Intersections of Joy and Grief in Piemonte

 

Much has happened in Piemonte in the two intervening years since I sent the last edits of Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte into cyberspace to Verona in April 2016. Over 720 sun-
rises and sunsets. The designation of the vineyard landscape of Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014  helped stimulate growth of the region’s already robust wine tourism. An iconic winery changed hands and Barolo’s Nebbiolo vineyard prices continued on a flight path to the stratosphere. And there were changes within the wine families that were intersections of joy and grief.

Sunrises. Sunsets.

Several Labor of Love families, such as Oddero (Barolo) and Marenco (Monferrato), gave life to new generations. Others, such as Sophie and Giuseppe Vaira of G. D. Vajra (Barolo), continued to add to the generation that began with the birth of their first child in spring 2013.

Sadly, some families had to say good-bye to remaining members of the generation that I call “Piemonte’s Greatest Generation,” the one that bridged the painful past of poverty, fascism, and Nazi occupation with the current era of great success and prosperity. These passings in Piemonte were painful.

In summer 2017, we lost one of Barolo’s most beloved and revered vintners — an authentic Barolo Boy —  Domenico Clerico. Unlike his older brethren who left us recently, he was a post-war child. Domenico, who always reminded me a bit of Shakespeare’s Puck, inspired and taught many younger producers who are now a part of Barolo’s great success story. The new year was only a few weeks old when Langhe legend Bruno Giacosa passed away. Grief touched three of my Labor of Love families with the passing of Roero pioneer Carlo “Carlin” Deltetto in August 2017 (see earlier post), Albino
Rocca in September 2017, and most recently, Fiorentina Grasso of Cà del Baio.

Nightfall in the Langhe.
Photo Credit: Pierangelo Vacchetto
Albino Rocca (1924-2017)

In 2017, in the midst of one of the most challenging harvests in memory, the three sisters of the Albino Rocca winery – Daniela, Monica,  and  Paola – bade a sad  farewell to their  beloved  nonno  Albino. In his 93 years he had witnessed the violence that engulfed the region in between 1943 and early 1945. He had felt the heartbreak of untimely loss of a young brother during World War II, then in the span of three years, his wife, his daugher, and, in October 2012, his son, Angelo. But in his final years, he also witnessed with pride and joy his three granddaughters and Paola’s husband, Carlo Castellengo, following ably in Angelo’s footsteps following his untimely death. Albino was there for them through four vintages without their iconic vintner father. He saw them awarded the Gambero Rosso’s coveted Tre Bicchieri for their 2013 Barbaresco Angelo from their first vintage without any earthly guidance from the wine’s namesake. Albino gave them love and provided guidance as they assumed control of the winery bearing his name that he had created decades before.

The Rocca Sisters, Carlo Castellengo, and Rocca family patriarch, their nonno Albino. Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto.
Fiorentina Cortese Grasso (1933-2018)

Further down the road on the outskirts of another Barbaresco village, Treiso, on April 15, 2018, grief descended upon Giulio Grasso, his sister Franca, and their families. Fiorentina Cortese Grasso, beloved wife of the late Ernesto Grasso and final member of the oldest of four generations at Cà del Baio, passed away peacefully at home after a painful struggle with ill health. It would be just  like nonna Fiorentina to wait for the return from a business trip abroad of her oldest child’s oldest child, Paola, before she closed her eyes for the last time. Such was her grit and determination. What a gift to Paola to be able to say “good-bye.” The melancholy expression on Giulio’s face in a photo with his three daughters at Vinitaly days after her passing told the story of the deep sadness that has blanketed the family. But life goes on at Cà del Baio, as it always has. And that’s how nonna Fiorentina would want it to be. The product of Fiorentina and  Ernesto’s labor of love  is in good  hands with  Giulio, his  wife Luciana, and their three daughters, Paola, Valentina, and Federica. I will certainly miss seeing her at lunch in Cà del Baio, but like all Piemonte wine family matriarchs, her presence will be felt for a long time to come.

Generational bookends: Ernesto and Fiorentina Grasso with Lidia Deltetto, their great-granddaughter, the first of a new generation.

I know in coming years there will be more end-dates — more sunsets on long, productive lives —  that will have to be added to the 22
genealogies in Labor of Love. Although I will grieve over having to note more departures, I will take heart that these wonderful matriarchs and patriarchs trusted me with their stories so that those whose names I will add to the genealogies will always feel a connection with their deep roots in the Piemontese soil. Each sunset  shall be followed by a new dawn and new life on the land.

In honor of Albino Rocca and Fiorentina Grasso, in the coming posts I will share excerpts of their stories from Labor of Love.

 

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