One of the many amazing things about the women of Piemonte’s wine families is their uncanny ability to multitask. And one of the all-time multi-tasking greats is Mamma Luciana Grasso of Ca’ del Baio’s Grasso family.
With husband Giulio and their three daughters Paola, Valentina and Federica, Luciana runs the winery at their Treiso estate in the Barbaresco denomination.
Her multi-tasking jobs include running the business side of the winery, taking care of the household, tending to two very active granddaughters, Lidia and Anna Deltetto, and now, raising goats as part of her future cheesery.
Never far behind Luciana, is Milo, trusted Jack Russell mix, and Pora. Rocky II has been sent to prison on the winery grounds after raiding the chicken coop.
The most recent two-legged additions to the Grasso family are daughter Paola and son-in-law Carlo Deltetto’s lovely daughters Lidia and Anna Deltetto.
Of course, an army marches on its stomach and at Ca’ del Baio Luciana does a wonderful job keeping everyone’s bellies full and taste buds delighted. Her cuisine was born to pair with the luscious wines of the estate.
Luciana’s biggest contribution to the family’s wellbeing is the love she showers on her family and friends.
In all, she’s a Barbaresco treasure, carrying forward the traditions of the past and linking them to the future.
The 2014 vendemmia (harvest) was just beginning. Nails had been bitten off and nervous eyes were trained on the sky while hands were pressed in prayer. The growing season started well in May, but soon morphed into a cool, wet summer when hot, sunny days interspersed with gentle rains should have been the norm.
What would the autumn bring?
Although Giovanna doesn’t grow any white grapes – a strategy nearby Cantina del Pino’s Renato Vacca shares – those that do were optimistic about the early results of the harvest thanks to late August sunshine and warmth. Now it was on to the diamonds of the vineyards and the most important grape of the region – Nebbiolo.
The Dolcetto was safely in the cellar, so Giovanna and her husband Italo and their boys Davide and Riccardo turned their attention to the noble red and its sister, Barbera Donna Elena.
Join me once again as we follow Giovanna’s diary of the family and their kind friends and guests as they work hard to bring in the precious grapes before Mamma Nature puts an end to Indian Summer in the Langhe.
Nebbiolo Time in Tre Stelle
Wednesday, October 1st
08.30 – Time to pick-up samples in the vineyards for analysis
18.00 – The analysis indicates it’s the right time to start picking the Nebbiolo. Tre Stelle vineyard is normally picked before Barbera and even more so this year because the forecasts were showing bad weather starting from Sunday 5th.
Thursday, October 2nd
Morning: While waiting for the persistent autumn fog to go away, prepared the staff in the cellar then met friend and fellow winemaker Teobaldo Rivella. Afterward, time for a quick lunch with friend and wine journalist, Tom Hyland, who was visiting for a few days for tastings.
13.00 – Finally Giovanna, Italo, Davide and Riccardo start picking Nebbiolo from the Tre Stelle vineyard.
19.10 – Six hours and 10 minutes later, the first section of the vineyard is finished. Davide and Riccardo collected the boxes while Italo prepared the cellar for crushing.
19.45 – Crushing begins with a soft crushing of the first Nebbiolo grapes (20 °C – Babo 21.30)
21.00 – In the cellar, all is finished and cleaned. The must normally macerates for 1-2 day with skins before the sugar fermentation begins. TIME TO PREPARE DINNER!
21.15 – Cascina delle Rose’s Louisiana and Texas importer Greta Corona arrived from her trip to France.
21.30 – Time to eat! Homemade focaccia with Salami and a selection of cheeses. Time for sweet dreams.
Friday, October 3rd
05.45 – The morning dawned with a clear and limpid sky and a chill in the morning air. Today Greta joined for picking, her 6th year to harvest with the family at Cascina delle Rose!
08.10 – Greta, Giovanna, Italo and Davide started with the older Nebbiolo vines of Tre Stelle.
11.00 – The harvest goes on. So happy for the great weather today! Grazie Mamma Nature!
12.15 – Lunch break and time to relax to recharge “the batteries.”
13.35 – Back to the vineyard while Giovanna and Riccardo wait for new guests to arrive.
17.00 – Riccardo gives a tour and tasting for guests.
18.30 – The guys start collecting the boxes with the help of a special driver from Baton Rouge, Louisiana (home of the LSU Tigers!)
19.30 – All the boxes are loaded onto the trailer for the ride back to the cantina!
19.40 – Due to the very warm day, the grapes were not pressed in the evening. After a long, warm day in the sun, now the grapes need to cool down a bit so the full boxes were left on the trailer in the tractor shelter, well-protected from humidity.
21.00 – Dinner of Vitello Tonnato, Pepperoni (cooked in the oven) and ravioli with a bottle of Langhe Nebbiolo and a bottle of Donna Elena Barbera.
Saturday, October 4th
06.15 – Again, not a cloud in the bright sky! Whew!
07.45 – The previous day’s grapes slept well in the protection of the shed and are now ready to be crushed.
08.30 – The grapes look great and healthy. Everyone is very satisfied! (17°C – Babo 21)
09.15 – Time to head back to the old vineyard of Nebbiolo Tre Stelle.
11.50 – The vineyard is finished. The grapes were collected and taken to be crushed immediately. Thanks to the chilly morning temperatures, the grapes were fresh and didn’t need to be cooled like the day before.
12.25 – The must is pressed and sampled. (18°C – Babo 21)
12.50 – Lunchtime break of some panini followed by a much-needed rest.
14.00 – Time to start picking Nebbiolo in the Rio Sordo vineyard. Today in the vineyard are Greta, Giovanna, Italo and Davide as well as Riccardo who was waiting for the agriturismo’s new guests and then conducting a wine tasting for 10 people. The tour and the tasting gives the guests an opportunity to experience the beginning and the end result of the harvest!
19.00 – Time to take the boxes of collected grapes back home to the cantina.
19.40 – Early dinner of the season’s last tomatoes with mayonnaise, pasta with homemade pesto, small chocolate pralines from Cherasco.
21.30 – Davide and Greta left the table for nighttime truffle hunting with Dora and Pippo.
Sunday, 5th October
06.15 – Woke up to clouds and a bit of rain, Mamma Nature’s reminder that autumn will be ending soon.
07.30 – Grey and foggy in the valley. Time to press the Rio Sordo grapes picked yesterday (16°C -Babo 20).
10.30 – The sun came out of hiding and a timid wind dried the grapes. Giovanna and Greta headed out to the Rio Sordo Nebbiolo vineyard that was started yesterday. The boys arrived a little later.
12.30 – Time for the happy group to take a break for food and rest.
13.40 – Back to work! The weather was not so clear, so time to finish the Nebbiolo before the weather changes.
17.40 – The men start moving the boxes of grapes to the cantina.
18.50 – Time to crush the beautiful grapes.
19.30 – Check the new must: Babo 21, great! Davide starts to pump up the Tre Stelle.
20.15 – A well-earned special party evening with some friends – our “sister and brother” Page Elizabeth and Alan – to celebrate Greta’s birthday! Toasts of Champagne and Spumante at home and a big, scrumptious dinner at Osteria Italia in San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. Sadly, this is Greta’s last day at Cascina delle Rose. Tomorrow she will fly back home to Louisiana.
Monday, 6th October
06.30 – Another cloudy and foggy dawn in the valley, but there are many things to check in the cellar, including pumping up.
10.30 – Only Davide and Italo in the Barbera vineyard this morning.
12.30 – Greta is ready to leave, but Giovanna is not ready to see her dear friend go.
Pumping up continues……
13.30 – After a quick salad, it’s time to get back to the vineyard again to pick until evening. The grapes are really beautiful which makes work a little easier….and joyous!
19.10 – Six hours later and the picking is finished. After a really long day, Davide, Riccardo and Italo begin taking the boxes with grapes back to the cantina.
20.30 – All the grapes picked today are finally at home and is time for Davide and Italo to pump up.
22.15 – Finally, it’s dinnertime: pasta al forno and apple cake.
Tuesday, October 7th
07.00 – A cloudy and humid day begins.
07.30 – Time to press 118 boxes, each containing 22 kg (49 lbs) of beautiful, ripe grapes.
08.45 – Pumping up time again.
10.15 – Italo and Davide head out to the Barbera vineyard again.
12.30 – Lunch of tuna and bean salad. Pumping up continues.
13.30 – Riccardo, Italo and Davide continue picking until the rain begins to fall.
15.15 – The rain starts so the workers head home with the trailer to seek protection for the boxes filled with grapes.
16.45 – A new sail in front of the cellar is protecting the work and it is now possible to press.
18.00 – All is complete, but need to continue pumping up some Nebbiolo from Tre Stelle and Rio Sordo!
21.30 – Time for a well-deserved quiet dinner: cotolette alla Milanese and sweet frittini with homemade chips (not the French one; the Italian chips!).
Wednesday, 8th October
06.45 – Cloudy skies, again. More pumping up.
09.00 – A gentle breeze, perfect for drying the grapes, comes up. Italo, Davide, Riccardo and Pietro are working this morning. It’s a nonstop day – a lunch of panini in the vineyards. No rest.
13.30 – Giovanna is pumping up.
15.00 – Great news! Relief! Six hard workers from Norway help to harvest the Donna Elena Barbera! Great friends.
18.30 – The big group of kind, helpful Norwegians return to Cascina delle Rose and our boys pick up 179 boxes (Not only did they help pick the grapes, but Oddrun took the lovely photos).
20.30 – Back home to press.
21.00 – Strong men Jon and Kjell helping to press the grapes. Giovanna’s so grateful!
22.30 – Crushing and pumping up is complete. What’s next? DINNER!
23.30 – Midnight is approaching, so it’s time for a well-deserved dinner.
Thursday, October 9th
06.30 – Finally, clear skies at dawn. Only a light fog in the valley. More pumping up.
08.30 – Back to Donna Elena Barbera and the last vines of Nebbiolo Tre Stelle.
15.40 – Hard to believe, but the harvest is finished! Running (slowly) at home for to press the last grapes of the 2014 harvest
18.00 – Back home, cleaning the clippers.
18.30 – Time to press the last fruit of one year of hard work. Compliments to Davide who did an excellent job!
20.00 – Pumping up. This will continue for the next 8/14 day, until the end of slow, careful fermentation.
Now the Dolcetto is making the second fermentation, malolactic.
23.00 – Something special from Norway: Fantastic salmon and dill sauce (by Simona, Davide’s wife and soon to be a mamma!)
After this, will there be a holiday? No, but thank you for this nice thought! There’s a new vineyard at Cascina delle Rose that needs to be prepared! Work never ends, but it’s so joyous when done with people you love.
P.S. You might be wondering why there are no harvest photos of Giovanna. Good reason, she was taking photos when she was working in the vineyards or at home working with guests and cooking!
Note – Cascina delle Rose is not only home to beautiful wines, but is also one of the region’s first agritusimi. It’s a wonderful place to stay and experience the agrarian culture of this historic wine region.
Cascina delle Rose Strada Rio Sordo, 58 12050 Barbaresco (CN) Italy Tel.+39 0173 638292 / 638322 E-mail: email@example.com
Many winery doors in Europe are thick, wooden barriers to domains through which centuries of winemakers have passed. On the edge of Barolo’s central district, on Via Vittorio Veneto just below sprawling Nebbiolo vineyards, there is one such door.
A black plaque with four large white letters affixed on the right of the door prominently displaying the name of the legendary wine family “PIRA” alerts visitors they’ve arrived. Press the button on the brass plaque to ring the bell that could easily wake the dead of centuries past. You’ll hear hurried steps – albeit maybe not immediately – lock turning, a bolt scraping open and finally the centuries-old door creaks open.
If your timing is right – the probability of which is improved dramatically if you’ve cleverly booked an appointment – Chiara Boschis’ bright, welcoming smile will be the first thing you see on the other side of the door to E. Pira e Figli.
On a cold March day shrouded in a light mist more akin to November than Easter, I met Chiara Boschis, E. Pira’s proprietor and winemaker. The door burst open and before me was a petite, smiling woman in leggings and a flowing skirt, bundled up in a puffy coat she clutched around her neck. I stood before her in jeans and a light, powder blue sweater and tee shirt, freezing. For some reason – as I stood there, slightly shivering – admitting it seemed out of the question. I live in the Rockies after all. We’re tough and rarely admit we’re cold.
Chiara greeted me as she would a long lost friend. Here before me was a much-loved woman who had successfully staked out her territory in Barolo’s male-dominated world and who was the subject of many laudatory articles in wine journals and blogs. But immediately I could see, despite her fame, she was no wine diva.
There was no period of uncomfortable formalities, only a warm two-handed handshake, a deep sincere look into my eyes and concern over my lightweight attire. Here was a woman in love with her craft and grateful for my interest in the women of Piemonte. I was humbled.
The conversation flowed effortlessly as we descended steep, concrete stairs, through another heavy wooden door into the maze of subterranean rooms of the centuries old winery. I was thrilled when we entered the warm barrel room where a humidifier bellowing steam transformed the space into a mild sauna. Low level lights shining up through the fog at the vaulted ceiling created an ethereal affect, giving the musty space a timeless feeling. I could see through the fog a small forest of large wooden barrels and smaller barriques where nature, guided by Chiara, was finishing its work aging and imparting aromas into her precious wines.
On later visits, I thought the cantina seemed the sort of place the ghost of sainted Giulia Colbert Falletti, Marchesa di Barolo – the 19th century mother of modern Barolo – would be comfortable. I believe she would have enjoyed Chiara, the woman who burst through gender barriers to become Barolo’s first woman winery proprietor and winemaker. Chiara draws inspiration from the Marchesa. Perhaps Giulia’s spirit guides Chiara and all the women who are her oenological legatees. I like to think so. But I digress.
A woman to the rescue
Once a rarity, women winemakers are taking their place in the Piemonte wine industry, particularly in the Langhe and Roero regions. Famous last names previously associated with men are now brands belonging to women winemakers and proprietors such as Chiara.
In 1980, following the death of Luigi Pira, Chiara emerged as the first of her gender in her family’s nine generations in Barolo to tend the vines and vinify the noble Nebbiolo grape. Luigi was the last male heir of the renowned centuries-old E. Pira e Figli winery in Barolo.
At Chiara’s behest, her father, Franco for whom she had worked at Giacomo Borgogno e Figli, bought the winery from Pira’s two sisters. The vineyards, including parcels in the prized Cannubi, and the winery would become the launching pad of Chiara’s meteoric career.
Chiara possess an innate talent for growing high quality grapes and making luscious wines from her vines’ bounty. A combination of swimming in the right gene pool and on-the-job experiences spanning a lifetime prepared her to successfully assume control of the operation in 1990.
New generation, new philosophy
On that first visit, Chiara poetically described her winemaking philosophy with words like “joy,” “passion” and “love” garnishing her language. The biggest change in her generation was not only women entering winemaking, but also giving more attention to the vineyards. “You cannot abandon the fruit in the vineyard during the growing season,” she warns. The work in the vineyards is 80% of the process. The other 20% is in the cellar. It’s logical that without the best fruit possible, nothing in the cellar will change mediocre grapes into stellar wines.
Chiara was one of the first to conduct a green harvest – crop thinning – in Barolo. If done correctly, as she does, the process of cutting shoots and bunches during the growing season produces quality over yield. Chiara strongly believes quality cannot be achieved when the vine is preoccupied and stressed with too much growth. It’s a delicate process, however, that is sometimes done three or four times as she monitors the vines’ development and the weather between June and harvest.
Her first green harvest, however, brought calls to her father from locals saying, “Chiara is crazy! She is cutting the vines!” She admits her father was also skeptical, but the proof of her logic rests in the high quality of her elegant wines.
Meteoric Rise to Fame
The splendid 1990 vintage was Chiara’s first on her own. She downplays somewhat the significance of the Tre Biccheri the Gambero Rosso awarded her her maiden vintage declaring, “It was a fabulous vintage.” True, it was, but she need not be humble about her achievement with that vintage. Four years later, with the release of the 1994 vintage, Chiara proved she was no flash in the pan.
In Europe, rain and mud were the hallmarks of the second half of 1994. Long before vines surrendered their grapes, the vintage was branded as poor. Although it gave only two out of five stars to the 1994 Piemontese vintage, Britain’s Decanter magazine noted, “Prolonged rain caused serious problems, although a few producers still made good wines.” One of those wines was Chiara’s cru from the legendary Cannubi vineyard.
As the winner of the sole Tre Bicchieri awarded for Barolo that year, her 1994 Barolo Cannubi proved she could make great wines even when Mother Nature was cranky. “Consistency is most important to success,” Chiara asserts. Weather can be changeable, but winemakers must always be at the top of their game to achieve consistently high quality wines. Since 1994, Chiara garnered numerous accolades for her Baroli that exhibit power, but with a Burgundian-like elegance, finesse and soft tannins, the signature of her wines.
In its 2013 Duemilavini wine guide, the Italian Sommelier Association awarded its highest honor, “Cinque Grapoli” (five bunches), to Chiara’s 2008 and 2010 Barolo Cannubi. So I’d say that now, as she brings in her 24th vintage as the head of Pira, Chiara Boschis has proven herself worthy of her winemaking heritage.
Chiara’s wines continue to garner praise across the globe. Her personality, devotion and talent emerge from each bottle of wine opened in lands far from the humble Piemonte village of its origins. No doubt, most days someone meets Chiara for the first time by merely sipping her vinous creations.
Looking To The Future
Chiara bridges the past and future through her devotion to preserving Piemonte’s cultural heritage, insuring future generations remain connected to region’s land and the culture surrounding all it produces.
Chiara is married to the land and protects it as she would her own offspring. As a certified organic wine producer who never exposes her vines to pesticides, she guards the environment and the health of her clients and neighbors. Her ardent belief – a view many of her peers share – is vineyards can survive without chemicals. A healthy future and continuation of centuries of Piemontese viticulture depend on farmers such as Chiara to protect the terroir.
With brother Giorgio who left Borgogno and joined her at Pira in 2010, she’s well into her third decade of creating beautiful, award-winning wines. Brother Cesare also left Borogono and now works with his sister and eight others in the “ethical” project to preserve the culture and production of Castelmagno in Rifugio Valliera. Together, the close-knit siblings are working to insure the region’s traditions remain a part of its fabric, leaving generations to come a bright future in Piemonte.