They are famous for making incredible wine and keeping cherished traditions alive in a world that so desperately needs reality.
Look upstream, not only downstream
It seems the wine programs are always about the downstream part of the business and typically the only wine producers featured are the big, uber-famous ones. They are great and open many doors for the wine regions.
They are citizens of the wine world who rise long before sunrise for work wherever they are needed — in the blazing hot or freezing cold vineyards (pick your season, they are always there), in the cellar doing an array of tasks that involve all the senses and strength, or working at the whim of the market to sell their wines.
What about their stories and those of their ancestors who lived through poverty, pestilence, fascism, war, and occupation? That’s the reality that brings to so many of you the wines you love.
We will march onward to bring our documentary series to life, but in the meantime I want to share the lovely work Emanuele Caruso did during the difficult, smoggy 2017 autumn and while he was preparing to release his highly acclaimed film La Terra Buona. Emanuele is an amazing artist and, along with the wine producers, speaks beautifully from a rich Piemontese heart and soul.
God bless them all!
Hope you enjoy. Spread the word about this truly magical wine region and the under discovered stories of her inhabitants, culture, and history.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON UNDER DISCOVERED PRODUCTIONS LLC AND UNDER DISCOVERED: PIEMONTE, CONTACT SUZANNE HOFFMAN AT email@example.com.
I’m now in the heart of the Langhe until the beginning of my 20th year of over 30 visits to Piemonte that included one successfully published book on the region’s wine families.
Thanksgiving morning, while sipping my morning cappuccino and visiting cyberspace, I came upon several articles about Thanksgiving wine advice. Although the holiday has come and gone, there is still a lot of merry to be made before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. Being in Piemonte, I couldn’t help but share some of my own suggestions and some shopping tips for your vinous companions this holiday season.
Wine is an experience, not merely a beverage, so my tip for any meal is to serve wines with stories behind them (of course I would say that). Make the wine producers and their terroir part of the meal conversation by telling their stories. There are lots of them out there in cyberspace (and in my book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte). Or, even better, you could visit their wineries with me and meet the wine families on a Labor of Love tour. Talking about them and their labor of love certainly beats the heck out talking politics at the table (or anywhere else).
In our Colorado high country home, we don’t pair wine with food. The opposite. First we choose the wines we want to drink and then figure out what to cook. More often than not, those wines are from Piemonte, Sicily, or Valais Switzerland. Since I’m in Piemonte for the holidays, let’s go with some of my thoughts on those wines.
Twinkle Twinkle, Little Sparkler
My go-to sparklers I love are Metodo Classico bubbles from Piemonte (aka classical style…think Champagne, not Prosecco…please). I particularly like Ettore Germano Alta Langa, Deltetto Spumante Brut or Extra Brut (try the Brut Rosé – 50/50 Nebbiolo/Pinot Noir), and Contratto For England Pas Dose. Can’t go wrong with any of those. If you can find it in the States, Marchesi Alfieri Blanc de Noir (100% Pinot Noir) is an excellent choice for your holiday bubbles.
Whatever you choose, please don’t think the word “spumante” is not associated with quality wines. Far from it. Spumante merely means “sparkling wines” in Italian. Personally, I believe the Asti Spumante commercials of Christmases past put a damper on today’s efforts to market spumante in America. Sad because there is some excellent Asti Spumanti out there.
Bottom line, each type of bubbles has its place.
Not all Rieslings Are Created Sweet
Regarding Riesling. Nails on a chalkboard when people say to me “Riesling is too sweet for my taste.” Trocken (dry) Riesling is NOT sweet. So please, taste one from Piemonte because as far as I’ve experienced, they are all dry. My particular favorites are Ettore Germano “Herzu,” G. D. Vajra “Petracine,” and Cà del Baio Riesling Langhe Bianco DOC.
For a great primer on Riesling (and all other varietals), visit Wine Folly or buy the book by the same name. Sidebar: this book makes a great Christmas present for the oenophile in your life. I look forward to the day when Madeline adds Piemonte to the list of regions where one can find dry Riesling. Hint.
The Little Rascal
Arneis is more than a white wine. It’s also the name of my dog who, like the meaning of his name, is a rascal. When I began spending more time back in the States in the early part of the millennium, Arneis — the wine — was hard to find. It is now readily available across the U.S. At the risk of upsetting my Langhe producer friends, I am partial to the Roero Arneis. To my palate, sand makes for a better Arneis and there is much of it to be found in the soil of the Roero north of Langhe across the Tanaro River.
Fortunately there is a wide range of Arneis producers exporting to America. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say there are many importers in the States who got wise to the grape’s appeal and are importing it. Whichever way you look at it, there are some great Roero Arneis choices of different styles to be found in the U.S., such as Deltetto, Matteo Correggia, Monchiero-Carbone, Negro, Malvirà, and Vietti.
The Next Big Thing
Paola Grasso of Cà del Baio said to me today, “Timorasso is the next big thing in Piemonte.” She’s savvy, with a keen eye for developments in the market and judging from the growing interest in the grape from journalists and importers, she is no doubt onto something.
This past week I visited Elisa Semino of La Colombera in Colli Tortonesi in the far southeastern corner of Piemonte. It was love at first sip for me. I dream of her Timorasso! Hard to imagine that before the 1980s, many Timorasso vineyards fell victim to the popularity of Cortese. Vintners ripped out Timorasso vines and replaced them with the high demand grape from which Gavi is made. Now, vintners like Elisa and her brilliant mentor, Walter Massa, are ushering in the renaissance of the Colli Tortonesi’s signature wine. Sadly, it’s what’s happening today with Dolcetto, so the rebirth of this superstar gives me hope that the trend of ripping out the Dolcetto vines in favor of Nebbiolo and hazelnuts will end.
Lots of great articles can be found online about Timorasso. I can’t wait to add this precious white wine to my cellar back in Colorado.
A Red for All Tables
A great go to red for nearly every meal is Barbera. Whether bearing the names of Alba, Asti, or Monferrato, Barbera is a versatile red and high quality bottles at great prices from a myriad of producers can be found everywhere. Some of my favorite wineries for Barbera d’Alba are Chiara Boschis – E. Pira e Figli, Elio Altare (now in the hands of his charismatic daughter Silvia), Punset, Cigliuti, Mauro Molino, Paolo Scavino, Matteo Correggia, Monchiero-Carbone, and Albino Rocca (the Gepin is a particular favorite of mine). For Barbera d’Asti, look for Marchesi Alfieri’s queen of their portfolio, Alfiera, and their La Tota named for the last Marchesa of Alfieri, Adele.
This list is far from exhaustive! Check out the Table of Contents of Labor of Lovesince producers like Cantina Marsaglia make a delicious Barbera, but you’ll have to visit them in Castellinaldo d’Alba since their wines are not available in the States.
King of the Table
Of course, the big daddy of Piemonte’s vineyards is Nebbiolo and the two wines consisting of 100% of the noble grape: Barolo and Barbaresco. A wonderful selection of these wines is available in the States, but since I live in Colorado I’ll list some of the producers well represented there: Ca’ del Baio (Barbaresco), Chiara Boschis (Barolo), Elio Altare (Barolo), Paolo Scavino (Barolo), Oddero (Barolo), Albino Rocca (Barbaresco), Cigliuti (Barbaresco), Mauro Molino (Barolo), Marchesi di Grésy (Barbaresco), GD Vajra (Barolo), Cantina Gigi Rosso (Barolo), Punset (Barbaresco), Cascina delle Rose (Barbaresco), Cantina del Pino (Barbaresco), Gaja, (Barolo and Barbaresco), Marchesi di Barolo (Barolo and Barbaresco), and Sottimano (Barbaresco). This is NOT an exhaustive list and there are many more that I enjoy, but these are readily available in Colorado, except for Cascina delle Rose…sadly so…but their USA presence is growing.
As an aside, each one of these wineries produces fabulous Barbera as well.
The Nebbiolo of Langhe is the best known, but the grape also flourishes in Roero and in Alto Piemonte. Each of the Arneis producers listed above makes excellent Roero Nebbiolo, including Matteo Correggia, the winery bearing the name of the late Roero visionary who believed in the grape’s potential in the terroir of Roero. His belief in Roero Nebbiolo was well-founded. Gattinerra in Alto Piemonte is home to Lorella Antoniollo and her family’s winery. If you haven’t tried the Alto Piemonte Nebbioli, treat yourself to some from this excellent winery.
Not in the market for the higher prices of Barolo and Barbaresco, but love Nebbiolo? Look for declassified versions of the grape, such as Langhe Nebbiolo or Nebbiolo d’Alba from any the producers I’m mentioned and in my table of contents. You will not be disappointed with the gems coming out of Piemonte’s Nebbiolo vineyards whether they sport the DOCG label or not. If a producer is known for her or his Barolo or Barbaresco, their other Nebbiolo wines deserve a place on your table. Currently, our house red is Albino Rocca “Rosso di Rocca” Langhe Nebbiolo 2017. Excellent wine and a particularly good value for money.
Hint, can’t find these wines at your favorite bottle shop? See below at the end of the post two names of great wine sleuths who can source just about anything.
Now for dessert. Amongst the “sweet” choices there are the sweeter versions such Passito made from grapes dried before vinification and there are the light (5.5% alcohol), bubbly ones such as Moscato d’Asti. There was a time when Moscato d’Asti was the wine the Savoy royals sought and Monferrato eclipsed Barolo as the epicenter of Piemonte wine. Before there was the King of Wines (Barolo, according to many), there was the Queen of Wines. Those from the Monferrato region are very special. My two favorites are Cà d’Gal (not available in Colorado – yet), particularly Alessandro Boido’s old vine Moscato, and Marenco Scrapona (available in Colorado from Vias). Passito Bric du Liun from Deltetto is 100% Arneis and is equally comfortable as a pairing for foie gras at the beginning of a festive meal as it is at the end with dolce. I’m a fan of Brachetto d’Acqui from Marenco and their two passiti – Moscato and Brachetto. Save a bottle of Moscato for your “day after” breakfast. Marenco’s Scrapona is often on our table for summer Sunday brunch.
And for the Tummy
We can’t forget my favorite digestivo, Barolo Chinato. The much-loved end to a great meal is gaining popularity in the States…finally…but still hard to find. My May 2018 Labor of Love tour guests of wine educators from Sheral Schowe’s Wasatch Academy of Wine finished most every meal with Chinato. The experts know about the delights of this prized digestivo.
Wine Searcher says it best in their concise description of this complex digestive with pharmacological roots:
“[An] aromatic beverage differs to the ‘classic’ Barolo through its production method, which involves the infusion of Barolo wine with China Calissaya bark (quinine bark, translated in Italian as china, hence the wine’s name chinato). Up to 21 other herbs and spices, including rhubarb roots, gentian, orange peels, cloves and cardamom seeds, are also added to the mix. This process is a slow maceration at room temperature for around eight weeks. The aromatized wine is then fortified to 16% alcohol and matured in small barrels for up to one year.
This Barolo wine is generally characterized by its bittersweet aromas and lingering, smooth aftertaste. It is usually consumed as an after-dinner drink, either as a dessert wine or a digestif. It is also considered an excellent accompaniment to dark chocolate, or it can be served as an aperitif with soda and ice (similar to sweet vermouth).”
So if that tickles your fancy — and it should — go forth and seek out brands such as Cocchi, G.D. Vajra, and, of course, Cappellano, the family of the 19th century creator of this unusually delicious drink, pharmacist Giuseppe Cappellano.
But That’s Not All
I’ve only touched on most commonly known varietals of the Piemonte vinous landscape, and one up-and-coming superstar, Timorasso. There is a long list on other varietals you should try this holiday season, such as Pelaverga, Ruché, Freisa, and Erbaluce, to name but a few. Exploration is fun, especially when it comes to a region like Piemonte with such an expansive choice of varietals.
Remember, it’s all about the experience. Discovery is a wonderful experience!
Colorado: Here are a few of the importers working in Colorado that I can highly recommend: Giuliana Imports, Old World Wines, Dalla Terra, Indigenous, and Vias. All have some great choices. Don’t just read the front label on the wine bottle. The back label tells you a great deal about the wine and who’s behind, including the importer. Importers like these take great care in choosing the producers they represent. You can’t go wrong with any of their names on the bottle.
Beyond (and in) Colorado: One of the best sources I’ve found for wine from Piemonte (and most anywhere else) is John Rittmaster at Prima Vini Wine Merchants in Walnut Creek, CA. Not only does John do dynamite wine events in his shop and next door restaurant Prima, he can find just about anything at competitive prices. Do yourself a favor and get on his mailing list so you don’t miss any great deals and events.
Straight from the Source: This tip is for oenophiles across the globe. If you want a gastronome’s dream bike tour, join Davide Pasquero of Terroir Selection in wine countries across Europe, particularly in his home region of Piemonte. If you want Piemonte wines straight from the source — particularly up-and-coming producers — Davide is the expert for you. His personal relationships with producers, passion, and great depth of wine knowledge makes him a perfect source for discerning oenophiles looking for just the right wines. Piemonte is not his only region of expertise. Checkout his website for more regions he covers. Pretty much everywhere. Like John Rittmaster, Davide is a wine sleuth. If he can’t find it, it’s probably not available anywhere.
What started out as a quick Facebook post morphed into something bigger. It always does when I start talking about my beloved second home, Piemonte. I hope I’ve given you some helpful, not too technical, tips for wine choices this holiday season…and beyond.
Whatever you choose, you really can’t go wrong if you invite the wine producers into your home vis-à-vis their wines and the stories behind their labels. Vinous companions for your holiday celebrations should not be limited to those you know. It’s a great time to meet new vintners through their labor of love.
Now, onward to the Christmas Holidays. Buon Natale!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Much has happened in Piemonte in the two intervening years since I sent the last edits of Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonteinto 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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;
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.
and the Grasso family of Cà del Baio in Treiso in Barbaresco and Deltetto family of Canale in Roero;
…..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!