Fortunately, since Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte was published on June 2, 2016, I have only had to memorialize one passing member of a wine family. That was Carlo “Carlin” Deltetto in
August 2017. One month later, Albino Rocca, beloved nonno of Daniela, Monica, and Paola Rocca, passed away at 93.
In honor of Albino, I wanted to share a few excerpts from the book that intersected my life with his and his family’s. I cherish the memories made in the short time I spent with him and his granddaughters in their tasting room of the winery bearing his name.
Excerpt from Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte
When I first visited the Rocca sisters in 2014, I interviewed their grandfather Albino, then 90 years young. Although he had lost his wife, daughter, and son in the previous 10 years, he appeared at peace, comforted by the love that his three granddaughters showered upon him. In a mixture of Piemontese dialect and Italian, Albino spoke with me through Daniela and Monica. We chatted a bit about his boyhood growing up in the vineyards, a boyhood spent in the dark years before and during World War II. When I asked him about the German occupation and life in the vineyards of Barbaresco during that dark time, a shadow passed across Albino’s craggy face punctuated by laugh lines and wrinkles from his long life under the Langhe sun. “It was a very hard life,” he said with a heavy sigh. “It was difficult to get food.” Germans, Fascists, and partisans alike helped themselves to food and animals that provided sustenance to farming families.
Various factions of partisan resistance fighters fought Germans and the Fascist Black Brigade in the vineyards and forests of Barbaresco. Civilians often were caught in the crossfire, executed for aiding partisans or targeted for collective punishment for the resistance fighters’ attacks. Albino recalled one such retaliation for the partisans’ capture of several German soldiers. Smoke billowed across the landscape as several large homes and barns the Germans and Fascists had torched burned to the ground. It wasn’t enough for the brutal occupiers to destroy property. They needed blood to be shed to further terrorize the populace into submission. I also had heard this story from Fiorentina Grasso of Cà del Baio, who is a few years younger than Albino. According to Albino, as the Germans prepared to shoot as many as 20 men and boys, the Bishop of Alba came to the rescue. Miraculously, the holy man was able to talk the partisans into releasing the Germans in exchange for the release of the villagers. Sadly, such attempts were rarely successful.
After Piemonte was freed from the shackles of war and occupation, the region awoke to a new wave in viticulture. Tsunamis start small, as did the tsunami of change that washed over the region in the second half of the 20th century. Little by little, the momentum of transformation built. In the mid-1940s, Giacomo began his wine business. First, he sold grapes to wineries through negotiants (grape brokers). Soon after, Giacomo began producing wine he sold in demijohns. The round, long-neck vessels held several gallons of wine and were the common wine vessel before bottles were mass-produced.
In 1960, Albino built his cantina and the house in which he raised his family and still lives. From their home at the top of the hill near the village of Barbaresco, Albino and his wife, Vittoria, and their two children Angelo and Giuditta had a commanding view of the amphitheater of vineyard-carpeted slopes below and of the Castello di Neive to the east. It’s the same view visitors to the winery enjoy today. Between 1960 and 1970, when his father, Giacomo, died, Albino sold most of his wine in bulk. Upon Giacomo’s death, Albino and his brother
Alphonso divided the ownership of the estate as was customary among farmers’ sons, and split the vineyards. Because Albino had already built his own house nearby, Alphonso took the family home where they were both born. In 1970, the year his father died, Albino began to put his own label on his wines, although the family considers 1960 as the winery’s founding, the same year Albino built the house and cantina.