Passing of a Patriarch
Saturday evening, August 26th, Carlo Deltetto (senior), the beloved patriarch of Azienda Agricola Deltetto in Canale (Roero), slipped away from our earthly presence. Despite his advanced age, nonno Carlo’s passing was unexpected.
Since Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte was published on June 2, 2016, I have had the delight of adding boxes and in some cases generations to many of the 22 genealogies in my book. This is the first time I’ve had to write an end date and it saddens me so.
Dani and I chose to spend Christmas with the Deltetto and Grasso families last year. We were so honored to be included in this wonderful family celebration and it was the most precious gift of love I’ve ever received. Nonno Carlo’s wife, Catterina, had been in hospital in the weeks leading up to the holiday, so we went with the family on Christmas Eve to give Natale greetings to Carlo and Catterina in their apartment at the family’s winery and residence in Canale. He was so cute and so happy to have the family around him, particularly his great granddaughters Lidia and Anna. Later in April, I caught a glimpse of nonno Carlo at the winery and a gave him a quick hello, somehow feeling he was frailer than he had been at Christmas. But his big smile was still there and I’ll always remember that moment.
I would like to share some of the Deltetto chapter of Labor of Love in honor of this gentle, kind man with whom I did not share a language of the tongue, only one of the heart through our mutual love of Roero and his family. It was because of what happened on the 26th of August, when one of the older generation of pioneers of the modern Piemontese wine industry passed away, that I so feverishly wrote Labor of Love. The stories of these wonderful people must be preserved. No one can destroy memories and rewrite history if enough of us know the stories.
Excerpt from Chapter 9, Deltetto, of Labor of Love
Roots of a Winery
Azienda Agricola Deltetto is located on the outskirts of Canale, the center of Roero. It’s only a few miles north from Alba across the Tanaro River, but geologically and thus viticulturally, Roero is quite different from the Langhe. Roero’s sandy soil provides a perfect environment in which Arneis, the wine that drew us to the area, can flourish.
Carlo Deltetto, grandfather to Carlo, one of the current proprietors, founded the family owned and operated winery in 1953. Nonno Carlo was born in 1922 in Rabini, approximately three miles northeast of Canale in the Province of Asti. His childhood on a farm in Piemonte mirrored that of many other agrarian families in the first half of the 20th century. Hard work. Long days. Trials and tribulations.
World War II — whether the decimation of the Italian troops on the Eastern Front, in Russia, or at home during the German occupation — touched nearly all families in Piemonte. The Deltetto family was no exception. Following the July 1943 ouster of dictator Benito Mussolini, the new Italian government signed the “Armistizio Badoglio,” a truce named after the newly installed prime minister, Pietro Badoglio. Sadly, the armistice signed on September 8, 1943, did not bring peace. The 20-months-long German occupation that followed — and the partisan resistance it triggered — made peace an illusory aspiration for war-weary Italians.
In an attempt to block the Allied armies advancing from the south, German forces flooded into Central and Northwest Italy, including Piemonte. During the Nazi and Fascist Black Shirts’ reign of terror, Roero was a hotbed of partisan resistance fighter activity. Italian soldiers who did not side with the Fascists became enemies of the occupation. Carlo Deltetto was one of many soldiers who, after the Italian Army’s surrender to the Allies, left their posts and walked home.
Carlo had been a member of the 34th fanteria (infantry) in Fossano, 28 miles to the southwest of Canale. He was tired of war. He only wanted to return home, to work and not to fight Italian brothers. Carlo and his three comrades, still dressed in their Italian Army uniforms, walked through woodlands to avoid capture by the Germans or Fascists. Suddenly, a German patrol confronted them. As the Germans approached the four former Italian soldiers, Carlo believed the death he had eluded during his military service was near. The German soldiers spoke among themselves as Carlo stood trembling, wondering what they were saying. Finally, he understood the gestures the Germans added to their incomprehensible words. They were free to continue home. How many such stories were there where a family’s future rested on the capricious decisions of wartime enemies? I shudder to think of what we would have missed had Carlo Deltetto met a different fate that day.
In 1956, Carlo married Catterina Occhetti. No, I didn’t misspell her name. Toni said the additional “t” made its way into her first name as the result of widespread illiteracy at that time. Carlo had founded his winery in a rented cellar in Canale in 1953. The early years were difficult for them, particularly for Catterina. In the tradition of the times, newly married couples lived with the husband’s family. Young brides took on many responsibilities of housekeeping in their new homes. In Catterina’s case, before she had children of her own, she cared for her husband’s four unmarried brothers. Like so many of Catterina’s contemporaries, she worked both at home and in the office. At the winery, Catterina attended to administrative matters and, since it was long before labeling machines, hand labeled each bottle of wine they produced. At home, she fed the Deltetto men and washed their clothes. Catterina had studied to be a teacher, but her career aspirations would have to wait.
Carlo and Catterina had two children, Antonio, known as Toni to family and friends, who was born in 1957, and Silvia, who sadly died in 1993 at the age of 31.
In 1960, Carlo moved from his rented cellar to the winery he had built and that Toni would one day run with his own son Carlo. Without the burdens of caring for so many people, Catterina could finally begin her career. In 1965, she began teaching in the primary school in Canale and continued into the 1990s.
The Legacy Continues
The harvest, an early one this year, is well underway, so the family will say their tearful good-byes and resume their work in the vineyards of the winery their beloved late patriarch established.
In his Facebook posting announcing the passing of his grandfather, nonno Carlo’s grandson and namesake, Carlo, thanked him profusely for his love, guidance, and joy of life. Carlo and his two sisters, Cristina and Claudia, now bear the heavy weight of carrying on their grandfather’s legacy their father, Toni, recently passed to them in an inter vivos (living) transfer. It is this continuity and dedication to preserving their heritage that I’ve grown to love so much about the Piemontesi.
God bless you, nonno Carlo, as He has blessed us with your presence in our lives and the wonderful winery and family you have left behind. Thank you for giving us such a beautiful family that we have come to know and love as our own.