Tag Archives: Barbaresco

Fiorentina Cortese Grasso (1933 – 2018)

Beloved Nonna of Cà del Baio

Nonna Fiorentina of Cà del Baio’s Grasso family lost her soulmate in early 2014 when her husband Ernesto died peacefully at the age of 92. As I watched her in the four years that followed the passing of “Supernonno,” as his granddaughters refer to him, Fiorentina’s heart never seemed to mend. I believe it is true that one can die of a broken heart. Finally, on April 8, 2018, nonna Grasso joined her beloved Ernesto in peaceful slumber.

I loved her very much. We didn’t speak the same language of the tongue, but our hearts connected and spoke to one another over our shared loved of her family and her land. I shall miss her very much.

In honor of nonna Fiorentina, and all the wonderful women of her generation, I would like to share excerpts from my book taken from her stories she told to me through her granddaughters, Paola, Valentina, and the youngest, Federica, who, for me, played the role of the family historian and conveyed stories and emotions that came from deep inside her soul. Federica brought to life for me the childhood she shared with her sisters at Cà del Baio, showered in love, but with the discipline of a strong work ethic that is clearly evident today in all that the sisters do as they work alongside their parents, Giulio and Luciana. The value of the “nonna factor” in the lives of Piemonte’s wine families can never be overstated, and, God-willing, will never cease to exist.

Building the House of the Bay Horse

Ernesto and Fiorentina Grasso

One half of the land of Cà del Baio came from Giuseppe “Pinin”
Grasso’s initial Barbaresco acquisition in 1870. The other half of the Cà del Baio patrimonial equation came from Fiorentina Grasso, neé Cortese, Federica’s paternal grandmother, wife of Ernesto.
Fiorentina’s family was originally from Mango, a village about six miles east from Treiso. Her grandfather Luigi Sterpone purchased a farm and the Asili vineyards on the outskirts of Barbaresco in 1903. Luigi chose Barbaresco over the larger village of Neive because of the farm’s close proximity to Asili’s prime southwest-facing
Nebbiolo vines.

Valle Grande, home to Giulio and Luciana Grasso and the family’s Cà del Baio winery. Photo credit: Pierangelo Vacchetto.

Knowing a little history of Barbaresco’s awakening in the late 19th century is helpful in understanding the life and times of the early Grasso farmers. Until the middle of the 20th century, with exceptions, Barbaresco farmers commonly sold their grapes to negotiants, brokers who in turn sold to the few large wineries. The farmers only made enough wine for family consumption. Often, farmers found themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous negotiants who were known to bide their time on market days in the Piazza Savona in Alba while farmers sat helplessly as their grapes cooked in the hot sun. Only when the negotiants were certain the farmers were desperate would they make an offer to buy the crops. Quality was not an issue in those days. Only quantity.

The first attempt to change this unfair business model came in 1894. Domizio Cavazza, Piemonte’s oenological icon and founder of the prestigious Scuola Enologica di Alba, envisioned a way for
Barbaresco to compete with the more advanced Barolo denomination while improving the lot for local farmers. Cavazza, with nine
Barbaresco vintners, founded the Cantina Sociale di Barbaresco, the first Barbaresco cooperative. Cavazza’s ingenious cooperative produced wine and provided a fair market for farmers throughout the Barbaresco denomination. The Fascists closed the struggling cooperative in 1925. In 1958, a revered local priest, Don Fiorino
Marengo, created the second Barbaresco cooperative in a church basement with 19 family grape growers. Five decades later, with 52 members, Produttori del Barbaresco remains Italy’s largest wine cooperative, producing extraordinary Nebbiolo wines.

Cà del Baio’s current patriarch is Giulio Grasso. His maternal great-grandfather, Francesco “Cichin” Cortese, a founding member of the Cantina Sociale, married Ernesta Sterpone. Francesco went to work in the Sterpone family’s Asili vineyard in the early 1900s. Their daughter Fiorentina, Giulio’s mother, would carry the prized Asili vineyard into the Grasso family through her dowry.

Although the practice of paying dowries faded into history in the mid-20th century, it was in earlier times a common vehicle by which property passed to another family. In those days, there was no such thing as dating, so matchmakers, known as bacialé in Piemontese, were an important part of society. Bacialé not only found brides for grooms, but they often mediated the transfer of property, transactions fraught with deep emotion, particularly for brides’ families as they surrendered control of parcels of land.

In 1953, Luigi Grasso died. His only son, Ernesto, the youngest of five children, inherited the patrimony. Soon after, Ernesto married. The 1955 marriage between Fiorentina Cortese and Ernesto Grasso was a love match, but it was also a formidable real estate transaction. The union of the Cortese family’s grand Asili vineyards and the Grassos’ extensive holdings in Treiso formed the viticultural foundation of the house of the bay horse, Cà del Baio.

Ernesto and Fiorentina Grasso on their wedding day.
Super Nonni at Ca’ del Baio.

In the difficult post–World War II years in a wine region yet to make its name, the couple forged a bond that remained strong until Ernesto’s death at the age of 92 in 2014. Fiorentina and Ernesto had two children, Giulio and Franca. Giulio followed his father into the wine industry where he worked at the Produttori del Barbaresco until 1987, when he joined his father at the family’s winery.

Ernesto and Fiorentina Grasso with their children, Giulio and Franca.
Giulio and Luciana Grasso bottle wine with their daughters, Valentina and Federica. Photo Credit: Pierangelo Vacchetto

Revered Ernesto Grasso — known as “Super Nonno” to his grand-daughters — was a kind, sweet, and very quiet man, much like his mother, Lina, according to Federica. His son Giulio inherited those special qualities from his father. I was privileged to have known Ernesto, albeit our communications were through smiles and warm handshakes. We didn’t speak the same language, but we loved the same things — Cà del Baio, its wine, and most of all its family.

Ernest and Fiorentina left behind a vibrant legacy and a beautiful family in whose hands Cà del Baio will continue to flourish. Photo Credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto

 

Albino Rocca (1924 – 2017)

Albino Rocca

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.

Rocca family with Angelo and Albino
Albino’s beloved wife, Vittorina Marchisio Rocca (1926 – 2011)
Albino Rocca
Albino Rocca
Albino Rocca

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.

 

Tre Bicchieri 2017 – Angelo Rocca’s Legacy

Tre Bicchieri 2017

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:

Cà del Baio – Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2011
Albino Rocca – Barbaresco Angelo 2013
Gaja – Barbaresco Costa Russi 2013
Paolo Scavino – Barolo Bric dël Fiasc 2012
G. D. Vajra – Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2012
Oddero – Barolo Bussia Vigna Mondoca Ris. 2010
Marchesi di Barolo – Barolo Cannubi 2012
Elio Altare – Barolo Cerretta Vigna Bricco 2010
Monchiero Carbone – Roero Printi Riserva 2012 

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.

The Rocca sisters - Daniela, Monica and Paola - with their late father and Barbaresco visionary Angelo Rocca.
The Rocca sisters – Daniela, Monica and Paola – with their late father and Barbaresco visionary Angelo Rocca.

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.

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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.

Paola Rocca, mother of Simone and Daniele. Photo Credit - Elisabetta Vacchetto
Angelo Rocca’s legatees (L-R): Paola Rocca and her husband, Carlo Castellengo, Daniela Rocca, Monica Rocca. Photo Credit – Elisabetta Vacchetto

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 Rocca Sisters, Carlo Castellengo, and Rocca family patriarch, nonno Albino.
The Rocca Sisters, Carlo Castellengo, and Rocca family patriarch, nonno Albino. Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto

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.

Angelo Rocca (1948 - 2012)
Angelo Rocca (1948 – 2012)

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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.

LABOR OF LOVE – Barbaresco Families

 

Twelve hour days, seven days a week over the last two months slowed me down a bit in keeping my loyal readers apprised of the final stages of writing and producing my first book. It’s time to announce the Labor of Love Barbaresco families that were so gracious to open up their lives to me. Barbaresco – specifically at Cà del Baio in Treiso – is where “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte” will launch on June 2, 2016.

On February 19, the photographs, primarily from Pierangelo Vacchetto and his daughter, Elisabetta, and son, Eugenio, traveled through cyberspace to Verona, Italy where VeronaLibri will begin the process of preparing the photos for print. Now comes the final, nerve-wracking days of the last proofreading, fact-checking, and lots of prayers before designer Cindi Yaklich of Epicenter Creative in Boulder, Colorado, hits the button to send the completely designed 9.25″ x 11.5″ (23.5 cm x 29 cm), 320 page book to Verona.

In addition to the six families below, I would like to thank Marchese Alberto di Grésy and cellar master Jeffrey Chilcott of Marchesi di Grésy in Barbaresco, Renato Vacca and his father, Adriano, of Cantina del Pino in Barbaresco, Aldo Vacca of Produttori del Barbaresco, and Andrea Sottimano of Barbaresco for their kindness, invaluable guidance and resources.

So, without further delay, here are the six Barbaresco families in Labor of Love:

Cà del Baio (Giulio and Luciana Grasso family)
Treiso

Giulio and Luciana Grasso bottling their precious Barbaresco Valgrande with two of their three daughters Federica and Valentina.
Giulio and Luciana Grasso bottling their precious Barbaresco Valgrande with two of their three daughters Federica and Valentina. Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto

 

Albino Rocca
Barbaresco

Albino Rocca with his granddaughters (L-R) Paola, Monica, and Daniela.
Albino Rocca with his granddaughters (L-R) Paola, Monica, and Daniela. Photo credit: Vacchetto

 

Punset (Marina Marcarino)
Neive

Marina Marcarino of Punset.
Marina Marcarino of Punset with Giuggliola (the star of Marina’s cat family)  at sunset in Neive in January 2016. Photo credit: Vacchetto

 

Cascina delle Rose (Giovanna Rizzolio)
Barbaresco

Giovanna Rizzolio and husband, Italo Sobrino (rear), with their sons Davide and Riccardo.
Giovanna Rizzolio and husband, Italo Sobrino (rear), with their sons Davide and Riccardo. Photo credit: Vacchetto

 

Gaja 
Barbaresco

(L-R) Lucia, Gaia, Angelo, Rossana, and Giovanni Gaja on via Torino in Barbaresco. Photo credit: Andrea Wyner
(L-R) Lucia, Gaia, Angelo, Rossana, and Giovanni Gaja on via Torino in Barbaresco. Photo credit: Andrea Wyner

 

Cigliuti
Neive

Renato and Dina Cigliuti with daughters, Claudia and Silvia, and Claudia's daughter, Giulia (left).
Renato and Dina Cigliuti with daughters, Claudia and Silvia, and Claudia’s daughter, Giulia (left). Photo credit: Vacchetto

Piemonte Labor of Love

 

My Piemonte labor of love is progressing beautifully.

In seven months – God willing – I will introduce you to the women with whom I’ve spent so much of the last 30 months. Many of them are delightful ghosts who have been with me day and night as I labored to learn more about them, their families and the times in which they lived.

You will meet strong, brilliant women like Luigia Oddero, her daughter-in-law Maria and granddaughter-in-law Carla, all of whom played crucial roles in the success of their family’s winery in Santa Maria La Morra. I doubt, however, you would find their names in wine publications, something that saddens Luigia’s great-great-granddaughter Isabella Boffa Oddero. She knows how significant those women were to the patrimony of the Giacomo Oddero family.

Luigia Oddero, nonna of Giacomo Oddero of Poderi e Cantina Oddero in S. Maria La Morra.
Luigia Oddero, nonna of Giacomo Oddero of Poderi e Cantina Oddero in S. Maria La Morra.

After you read “Labor of Love,” I know you’ll be inspired to visit Monchiero Carbone in Canale in Roero. As you sit in the tasting room sipping their luscious wines, you’ll notice on the wall the black and white photo of Clotilde Valente Raimondo, known as Tilde, the woman who created the legacy of the wine you will enjoy there possible. The black, kind eyes of the petite woman will enchant you. You’ll want to ask about her daughter Francesca (Cesca). If you meet Cesca’s great-granddaughter Lucia Monchiero, you’ll be meeting the future of the winery.

Clotilde Valente Raimondo, grandmother of Marco Monchiero of Monchiero-Carbone.
Clotilde Valente Raimondo, grandmother of Marco Monchiero of Monchiero-Carbone.

In Barbaresco, you’ll discover a woman you may of heard of before – Clotilde Rey – because her name and that of her great-granddaughter Gaia were merged to create the brand name of the legendary winery’s Langhe Chardonnay – Gaia & Rey. But did you know about her crucial roll in her father-in-law Giovanni Gaja’s legacy? Clotilde died long before I set foot in Piemonte, but I can’t help but believe that to meet Gaia Gaja is to meet Clotilde Rey such is her great-granddaughter’s brilliance and drive.

On the ridge in Tre Stelle in Barbaresco you’ll find Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose. There’s a strong, formidable woman in her family whose story is known to so few, but whose life touched so many, particularly during the dark, brutal days of the German Occupation between September 1943 and May 1945. You can find the name of Beatrice Rizzolio inscribed on the wall of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Beatrice Rizzolio, Righteous Among the Nations and nonna of Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose.
Beatrice Rizzolio, Righteous Among the Nations and nonna of Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose.
Wall with inscription of Beatrice Rizzolio at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Wall with inscription of Beatrice Rizzolio at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

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These are but a few of the women from the 23 different families that you’ll meet if you follow me on my labor of love. Sadly, these grandmothers across the generations are no longer here for me to interview, but their families have brought them alive for me and by extension for you. What a delight and an honor it has been to get to know them and have the opportunity to be their storyteller.

“Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte” anticipated release date is June 2016.

Piemonte is Piemonte

 

I was delighted to read Will Lyon’s article in the Wall Street Journal – “Why Piemonte is the new Burgundy.” I’m always thrilled to see Piemonte get such positive, enthusiastic ink, particularly in the Journal. I’m even more delighted to see Punset amongst the list of recommended wines since it’s long overdue for feisty organic pioneer Marina Marcarino and her wines to receive such accolades!

So my hat is off to Mr. Lyons for such a nice article; I must respectfully demur, however, and note that Piemonte is not the new Burgundy. Nor the old. Piemonte is Piemonte. And, as Barbaresco producer Giovanna Rizzolio pointed out, it is Italian.

Breathtaking autumnal view of the Langhe's vineyards with Monte Viso standing guard to the west.  Photo Credit: Pierangelo Vacchetto
Breathtaking autumnal view of the Langhe’s vineyards with Monte Viso standing guard to the west.
Photo Credit: Pierangelo Vacchetto

Piemonte has its own heart and soul that is reflected in its wines. And its heart and soul emanate from the cornerstone of the region – the wine families.

It’s a little sad – at least to me – that Piemonte’s wine families were not mentioned. Without their indomitable spirit and unyielding drive, the incredible oenological delights wine lovers are finally recognizing would not be possible.

The wine families of Piemonte are the source of the charisma and individualism of the region’s wines. Some prime examples include Chiara Boschis of E. Pira e Figli  whose noble red wines reflect her spirit and passion;

One of Barolo's first women winemaker's, Chiara Boschis, at home amongst her treasured nebbiolo vines
One of Barolo’s first women winemaker’s, Chiara Boschis, at home amongst her treasured nebbiolo vines

Ornella Correggia whose courage in the face of unfathomable grief made it possible for her children Giovanni and Brigitta to be one with their late father’s vision of Roero at the winery that bears his name – Azienda Agricola Matteo Correggia. 

Ornella Correggia (right) and her daughter, Brigitta
Ornella Correggia (right) and her daughter, Brigitta

Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco who fought a tsunami of opposition to be the first woman in Barbaresco to own and operate her own winery;

Giovanna, Italo with Davide (left) and Riccardo (center).
Giovanna, Italo with Davide (left) and Riccardo (center).

the Rocca sisters – Daniela, Paola and Monica – of Albino Rocca in Barbaresco whose own beautiful oenological signature was written on their 2013 Barbaresco, their first vintage to emerge on their own without their late father, Angelo Rocca.

The Rocca sisters - Daniela, Monica and Paola - with their late father and Barbaresco visionary Angelo Rocca.
The Rocca sisters – Daniela, Monica and Paola – with their late father and Barbaresco visionary Angelo Rocca.

and the Grasso family of Cà del Baio in Treiso in Barbaresco and Deltetto family of Canale in Roero;

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Joined through the marriage of Paola Grasso and Carlo Deltetto, Cà del Baio and Deltetto wineries will share the future through the next generation – Lidia and Anna Deltetto.

…..and so on (it will all be in my book “A Labor of Love – Wine Family Women of Piemonte.”)

Incidentally, I don’t believe Piemonte is the “new Burgundy.” Piemonte is AND ALWAYS WILL BE Piemonte. I kind of feel passionate about that if you haven’t noticed!

Please never forget that the soul of Piemonte’s wines are forever tied to the families who create them. Their’s truly is a labor of love! 

#PIEMONTEISPIEMONTE

Barbaresco’s Wine Family Women

 

Because I’m such an avid surfer – of the internet, that is – I caught Ian D’Agata’s beautiful article about Barbaresco on Decanter magazine’s website. Reading the third page – Barbaresco’s best sites – made me think a bit about the recognition women are getting in Piemonte, especially in the rough and tumble, male-dominated denomination of Barbaresco. Long overdue.

Women are now as important to the lifeblood of many Barbaresco wineries as the juice they extract from their grapes. Once in the shadows, societal changes broke the shackles that kept women out the family business and hereditary fortunes in patriarchal Italy.

Think about the changing face (actually, gender) of the heirs of Barbaresco’s wine families – women. Two wineries he praised – Cà del Baio and Albino Rocca – have three sisters who have or who will inherit the winery, carrying it on to future generations.

Not so long ago, Luigi, Ernesto and Giulio Grasso’s Cà del Baio, borne of hard work and determination, would not have stayed in the family given Giulio’s heirs are only women – Paola, Valentina and Federica.

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Cà del Baio’s Giulio and Luciana Grasso with daughters Paola, Valentina and Federica.

And the three Rocca sisters, Daniela, Monica and Paola. What courage and talent they have displayed since the tragic death of their father! Mr. D’Agata has rightfully given their incredible work at Albino Rocca the credit they deserve.

Needless to say, Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose had to swim upstream against a very strong current to create her beautiful, successful winery on her family’s land.

Giovanna, Italo with Davide (left) and Riccardo (center).
Giovanna, Italo with Davide (left) and Riccardo (center).

It wasn’t easy, but women like Giovanna and Barolo’s Chiara Boschis and Livia Fontana are making the way for the women behind them.

One of Barolo's first women winemaker's, Chiara Boschis, at home amongst her treasured nebbiolo vines
One of Barolo’s first women winemaker’s, Chiara Boschis, at home amongst her treasured nebbiolo vines
Livia
Livia Fontana of Ettore Fontana and her two sons Michele and Lorenzo

And there are some dynamos! Elisa Scavino, Francesca Vaira, Isabella Boffa Oddero, Maria Teresa Mascarello, Gaia and Rossana Gaja, and Marta and Carlotta Rinaldi, just to name a few.

This is not to take away from the guys. Just to note the changes afoot in the vineyards and cantine of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato. Otherwise, why would I spend two years to date researching and writing about them? Still many wonderful stories to uncover and share in the hills of Piemonte.

Mountains and vineyards
Piemonte’s diverse terrain stretches from the peaks of the Cottian Alps to the west eastward across planes and vineyard-carpeted hills.

Barbaresco Comes to the Rockies

 

“Do you know Jeffrey Chilcott?”

Marchesi di Grésy cellar master Jeffrey Chilcott in the vineyards of Valais Switzerland with winemaker Axel Maye.
Marchesi di Grésy cellar master Jeffrey Chilcott in the vineyards of Valais Switzerland with winemaker Axel Maye.

It’s a question many Anglophone oenophiles ask when discussing their winery adventures in Piemonte’s Langhe.

Most often, the answer is “yes.” Those who answer affirmatively know the delights of educationally intense oenological experiences with Chilcott at the famed Barbaresco winery, Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Grésy. Whether a Nebbiolo novice or an experienced lover of Barbaresco’s strong tannins that, as legendary winemaker Franco Boschis says should, “stab the palate,” a wine tasting with Chilcott should top every wine traveler’s bucket list.

Tasting room at Marchesi di Gresy.
Tasting room at Marchesi di Gresy.

Recently Greg Eyon, partner and wine director at Vin48 in Avon, crafted a solution for Barbaresco-philes. The same week the skiing world schussed into Beaver Creek and Vail for the 2015 Alpine Skiing World Championships, Jeffrey Chilcott sped through Colorado, with a whistle stop in Vail Valley.

Cellar Master Jeffrey Chilcott performing one of his favorite tasks, showing off the wines of Marchesi di Gresy.
Cellar Master Jeffrey Chilcott performing one of his favorite tasks, showing off the wines of Marchesi di Gresy.

On Tuesday, February 3rd, Chilcott poured flights of three of Marchesi di Grésy’s wines, including Barbaresco Martinenga, for diners in the bar and main dining room at Vin48. To drink the rich and expressive wines of Marchesi di Grésy is to sip fruits from ancient times.

Ancient Roots of Barbaresco

Barbaresco, like all of Langhe, is steeped in ancient history. The famed Marchesi di Grésy winery lies in Martinenga, at the base of the south facing natural amphitheater above the Rio Sordo valley. Long before vineyards carpeted the Langhe hills, Martinenga was home to vast oak forests, symbols of strength to barbaric tribes who preceded the Romans in Barbaresco. The Liguri Stazielli worshipped there to the Celtic god of strength “Martiningen.” Conquering Romans kept the war theme and named it “Villa Martis” in honor of Mars, their god of war. It’s also the birthplace of Roman Emperor, Publio Elvio Pertinace in 126 A.D.

The amphitheater of Martinenga and the Marchesi di Gresy winery in Barbaresco.
The amphitheater of Martinenga and the Marchesi di Gresy winery in Barbaresco.

Worshippers still flock to Martinenga, a temple of strong, bold Nebbiolo wines from Barbaresco’s largest cru monopole. The 29.5 acres of prime Nebbiolo vines bear fruit for Marchesi di Grésy’s three Barbaresco D.O.C.G.: flagship Martinenga and kingpins, Camp Gros and Gaiun.

Like many Piemonte family-owned wineries, the di Grésy family’s continual presence on land Alberto di Grésy now farms began centuries ago. In 1797, the noble di Grésy family purchased the Martinenga property to add to their holdings atop the area’s highest hill,  Monte Aribaldo in nearby Treiso. For nearly two centuries, the di Grésy family produced and sold their prized grapes in the Alba grape market each autumn.

Silhouette in the early spring morning light of the di Gresy family's Langhe home, Villa Giulia atop Monte Aribaldo, the highest point in Barbaresco.
Silhouette in the early spring morning light of the di Gresy family’s Langhe home Villa Giulia atop Monte Aribaldo, the highest point in Barbaresco. German forces used the villa as a headquarters during their occupation of the region during the waning years of World War II.

Alberto di Grésy assumed control of the estate in the 1960s. Not surprisingly given di Grésy’s drive and determination, he grew weary of seeing others reap the rewards of converting the fruits of their labors into wine. In 1973, in the early days of Angelo Gaja’s successful Herculean efforts to place Barbaresco on the same world stage as the older, larger and much revered Barolo denomination, di Grésy produced his first distinctive wines labeled with the family’s crest.

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Marchesi Alberto di Gresy with two of his loves – a glass of Barbaresco and a fast car.

With excellent fruit from four estates in the Langhe and Monferrato zones, di Grésy grew his portfolio to 16 red and white wines. Thanks to his dedication to the terroir and the highest standards of vineyard and cellar practices, Marchesi di Gresy’s wines now reach discerning Barbaresco lovers across the globe.

POSTER BOTTIGLIE

Mastering the Cellar

Chilcott’s tenure with Marchesi di Grésy began in 1991. He didn’t settle down full-time at the winery until 1998, following a few years of “door knocking” that lead to work in Burgundy and wine regions of New Zealand and Italy. As cellar master, Chilcott manages the day-to-day operations in the cantina, but he also has an important marketing function as one of the winery’s Anglophone emissaries.

The seasons have blurred for Chilcott and there is always something for him to do. Neither grapes nor wines can wait when attention is needed. Throughout the year, Chilcott works closely with winemaker Matteo Sasso and oenological consultant Piero Ballario. After the rigors of the harvest and demanding work in the cellar thereafter, Chilcott returns to New Zealand for well-deserved rest and visits to his native country’s expanding wine regions.

It was on his return leg across North America of his recent New Zealand trip that Chilcott is stopping briefly in Colorado.

The Nebbiolo vines in the Martinenga amphitheater sleeping under winter's warm "duvet" of snow.
The Nebbiolo vines in the Martinenga amphitheater sleeping under winter’s warm “duvet” of snow.
Vinous Triumvirate

The first wine in the Marchesi di Grésy flight was 2011 Dolcetto d’Alba from vineyards that ring Monte Aribaldo. Although Langhe’s Dolcetto sadly is falling out of favor, due in part to a greater choice of white wines in the region, Marchesi di Gresy and their customers have enjoyed increased sales in the United States. Chilcott describes the 2011 Dolcetto as “quite rich for a Treiso Dolcetto.” The warm vintage with a lower crop yield produced a “nice extract, made just right in tanks without too much skin contact.” Dolcetto is perfect for daily enjoyment as an aperitivo or at any stage of the meal. Although they make world famous wines, it’s humble Dolcetto that graces family tables of Langhe winemakers.

The global popularity of Nebbiolo from all regions of Piemonte, particularly the Langhe and Roero, continues to climb. Made from the same varietal as its big brothers Barbaresco and Barolo, this wine sells for a much lower price, yet has the potential to age. The ruby red 2013 Martinenga Langhe Nebbiolo emerged from a vintage that worried many producers in the early rainy months of the growing season, but finished strong after the sun emerged in June to produce an excellent, late-picked crop. Unlike Barbaresco, this Nebbiolo sees no oak and ages in cement tanks. In spring 2014, the winery bottled this Nebbiolo Chilcott describes as “classic and very inviting, an almost extra-virgin style, great for casual dining.” Chilcott suggests Langhe Nebbiolo for frequent enjoyment of the powerful varietal.

The grand finale of this well-chosen triumvirate of Marchesi di Grésy wines was 2010 Barbaresco Martinenga. Chilcott believes this wine “gives a great opportunity to show why Barbaresco is enjoying a good time in the marketplace beside the strong character Barolos.” Labeled as a “super balanced vintage,” 2010 produced Barbaresco possessing great aging potential and displaying “super correspondence between nose and palate.”

On a personal note, the wines from Marchesi di Grésy were the first Piemonte wines my husband and I purchased in 2000. Recently, we opened all three of the winery’s Barbarescos from 1997. Made from grapes from different parts of the same vineyard, each wine maintained its bright, garnet color and had its own distinctive aromas and flavors ranging from red fruits to barnyard and earth. Fifteen years after bottling, the wines are still fabulous representatives of the hot, yet highly regarded vintage. The remaining bottles will contain to develop beautifully over the coming years.

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Where to Find Marchesi di Grésy outside of Italy

Marchesi di Grésy’s lovely Langhe wines are sold throughout the world. If you wish to locate the wines in any country except the United States, contact Marchesi di Grésy directly.

Marchesi di Grésy’s USA representative is Dalla Terra of Napa, California. Contact them for assistance in finding  these wines in your state.

Buon compleanno, Mamma Luciana!

Mamma Luciana

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.

Luciana Grasso and her canine companions Pora (left) and Milo in the Moscato vineyard during vendemmia 2014.
Luciana Grasso and her canine companions Pora (left) and Milo in the Moscato vineyard during vendemmia 2014.

With husband Giulio and their three daughters Paola, Valentina and Federica, Luciana runs the winery at their Treiso estate in the Barbaresco denomination.

Partners in wine and life, Luciana and Giulio Grasso.
Partners in wine and life, Luciana and Giulio Grasso.
Giulio and Luciana Grasso with daughters Valentina, Paola and Federica (left to right), Rocky I and Milo (in Luciana's arms)
Giulio and Luciana Grasso with daughters Valentina, Paola and Federica (left to right)

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.

Luciana's granddaughter, Lidia Deltetto, with Luciana's newest addition to her menagerie - goats.
Luciana’s granddaughter, Lidia Deltetto, with Luciana’s newest addition to her menagerie – goats.

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.

Milo Grasso, Luciana's trusted constant companion and guardian.
Milo Grasso, Luciana’s trusted constant companion and guardian.

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.

Luciana's son-in-law Carlo Deltetto with his two daughters, Lidia and infant Anna.
Luciana’s son-in-law Carlo Deltetto with his two daughters, Lidia and infant Anna.

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 in her kitchen. Like the saying, "Don't mess with Texas," Luciana is a fierce protector of her brood. But a very cheerful one. Walk softly and carry a huge knife!
Luciana in her kitchen. Like the saying, “Don’t mess with Texas,” Luciana is a fierce protector of her brood. But a very cheerful one. Walk softly and carry a huge knife!

Luciana’s biggest contribution to the family’s wellbeing is the love she showers on her family and friends.

Luciana and my husband Dani, surrounded by family and friends in the winery's tasting room, celebrating their birthdays together in 2008.
Luciana and my husband Dani, surrounded by family and friends in the winery’s tasting room, celebrating their birthdays together in 2008.

In all, she’s a Barbaresco treasure, carrying forward the traditions of the past and linking them to the future.

Luciana and Giulio Grasso with four generations of Grassos in the Ca' del Baio tasting room.
Luciana and Giulio Grasso with four generations of Grassos in the Ca’ del Baio tasting room.
My husband Dani and me (right, back row) enjoying a great evening with our two adopted families - Grasso and Deltetto.
My husband Dani and me (right, back row) enjoying a great evening with our two adopted Piemontese families – Grasso and Deltetto. That’s Luciana and Giulio in the center.

Buon compleanno, cara Luciana!