Winter is here (well, sort of in the Colorado Rockies) and it’s never too early to start planning your summer escape in the Alps. I highly recommend a retreat from the world — digital and otherwise — with a trip to Des Martin’s Rifugio Valliera in Castelmagno.
In 2007, Barolo wine producer Chiara Boschis, her brother Cesare, and her fellow group members of the Des Martin consortium turned their attention to Castelmagno to renovate buildings and revive the area’s cheese-making traditions. At the timberline in the commune are abandoned hamlets where families once lived off the land year-round. The group purchased half of Valliera, a hamlet nearly 5,000 feet above sea level at timberline. They named their consortium “Des Martin,” after the hamlet’s last inhabitants. Yet another group that shared the vision purchased the remaining Valliera property, and the hamlet’s renaissance was under way.
That same year, Des Martin hired an experienced casara (cheese maker) who began experimenting with various forms at a nearby dairy during the construction of Des Martin’s casei-ficio (creamery). By 2015, the Des Martin cowherd exceeded 40 head. Chiara often quips that while other women buy great cars and take exotic vacations, she buys cows.
Chiara and the other members of the consortium dream of more groups coming to the mountains to transform the remaining hamlets. Already her fellow Barolo producer Elio Altare has rejuvenated mountain life in the hamlet of Campo Fei above Rifugio Valliera. Life begins anew above timberline.
In June 2015, Agriturismo Des Martin opened. The nine (9) apartments provide warm, homey lodgings for visitors seeking the peace and tranquility that communing with nature and the past provide. Chiara envisions the rebirth of a vibrant mountain culture through her passionate nurturing of agricultural restoration.
Book soon for this unique mountain experience!
Piemonte is calling!
For more information on visiting Agriturismo Des Martin or to book an exclusive, customized Labor of Love tour of Piemonte, contact Suzanne Hoffman at email@example.com.
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 Piemontewas 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.
Truffles & Turkey Thanksgiving in Piemonte November 19 – 26, 2017
Come discover the secrets of under-discovered Piemonte, Italy with me, Suzanne Hoffman, and my local team of certified tour professionals. I am the author of the award-winning, groundbreaking book Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte. Since 1999, I’ve traveled over 25 times to this bewitching gastronomic haven.
Enjoy all the comforts of home — including being made to feel at home — at the Locanda di Marchesi Alfieri on the grounds of the San Martino di San Germano family wine estate in San Martino Alfieri where their family has resided for centuries.
November is the time of year Mama Nature does her best work with that diamond of the soil, tartuffi bianchi (white truffles). We will have white truffles at three Michelin star restaraunts and dine at other wonderful, traditional Piemontese trattorie and wine bars.
Thanksgiving Truffle Feast
And what better way to have a celebratory Thanksgiving feast than to dine with Chef Enrico Trova at his Slow Food restaurant, Osteria del Diavolo, in Asti? Chef Enrico spent 15 years in Los Angeles, during which time he delighted celebrities and gastronomes alike at his Beverly Hills restaurant, Amici. Amongst other delectable dishes, Chef Enrico will prepare a turkey with his own Piemontese twist — AND white truffles!
Labor of Love tours are like land cruises. From the time you check in at Marchesi Alfieri until you say “Arrivederci,” everything is included, except of course those personal goodies and souvenirs you want to take home with you. Even delicious torrone from the sisters at Basano Coraglia await you in your room upon arrival…and you can buy more to take home with you when you visit their lovely shop in nearby San Damiano.
You’ll enjoy trips to wineries such as E. Pira e Figli, Cà del Baio, Paolo Scavino, Marchesi di Grésy, G. D. Vajra, Deltetto and many more, in the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato areas where family members will guide you through tastings of their beautiful wines including some of the finest Baroli and Barbareschi the region has to offer.
Gastronomic Experiences with Vintners
Wine producers will join in meals, enhancing your oenological experiences and giving you more personal contact with these passionate vintners.
Light “light” buffet dinners paired with the estate’s wines at Marchesi Alfieri after long days exploring the region are a welcome break for that “at home” feeling.
Art, Architecture, History, and Culture
Touring some of Piemonte’s castles with noted art restorer Marie-Hélène Cully will give you a deeper understanding of the history and culture of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More Gastronomic Adventures
Visits to markets, cooking classes, and tours of farms with chefs who buy their fresh, organic products from them will enhance your enjoyment of cucina Piemontese.
All this and so much more awaits you in this enchanting, under-discovered northwest Italian region.
What Labor of Love tour guests are saying:
“This trip was an experience that no other person can provide. Suzanne’s personal relationships with the vintners and restaurants in Piemonte cannot be duplicated. It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.” – Carole W. (April 2017)
“This is not a ‘tour.’ It is an exceptional experience. Being welcomed by the wine makers, the chefs and the restaurateurs as friends of Suzanne’s and not as a ‘tour group’ made all the difference.” – Linda M. (April 2017)
“We have been to Europe many, many times and this trip was one of the best experiences we have had. The tour was exceptionally well-organized and all of the winemakers that we visited were personal friends of Suzanne’s, so consequently we were welcomed like family. The winery owners gave us very personal tours and in many cases they join us for lunch or dinner. I would recommend this trip to anyone that wants an up-close personal experience in Italy.” – Karin and Dean J. (April 2017)
Find out more!
Tours are strictly limited to 12 people, so contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on this tour, future tours in May and June 2018, and how to organize your own custom group tour of Piemonte.
Vail Symposium goes beyond the bottle
with the Chiara Boschis
Suzanne Hoffman, author of award-winning “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte,” will moderate the event
VAIL, Colo. – June 30, 2017 – There are few liquids more complex than wine. Each bottle of wine is unique, reflecting the terroir in which it was grown, the process in which it was made and the people who watched over it every step of the way. On Tuesday, July 11, guests will be able to go beyond the story that is told on the wine label and hear, firsthand, from Chiara Boschis, one of the Piemonte’s region’s most fascinating winemakers.
Barolo winemaker Chiara Boschis’ family history is as deep and rich as the soil in which her grapes grow. It includes a riveting story involving the German occupation of Piemonte, Italy during World War II and, later, the exchange of young prisoners from Barolo for an entire vintage of a precious wine.
Suzanne Hoffman, author of award-winning Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, has come to know Boschis well through the writing of her book and her visits to the region. As Hoffman leads the conversation, Boschis will talk about the deep history of her family, her winery and her own growth as a farmer, a defender of nature, a winemaker and a daughter. This is a rare opportunity to have a very personalized interaction with one of the leading vintners in the world.
“Personally, I want people to see a real winemaker, a farmer as she delights in saying, not a pop culture version that we see on TV and in magazines,” Hoffman said. “I want people to hear directly from this vibrant, passionate woman what it takes to balance the demands of the global wine market, which means traveling frequently and also welcoming clients to Barolo; the day-to-day operations of the winery cellar and the vineyards and the job she loves the most, caring for her 90-year-old father, revered Barolo vintner, Franco Boschis.”
Boschis is widely recognized as one of the first women producers in Barolo, although she comes from eight generations of winemakers. In 1981, the Boschis family acquired the E. Pira e Figli estate, occupying some of the most prestigious land in Barolo. In 1990, Chiara Boschis took over the operation on her own, bringing dedication, charm, patience and determination to every aspect of production in order to raise the quality and image of the winery to that which it enjoys today. In 2010, her younger brother Giorgio joined her, contributing a wealth of experience both in the vineyards as well as in the cellar.
“My goal is to introduce Chiara through my Q&A with her, but then to open up the floor for questions from the audience,” Hoffman said. “She can talk the legs off a coffee table — people hang on to every word she says — and she will love interacting with the audience. People will not want this to end. I also want people to leave with a deep appreciation of the hard work and manual labor that goes into producing a bottle of wine.”
As a winemaker, Boschis is a master of balance, crafting finessed and sophisticated wines that are some of the most aromatically dynamic expressions of Barolo today. But she is a farmer first, dedicating herself to the philosophy that quality begins in the vineyard where her impact on the environment is greatest.
“This program provides a wonderful opportunity for our community to get up close and personal with Chiara and hear her story,” said Kris Sabel, executive director of the Vail Symposium. “So often these events are wine tasting dinners which, while satisfying, can be quite expensive and focus more on the individual wines and food pairings than on the personal story of the winemaker, her love of the land and history of the people who have been creating amazing wine for centuries.”
The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and feature a reception where attendees can purchase and sample Boschis’s wine. After the program, Boschis and Hoffman will be signing copies of Hoffman’s award-winning book, “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte” will be on sale at a special price of $48 (regular retail price is $55) plus tax with $5 of every purchase benefitting the Vail Symposium.
If you go…
What: Beyond the Bottle
With: Barolo winemaker Chiara Boschis; moderated by Suzanne Hoffman, author of “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte”
Cost: $25 online before 2 p.m. on the day of the event, $35 at the door, $10 students and teachers
More info: Visit www.VailSymposium.orgor call 970.476.0954 to register. Attendees should utilize public parking structures. Summer parking is free in the Vail and Lionshead parking structures.
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About Vail Symposium
Over the past 45 years, the Vail Symposium has touched thousands of lives with its rich and varied history. Created in 1971, the Symposium was conceived by community leaders to create ideas and goals, attracting not only the majority of townsfolk but also policy shapers from across the state and nation. Throughout the years we have diversified and expanded our scope with a dedication to education and cultural programs which provide lifelong learning opportunities for everyone who lives in or visits our community. The Vail Symposium is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Media Contact: Katie Coakley
Reading Jill Barth’s delightful post about G. D. Vajra in Barolo made me home-away-from-home-sick for Piemonte. It’s a common experience for me, particularly when I recall the vivid image of Francesca Vaira bathed in the ethereal blue light the stained glass windows create as she describes to visitors the alchemy of fermentation that occurs in the room each autumn. Franciscan priest Fr. Costantino Ruggeri’s spectacular stained glass windows at G. D. Vajra complement the art that is the Vaira family’s wine.
No visit to the Vairas’ winery is complete without a walk through the tank room, with its towering stainless steel tanks where fermentation occurs, and the 26-foot-high stained glass windows the late Catholic priest and renowned artist, Father Costantino Ruggeri(1925-2007) created for his close friends, the Vairas. The tall, narrow windows with glass of varying shades of blue and splashes of other bright colors create a spiritual feeling inside the otherwise utilitarian space. The room is bathed in an azure blue light during the day, leaving no question that spirituality, faith, and a respect for nature and its Creator dominate the philosophy of this family in all they do. Everyone who works inside the room values the natural light from outside that creates the soothing blue hue reminiscent of bluebird skies on a clear autumn day. I’m told Aldo and Milena began dreaming of the stained glass windows in 1985. When asked why they installed these precious works of art in the winery, Aldo’s answer summed up the family’s philosophy of life and work. He said, “We always felt deeply that wine is a message of beauty and we would like all details, all actions, and all spaces of our work to resonate this beauty.” Aldo said that during the harvest, when so much work is done in the room through the night, the light from inside floods the exterior area in the same blue light workers inside enjoy during the day. In a later conversation, Francesca Vaira said, “The windows show a connection between the vineyards where the grapes grow and the room where they are transformed into wine.” I love that room and visit it often, albeit usually in my mind.
A visit to G. D. Vajra in Vergne, a tiny frazione of Barolo perched above the iconic wine village, provides nourishment for the soul as well as the senses thanks in large part to Padre Costantino’s magnificant windows. Come for the wine, stay for the art.
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.
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.
The glue that has held cultures together through time has been food, most importantly the family meal. The energetic dynamic in the kitchen as the food is prepared is matched only by the enjoyment of traditional dishes shared around the dining table. I’ve been blessed to be a guest around several family tables in Piemonte which is a quite an honor and evidence of acceptance. Those are epicurean memories I shall cherish forever.
Given the beauty of the simplicity and flavors of the cucina piemontese, I asked some of my wine families to share with me their favorite recipes for traditional dishes. Silvia Altare, one of Lucia and Elio Altare‘s two daughters, shared with me her recipe for one of the classics of cucina piemontese – Vitello Tonnato.
I don’t just love vitello tonnato because it’s such a delicious dish, but it reminds me of the cultural importance of gumbo in bayou country Lousiana where I was born and raised. Everyone has their own twist on the dish and the recipe becomes part of a family’s heritage as it’s passed from generation to generation.
So here is Silvia’s recipe in her own words:
Silvia Altare’s Vitello Tonnato
I have learned cooking and from my mom and I love it!
Actually, both Elio and Lucia are good cooks. Lucia can set a wedding lunch for 30 people in 1 hour!
Here is the recipe of Vitello Tonnato, super quick and easy, everyone loves it. Even vitello tonnato sandwiches are a big deal here in my family, sometimes that’s what you get when you don’t have time to sit down for lunch!
1 big chunk of ”girello di vitello”, which I think translates in English with veal roast beef, to be either roasted in the oven or boiled with water and vegetables (carrots, celery, and onions)
The time of cooking is always suggested by the local butcher, very important you want the meat to stay pink inside.
Let it rest until cold, so any extra juice or blood is eliminated. When cold and dry then you can slice it very thin, if possible with a slicer.
2 eggs (1 yolk and 1 full egg)
Pinch of salt
Put eggs and salt in a mixer glass, and start mixing with an immersion blender, start adding the sunflower oil very little at a time, and you will see your mixture texture magically turn from liquid to thick. Keep adding oil until the quantity of mayo you want is made. Finish with a couple teaspoons of lemon juice. It adds a little acidity and makes the mayo taste “lighter”
(Wine buying note: In Colorado, Giuliana Importsrepresents the Altare family and many other Piemontese wine families. And they also import fabulous artisanal olive oils that are available direct to consumers.)
Suzanne’s Note – Silvia didn’t have any photos of her dish to share in time for me to post, so here is one of Villa Tiboldi’s Vitello Tonnato.