion, Carmen Mazza. Although many feared the fatal crash spelled doom for the winery bearing his father Albino’s name, Angelo’s vision and talent were not entirely extinguished. He had passed those on to his three daughters, Daniela, Monica, and Paola, and they would ensure that his light continued to shine across Barbaresco as a beacon to the wine world far beyond the hills of Piemonte.
Had the crash occurred 60 years earlier, without male heirs, the Albino Rocca winery as a family enterprise could have been doomed. Vineyards sold. Cantina shuttered. Not so today, when women routinely assume control of family wineries upon the passing of a patriarch. Fate had both taken one of Barbaresco’s leading visionaries from his family and the wine world and brought Angelo’s three daughters to work with him in the winery in the final years of his life. Their decision to join their father and perpetuate the Rocca family’s legacy proved lucky, even though they never imagined they would assume control of the winery so early in their lives.
Angelo died exactly when many considered him at the pinnacle of his profession. His wines were routinely lauded as some of the best in the region. His affable personality, reflected in his beautiful wines, was enjoyed across the wine world. “How could three women who only recently joined their father at the winery continue his legacy?” people asked. To that skep-ticism, Monica said with a touch of defiance in her voice, “There was never any question that we would continue.”
The 2013 vintage was the family’s first Barbaresco release without Angelo. It belongs entirely to Daniela, Monica, Paola, and Carlo. The biggest change, they noted, is that before Angelo’s death, he and Carlo made all the winemaking decisions. Now, the four of them collaborate on important decisions as they continue the work of establishing their own vinous identity. “We make wines somewhat different because our tastes and likes are different than my father’s,” Daniela said. “Carlo is most important now at the winery because he is an alchemist and makes the amalgam of personalities and tastes.”
The future looks bright for Albino Rocca SSA, the name given to the winery once the bureaucratic wrangling was completed a year after Angelo’s death. Facing fierce global competition, the more than 100 producers in the denomination have recognized the need to collab-orate and share their experiences for the good of Barbaresco. Daniela is looking forward to a future that satisfies her strong desire to try new things. Her sisters share in that longing for new experiences they inherited from their father, along with his passion for the vine. They believe at one time Angelo wasn’t sure his daughters would continue the business, but they are confident that by the time he died, Angelo was happy having all three daughters with him in the winery. They took up his mantle far too early in their young lives when fate robbed them of many more years under their father’s tutelage. But they did it with grace and dignity, with the help of loved ones, their community, and their clients across the world, whose loyalty was readily transferred from Angelo to his daughters. Of course, credit should also be given to the strength of Piemonte’s women, which is embedded in their DNA. A bright future awaits the next generation of Rocca children should they wish to follow in their mothers’ footsteps.
Note: Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte (Under Discovered Publishing 2016) is my compilation of stories of the women of 22 wine families from the Roero, Monferrato, and Langhe areas of Piemonte. In Piemonte, the book is available through bookstores, enoteche, Cà del Baio and other producers in the book. In the USA, it is available on this website and through Amazon.
Tom Hyland’s new book, The Wines and Foods of Piemonte,provides Anglophone wine explorers with a comprehensive and insightful guide to the under-discovered northwest Italy region.
The Road Less Traveled
Author, freelance wine journalist, and diehard Italophile Tom Hyland’s first trip to Piemonte was in 2001, shortly after I first ventured south from Zurich to the splendid gastronomic region in northwest Italy. When the new millennium dawned, only dabs of ink had been spilled for Piemonte in Italian travel guides. It was as though the historic wine region, home of unified Italy’s first capital and one of the wine world’s most prestigious varietals, was an afterthought. Social media then consisted of actually communicating face-en-face and modern blogging was not yet common. Let’s just say, both of us, like many others traveling this under-discovered region, were left on own to figure out where to go, what to eat, and, most importantly, what to drink. Perhaps that was a good thing in retrospect, but not everyone has over a decade to get to know a place.
Today, nascent Piemontephiles, as well as seasoned wine explorers, have a wealth of information available in cyberspace and bookshops. The plethora of wine tourism blogs and the publication in my many languages of more books specifically about Piemonte have helped spark interest in the region. Tom Hyland’s latest book, The Wines and Foods of Piemonte (University of Nebraska 2016), is one of those and serves as a valuable addition to the resources available on Piemonte.
I met Hyland the same way I met my editor, Elatia Harris, and many others who helped me write, launch, and promote my own book: on Facebook. We were both in the throes of researching and writing books on Piemonte, only it was my first project and he was a seasoned pro. Hyland possessed something I lacked: a deep knowledge of Italian wines from all regions. Reading his posts on his blog, LearnItalianWines, helped me with my research. I’m a wine family expert; he’s a food and wine expert. We share the same passion for giving voice to the vintners to inform, educate, and inspire. I’m delighted he published his book this past summer — just a month after Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte — because the books are perfect companions.
Guiding Oenophiles Through Piemonte
In his introduction, Hyland declares his love of Piemonte and reverence for the families whose vines are anchored deep in its soil. The book opens with his admission that has “a love affair with Piemonte.” I know that feeling. It’s impossible not to love the region if you enjoy indulging in scrumptious food and wine and immersing yourself in the culture that is an integral part of its enjoyment.
“Piemonte,” he says, “is more of a destination for the serious wine and food lover.” Agreed. Perhaps this is why books like Hyland’s have been slow to evolve. The need was there, but the demand was slow to grow.
In The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, with the help of renowned vinous cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti’s maps and Hyland’s own photos of places, faces, foods, and wines, he builds a perfect foundation for nascent Piemontephiles and adds to the knowledge base of those with years of experience in the region. Hyland’s lovely cover photo of the expansive beauty of the vineyards with the snow-capped Alps over 40 miles, yet seemingly a short away begs the reader to enter the book.
The heart of the book opens with a geographical explanation of Piemonte, the second largest region in Italy after Sicily. The four major wine districts are home to a wide variety of grapes, a distinctive feature of Piemonte’s viticulture. Hyland explains each zone, noting signature varietals such as Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, and Arneis, and more obscure ones such as Pelaverga, Ruché, Freisa, and Grignolino. It’s far more than the “overview” he claims it is in his introduction.
Throughout the book, Hyland weaves quotes from and references to some of the region’s highly respected producers such as Mariacristina Oddero, Alessandro Ceretto, Angelo Gaja, Enrico Scavino and Giovanna Rizzolio, to name just a few. The effort to have the vintners speak for themselves was well spent since Hyland connects readers to them and transforms what could have been a dry recitation of technical aspects of viticulture into something far more engaging. Hyland’s photos that capture the vintners’ personalities, particularly the one of Mariacristina Oddero, add to the vintners’ words.
Hyland gives us further insight into the philosophies and passions of vintners with a section of interviews of distinguished vintners and — because food is the perfect partner of wine — notable chefs. Luca Pellegrino of Ristorante Le Torri in Castiglione Falletto, one of my favorite restaurants in the Langhe, answered Hyland’s question about unusual wine pairings with “salmon filet with a Barolo.” I must admit that I have tried that pairing at home and I loved it. I was delighted to see an interview with Dario Marini of il Fierobecco in Maggiora, a restaurant we discovered in 2015 on a visit to Lorella Zoppis Antoniolo in Alto Piemonte. A trip up the A26 from the UNESCO World Heritage site wine areas of Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato is well worth the drive to visit Antoniolo and dine at il Fierobecco.
Finally, Hyland’s four appendices provide very useful quick references for his highly recommended wines, recommended restaurants, a glossary of wine terms, and classic examples of Piemontese foods. Just what the savvy wine tourist needs at his or her fingertips while exploring the region.
There is no such thing as knowing everything there is to know about Piemonte. It’s such a beautiful, diverse region where opportunities for adventures are endless. Hyland’s book has broadened my knowledge of the vinous and culinary landscape of Piemonte, adding to what I’ve learned through my own 17 years of oenological experiences I’ve enjoyed there. The Wines and Foods of Piemonte is a great guide book for those making their first journey to Piemonte, a journey they will no doubt repeat many times.
The Wines and Foods of Piemonte is a small, softcover book that fits quite nicely into a carry-on to read on a transatlantic flight to Italy and to have handy on gastronomic explorations of this expansive region’s wine areas. It will certainly be with me on my next trip!
The Wines and Foods of Piemonte by Tom Hyland is available on his website and at the bookstores in Eataly locations in Chicago and New York City.
Friday, September 16, 2016, is the 90th birthday of one the wine world’s most precious gems, Giacomo Oddero, beloved patriarch of Barolo’s Poderi e Cantine Oddero. He served as a great inspiration for me as wrote Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte. No doubt in his many years as a revered wine industry leader he has inspired many others.
I will be forever grateful to Giacomo Oddero, his daughters Maria Vittoria and Mariacristina, and granddaughter, Isabella, for the more than three hours they spent with me in May 2015, as they wove the story of the Oddero family through the centuries, and the many months of follow-up that lead to their chapter.
It was for Giacomo and his family, and all the other families who made Piemonte’s wine culture one of the greatest in the world that I wrote Labor of Love. Therefore, in honor of Giacomo and of his late wife, Carla, I am posting an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my book. Those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him will gain some knowledge of the man, his region, and the women in his life. Those of you who do know Giacomo will no doubt smile and thank God such a man has walked the planet for so long.
Here’s to many more wonderful years of life to Giacomo Oddero!
Carla Scanavino Oddero (1927–2003)
In the early 20th century, education was still not commonplace in the countryside, but Maria insisted her sons Giacomo and Luigi attend school in Alba. Luigi chose oenology at the famous Scuola di Enologica. Giacomo chose a classical education at the Liceo Classico, then studied chemistry and pharmacology at the University of Turin. To this day, Giacomo is known fondly for frequently quoting Shakespeare and the classics. His favorite writer is Alessandro Manzoni, the beloved 19th-century author of I Promessi Sposi, the most famous Italian novel of all time.
Cancer took Giovanni Oddero in 1951. Maria and her two sons continued to run the winery as Europe entered into a postwar era for the second time in less than 50 years. This time, unlike the decades when the Fascists ruled after World War I, the economy prospered. Giacomo remained heavily involved with the family business, marketing the wines and beginning his political activities. Luigi ran the vineyards and cellar. Together, they expanded their land holdings primarily in La Morra as they acquired coveted vineyards in the Barolo villages of Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, and Monforte d’Alba with help from yet another strong Oddero woman.
During their high school studies at the Liceo Classico of Alba, Giacomo met Carla Scanavino. Their shared interests brought them together and on the 19th of April 1953, they married. Carla, who died in 2003, was a determined woman with a brilliant mind, one of the first women of Alba to graduate from university. Carla had become a pharmacist in Alba, eventually buying the pharmacy where she worked. That clever acquisition led to many more crucial land acquisitions for the family when, through Carla’s hard work, the pharmacy became the funding mechanism of Oddero’s expansion. Her earnings funded an expanded cellar and acquisitions of more important crus that positioned the company for greatness.
Giacomo called the purchases of the most historically important and prestigious vineyards in the region Carla helped secure, “the greatest satisfaction I had in my life as a wine grower.” A particularly fond memory was their acquisition of the Vigna Rionda in Serralunga and Rocche di Castiglione vineyards. “I remember I went into the vineyards at night, all alone, to admire the land I had just bought, with no other light than the moonlight,” he recalled. “I was full of gratitude for the efforts we all made to put aside the money to buy these amazing pieces of land.”
Despite financing the real estate expansion, Carla’s name does not appear on any official ownership documents. It just wasn’t done in those days. The end of patriarchal inheritance, giving women full rights, did not occur until 1975. She is, however, very much a part of the winery’s story. “Our holdings today are only possible because of my grandmother,” Isabella explained. “Our riches happened after World War II as the result of Carla, Giacomo, and Luigi,” she said. Isabella is frustrated that despite her grandmother’s significant contributions in the expansion of Oddero winery, no one outside the family knows it. It’s the unsung heroines — like Luigia, Maria, and Carla — who inspired me to be their families’ scribe. It’s a pity the three women didn’t live to see their granddaughters, Cristina and Isabella, become internationally acclaimed winemakers. One thing is certain — their granddaughters and other wine women of the present generation know that without the courage, financial savvy, and wisdom of these long-departed women, their lives would be quite different today. Here in the Langhe, the women of the past will never be forgotten.
Giacomo Oddero (1926)
The Oddero story is not only one of strong women whose boldness and wisdom made their families prosper, but one of its male heroes, too. Giacomo Oddero is among them. Everyone familiar with Italian wine is familiar with the classification system, particularly the acronyms “DOC” and “DOCG.” What isn’t as well known is Giacomo Oddero’s contribution to this system created to protect the integrity and quality of Italian wines. His intimate involvement in the landmark legislation was a moment of great personal satisfaction for him and great pride for the family.
In explaining to me the need for the classification system, Giacomo divided Piemonte’s post–World War II years into two phases. In the first phase, immediately after the war, people fled the countryside’s poverty for cities where industrialization took hold. Fiat, the car manufacturer in Turin, and Ferrero, the producer of heavenly chocolate confections in Alba, were two of the industrial magnets that drew many from the agrarian life their families had lived for generations. Giacomo Oddero and his younger brother Luigi were among the Piemontesi who possessed foresight about the area’s potential and remained in the Langhe.
At the time, wine production was mostly unregulated, leading to a crisis of confidence in the region’s most precious commodity, one that held the key to its economic viability. As the postwar economy improved, focus shifted to quality for both producers and consumers. From the implementation of a system that assured quality standards, farmers finally could benefit more from the results of their work. Slowly, step-by-step, they built a better life.
Giacomo Oddero and other “historical producers” including Giovanni Gaja from Barbaresco and Giovan Battista Rinaldi from Barolo were champions of quality and the integrity of their denomination’s wines. Before Giacomo began his five-year tenure as mayor of La Morra in 1965, he advocated for the adoption of laws to protect the Italian wine industry’s integrity, specifically Barolo. For nearly two years, Giacomo met with farmers most nights to explain the system’s importance to their industry. The farmers were concerned that it meant only more bureaucracy, but Giacomo convinced them that the proposed quality assurance laws meant protection for themselves and their consumers.
In 1963, Law 930 was enacted, creating the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC, or controlled designation of origin) system of strict rules governing the production of classified wines. That was a significant milestone in the history of the Italian wine industry, but it took several decades for the specific regulations for each DOC wine to be written. As the Cuneo and Asti regions’ vintner representative, Giacomo made frequent trips to Rome to meet with the Ministry of Agriculture, helping to craft the language of the new classification law as it pertained to Barolo.
By the early 1980s, industry leaders and government officials recognized the need for another, higher level of classification, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG, or controlled and guaranteed designation of origin). After producing a wine as a DOC wine for 10 years, producers could now apply for the DOCG, elevating the status of the wine with that one additional word “guaranteed.” Although some believe there are now too many DOCG wines, the philosophy is sound and its implementation was crucial in cementing Piemonte’s place on the world stage. From 1976 until 1992, Giacomo was president of the Cuneo Chamber of Commerce. During that time, he continued to help write specific regulations for other DOC wines of the region while continuing to champion quality and integrity in Barolo.
Giacomo is very proud of the system he helped create, ushering in what he calls the second postwar phase. He believes that the system built trust and halted the exodus of families and workers from the land. Farmers began returning to the hills, and the tide turned. Farmers who used to sell their grapes to negotiants, who in turn sold them to wineries, began producing wine under their own labels. This enabled them to send their kids to oenology school and travel the world to market their wines. “It was extremely important to the success of the region,” Giacomo said.
In 1985, Giacomo and other Langhe producers presented their wines for the first time at a wine expo in New York City. Giacomo laughed at how the French producers arrived with the French Minister of Agriculture on the Concorde, with the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” playing as they deplaned, while the Barolo producers had to scramble for posters of Verdi’s Aida to decorate their exposition. Although none of them spoke English, they succeeded in orchestrating a successful introduction of Barolo to the wine world, with Giacomo Oddero as a conductor. Beautiful wine like Barolo transcends language barriers. For Giacomo and many of his fellow Barolo vintners, it would be daughters, not sons, who would follow in their footsteps.
Oddero Women Crafting the Future
Cristina sees a bright future for Oddero and for the region. Looking back on the difficult years, the much-loved and respected Cristina Oddero reflected, “I feel good when I think about what I achieved after so many years of disagreements and difficulties I encountered on my way when I first approached business.” And her father is also happy to see his family strong, thanks to the indomitable spirit of its women. The winery will no doubt prosper under Cristina’s stewardship. She has the blood of Luigia, Maria, and Carla coursing through her veins.
Giacomo shared his thoughts about the ascendance of women in the wine industry. His wise, soulful words beautifully captured all that I witnessed over my years in Piemonte, watching the transition from a male-dominated wine culture to one inclusive of Piemonte’s strong women. Giacomo is happy to see so many talented women working together with their fathers as they prepare to one day inherit their family’s wineries. “The relationship between women and the Langhe wine industry is a brand-new typology of relations. This is a more deliberate way of working, with greater sensitivity and better attention to details. And small details make huge differences when talking about wine. Wine needs to be treated gently and with patience. These are characteristics inside women’s nature.” Long before Giacomo Oddero was born, women helped secure the future of his family. The inspiration and guidance born of his own mother’s character that he gave his daughters and grandchildren created a strong bridge to the future for the women and men who now follow him.
Enthusiastic audiences in Piemonte and Colorado have been enjoying my readings and discussions about my new book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, made more delightful by their connection with the families through the wine in their glass.
Prima’s wine director and co-owner, John Rittmaster, has assembled an impressive line-up of visiting vinous royalty for a wine-book pairing aperitivo at this transcendental TGIF Piemontese experience.
CALL FOR RESERVATIONS!
Books will be available for purchase and signing at the event!
Come join Master Sommelier David Glancy and me (Suzanne) for a Piemontese experience unlike any other available on the eastern shores of the Pacific.
Award-winning wine writer Fred Swan, who is on the faculty at the school, has put together, has worked tirelessly to put together an amazing tasting list of 30 Piemonte wines from 12 different producers in the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato areas of this iconic Italian wine region.
The program includes David Glancy’s guided tasting of four lovely Piemontese wines with my input vis-à-vis a reading and discussion about the book and the families. Afterward, enjoy a walk-around to taste the other 26 wines assembled for this celebration (which it truly is).
You can reserve and pay online. Easy peasy! Books will be available for purchase and signing. This event is open to the public. A special, reduced rate applies for industry professionals.
Expand Your Vinous Horizons!
Yes, I know California’s wine country cocoons San Francisco and that Cabernet Sauvignon, not Barolo, is king there. But even in Piemonte they enjoy other region’s wines, so why not grab this mind-expanding, oenological opportunity, join me in the City by the Bay on the 9th and 11th of September, and meet the visiting vinous royalty from Piemonte!
Gastronome Extra is the seasonal online magazine of the United States bailliage (chapter) of the international gastronomic society Chaine des Rotisseurs. The centuries old organization that King Louis IX — St. Louis — founded in 1248 as a guild of goose roasters is a premiere gastronomic organization that promotes culinary and oenological education and camaraderie at the table, something much-needed these days. From its inception, the Chaine served as a vehicle to develop and preserve culinary techniques.
The Chaine was resurrected in Paris in 1950 after two world wars that decimated the French food and wine industries, and a 200-year hiatus due to the French Revolution when guilds fell out of favor — an understatement. Today, the modern Chaine consists of over 25,000 passionate supporters of fine dining and protectors of the culinary arts in over 80 countries, including the United States.
The cover of Gastronome Extra’s summer issue features Elisabetta Vacchetto’s beautiful photo of Barolo living legend Chiara Boschis. Open up the magazine and on page 11 you’ll find a glowing review of my book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, the cover of which Chiara’s hands grace.
Note — one correction in the Gastronome Extra! article — we did not sell out the first printing. We had to reduce the first run by 1,000 books when we chose to print in Italy, so we ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund that 1,000. In less than three months since publication, we sold well over half of the first edition, a large number of books considering our constraints as an indie publisher, but it is incorrect to say we sold out the first edition. See the Labor of Love Kickstarter campaign for further details.
The book and Labor of Love’s wine families will be the focus of several upcoming wine-book pairing events in California, Colorado, and Louisiana. These events will feature wines from the wine families in the book, foods of the region, and book reading and signing with a healthy dose of spirited conversation about this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site.