Tag Archives: Chiara Boschis

“Beyond the Bottle” with Chiara Boschis

Vail Symposium goes beyond the bottle
with the Chiara Boschis

Suzanne Hoffman, author of award-winning “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte,” will moderate the event
VAIL, Colo. – June 30, 2017 – There are few liquids more complex than wine. Each bottle of wine is unique, reflecting the terroir in which it was grown, the process in which it was made and the people who watched over it every step of the way. On Tuesday, July 11, guests will be able to go beyond the story that is told on the wine label and hear, firsthand, from Chiara Boschis, one of the Piemonte’s region’s most fascinating winemakers.
Barolo vintner Chiara Boschis holding Nebbiolo must after another successful harvest in 2015.
Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto

Barolo winemaker Chiara Boschis’ family history is as deep and rich as the soil in which her grapes grow. It includes a riveting story involving the German occupation of Piemonte, Italy during World War II and, later, the exchange of young prisoners from Barolo for an entire vintage of a precious wine.

Suzanne Hoffman, author of award-winning Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, has come to know Boschis well through the writing of her book and her visits to the region. As Hoffman leads the conversation, Boschis will talk about the deep history of her family, her winery and her own growth as a farmer, a defender of nature, a winemaker and a daughter. This is a rare opportunity to have a very personalized interaction with one of the leading vintners in the world.

Chiara Boschis at the monastery of San Magno in Castelmagno, Piemonte, Italy.

“Personally, I want people to see a real winemaker, a farmer as she delights in saying, not a pop culture version that we see on TV and in magazines,” Hoffman said. “I want people to hear directly from this vibrant, passionate woman what it takes to balance the demands of the global wine market, which means traveling frequently and also welcoming clients to Barolo; the day-to-day operations of the winery cellar and the vineyards and the job she loves the most, caring for her 90-year-old father, revered Barolo vintner, Franco Boschis.”

Chiara Boschis with brother and her winery partner, Giorgio Boschis, and their beloved father, retired Borgogno vintner, Franco Boschis. Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto

Boschis is widely recognized as one of the first women producers in Barolo, although she comes from eight generations of winemakers. In 1981, the Boschis family acquired the E. Pira e Figli estate, occupying some of the most prestigious land in Barolo. In 1990, Chiara Boschis took over the operation on her own, bringing dedication, charm, patience and determination to every aspect of production in order to raise the quality and image of the winery to that which it enjoys today. In 2010, her younger brother Giorgio joined her, contributing a wealth of experience both in the vineyards as well as in the cellar.

Sister and brother team, Chiara and Giorgio Boschis, of E. Pira e Figli in Barolo. Photo Credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto

“My goal is to introduce Chiara through my Q&A with her, but then to open up the floor for questions from the audience,” Hoffman said. “She can talk the legs off a coffee table — people hang on to every word she says — and she will love interacting with the audience. People will not want this to end. I also want people to leave with a deep appreciation of the hard work and manual labor that goes into producing a bottle of wine.”

As a winemaker, Boschis is a master of balance, crafting finessed and sophisticated wines that are some of the most aromatically dynamic expressions of Barolo today. But she is a farmer first, dedicating herself to the philosophy that quality begins in the vineyard where her impact on the environment is greatest.

The long, hot growing season of 2015 ends with Chiara Boschis and her team harvesting her Nebbiolo to make her world renowned Barolo. Photo Credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto

“This program provides a wonderful opportunity for our community to get up close and personal with Chiara and hear her story,” said Kris Sabel, executive director of the Vail Symposium. “So often these events are wine tasting dinners which, while satisfying, can be quite expensive and focus more on the individual wines and food pairings than on the personal story of the winemaker, her love of the land and history of the people who have been creating amazing wine for centuries.”

Chiara Boschis and Suzanne Hoffman at Ca’ del Baio for the launch of “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte.” Photo credit: Pierangelo Vacchetto

The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and feature a reception where attendees can purchase and sample Boschis’s wine. After the program, Boschis and Hoffman will be signing copies of Hoffman’s award-winning book, “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte” will be on sale at a special price of $48 (regular retail price is $55) plus tax with $5 of every purchase benefitting the Vail Symposium.

If you go…

What: Beyond the Bottle

With: Barolo winemaker Chiara Boschis; moderated by Suzanne Hoffman, author of “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte”

Where: Edwards Interfaith Chapel | Edwards

When: Tuesday, July 11, 2017. 6:30 p.m. doors open, 7 p.m. presentation

Cost: $25 online before 2 p.m. on the day of the event, $35 at the door, $10 students and teachers

More info: Visit www.VailSymposium.org or call 970.476.0954 to register. Attendees should utilize public parking structures. Summer parking is free in the Vail and Lionshead parking structures.

# # #

About Vail Symposium

Over the past 45 years, the Vail Symposium has touched thousands of lives with its rich and varied history. Created in 1971, the Symposium was conceived by community leaders to create ideas and goals, attracting not only the majority of townsfolk but also policy shapers from across the state and nation. Throughout the years we have diversified and expanded our scope with a dedication to education and cultural programs which provide lifelong learning opportunities for everyone who lives in or visits our community. The Vail Symposium is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Media Contact:
Katie Coakley
970.333.4556
kcoakley@vailsymposium.org

Suzanne’s note:

Chiara’s wine’s from E. Pira e Figli can be found in Colorado through Giuliana Imports of Denver. In Vail Valley, Jarrett Osborne of Riverwalk Wine & Spirits in Edwards carries a great selection of Piemontese wines, including Chiara’s, and can obtain whatever is in the Giuliana Imports’ portfolio.

Elisabetta Vacchetto’s photo of Chiara Boschis, that became the centerpiece of the cover of “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte.”

 

 

Labor of Love Review – Gastronome Extra!

 

Another glowing review of Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte! 

CDR New Logo CMYK

Gastronome Extra

Gastronome Extra is the seasonal online magazine of the United States bailliage (chapter) of the international gastronomic society Chaine des Rotisseurs. The centuries old organization that King Louis IX — St. Louis — founded in 1248 as a guild of goose roasters is a premiere gastronomic organization that promotes culinary and oenological education and camaraderie at the table, something much-needed these days. From its inception, the Chaine served as a vehicle to develop and preserve culinary techniques.

The Chaine was resurrected in Paris in 1950 after two world wars that decimated the French food and wine industries, and a 200-year hiatus due to the French Revolution when guilds fell out of favor — an understatement. Today, the modern Chaine consists of over 25,000 passionate supporters of fine dining and protectors of the culinary arts in over 80 countries, including the United States.

The Review

The cover of Gastronome Extra’s summer issue features Elisabetta Vacchetto’s beautiful photo of Barolo living legend Chiara Boschis. Open up the magazine and on page 11 you’ll find a glowing review of my book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, the cover of which Chiara’s hands grace.

CHAINE - GE SUMMER 2016 - COVER
Cover of Gastronome Extra! Photo credit — Elisabetta Vacchetto
Print
Labor of Love Cover Design by Cindi Yaklich (Epicenter Creative) and photos by Elisabetta Vacchetto and Pierangelo Vacchetto.

Note — one correction in the Gastronome Extra! article — we did not sell out the first printing. We had to reduce the first run by 1,000 books when we chose to print in Italy, so we ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund that 1,000. In less than three months since publication, we sold well over half of the first edition, a large number of books considering our constraints as an indie publisher, but it is incorrect to say we sold out the first edition. See the Labor of Love Kickstarter campaign for further details.  

Other Reviews of Labor of Love

Visit my Press & Reviews – Labor of Love page for more reviews of my book.

Share the Love — Spread the Word — Pour the Wine

The book and Labor of Love’s wine families will be the focus of several upcoming wine-book pairing events in California, Colorado, and Louisiana. These events will feature wines from the wine families in the book, foods of the region, and book reading and signing with a healthy dose of spirited conversation about this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site.

September 9th — Prima Vini Ristorante, Walnut Creek, CA
September 11th — San Francisco Wine School, S. San Francisco, CA
September 23rd — Book Bar, Denver, CO
October 25th — Rebellion Bar & Urban Kitchen, New Orleans, LA
October 26th — Swirl Wine Bar & Market, New Orleans, LA

 

And more to come on the East Coast! Watch this space.

Winery Doors to Vinous Paradise

Many winery doors in Europe are thick, wooden barriers to domains through which centuries of winemakers have passed. On the edge of Barolo’s central district, on Via Vittorio Veneto just below sprawling Nebbiolo vineyards, there is one such door.

A black plaque with four large white letters affixed on the right of the door prominently displaying the name of the legendary wine family “PIRA” alerts visitors they’ve arrived. Press the button on the brass plaque to ring the bell that could easily wake the dead of centuries past. You’ll hear hurried steps – albeit maybe not immediately – lock turning, a bolt scraping open and finally the centuries-old door creaks open.

For centuries, the E. Pira e Figli winery has occupied the corner of via Monforte and via Vittorio Veneto in Barolo.
For centuries, the E. Pira e Figli winery has occupied the corner of via Monforte and via Vittorio Veneto in Barolo.

If your timing is right – the probability of which is improved dramatically if you’ve cleverly booked an appointment – Chiara Boschis’ bright, welcoming smile will be the first thing you see on the other side of the door to E. Pira e Figli.

At home in the tasting room of Chiara Boschis, E. Pira e Figli, in Barolo, Italy.
At home in the tasting room of Chiara Boschis, E. Pira e Figli, in Barolo, Italy.

On a cold March day shrouded in a light mist more akin to November than Easter, I met Chiara Boschis, E. Pira’s proprietor and winemaker. The door burst open and before me was a petite, smiling woman in leggings and a flowing skirt, bundled up in a puffy coat she clutched around her neck. I stood before her in jeans and a light, powder blue sweater and tee shirt, freezing. For some reason – as I stood there, slightly shivering – admitting it seemed out of the question. I live in the Rockies after all. We’re tough and rarely admit we’re cold.

Chiara greeted me as she would a long lost friend. Here before me was a much-loved woman who had successfully staked out her territory in Barolo’s male-dominated world and who was the subject of many laudatory articles in wine journals and blogs. But immediately I could see, despite her fame, she was no wine diva.

Chiara enjoying the sweet summer fragrance of roses in the vineyards.
Chiara enjoying the sweet summer fragrance of roses in the vineyards.

There was no period of uncomfortable formalities, only a warm two-handed handshake, a deep sincere look into my eyes and concern over my lightweight attire. Here was a woman in love with her craft and grateful for my interest in the women of Piemonte. I was humbled.

The conversation flowed effortlessly as we descended steep, concrete stairs, through another heavy wooden door into the maze of subterranean rooms of the centuries old winery. I was thrilled when we entered the warm barrel room where a humidifier bellowing steam transformed the space into a mild sauna. Low level lights shining up through the fog at the vaulted ceiling created an ethereal affect, giving the musty space a timeless feeling. I could see through the fog a small forest of large wooden barrels and smaller barriques where nature, guided by Chiara, was finishing its work aging and imparting aromas into her precious wines.

The "cantina vecchia" (old cellar) that has housed barrels of aging wine for centuries.
The “cantina vecchia” (old cellar) that has housed barrels of aging wine for centuries.

On later visits, I thought the cantina seemed the sort of place the ghost of sainted Giulia Colbert Falletti, Marchesa di Barolo – the 19th century mother of modern Barolo – would be comfortable. I believe she would have enjoyed Chiara, the woman who burst through gender barriers to become Barolo’s first woman winery proprietor and winemaker. Chiara draws inspiration from the Marchesa. Perhaps Giulia’s spirit guides Chiara and all the women who are her oenological legatees. I like to think so. But I digress.

A woman to the rescue

Once a rarity, women winemakers are taking their place in the Piemonte wine industry, particularly in the Langhe and Roero regions. Famous last names previously associated with men are now brands belonging to women winemakers and proprietors such as Chiara.

In 1980, following the death of Luigi Pira, Chiara emerged as the first of her gender in her family’s nine generations in Barolo to tend the vines and vinify the noble Nebbiolo grape. Luigi was the last male heir of the renowned centuries-old E. Pira e Figli winery in Barolo.

At Chiara’s behest, her father, Franco for whom she had worked at Giacomo Borgogno e Figli, bought the winery from Pira’s two sisters. The vineyards, including parcels in the prized Cannubi, and the winery would become the launching pad of Chiara’s meteoric career.

Chiara possess an innate talent for growing high quality grapes and making luscious wines from her vines’ bounty. A combination of swimming in the right gene pool and on-the-job experiences spanning a lifetime prepared her to successfully assume control of the operation in 1990.

New generation, new philosophy

On that first visit, Chiara poetically described her winemaking philosophy with words like “joy,” “passion” and “love” garnishing her language. The biggest change in her generation was not only women entering winemaking, but also giving more attention to the vineyards. “You cannot abandon the fruit in the vineyard during the growing season,” she warns. The work in the vineyards is 80% of the process. The other 20% is in the cellar. It’s logical that without the best fruit possible, nothing in the cellar will change mediocre grapes into stellar wines.

No job is too menial for Chiara and she takes great delight in the handwork of winemaking. Here she is cleaning a wine vat.
No job is too menial for Chiara and she takes great delight in the handwork of winemaking. Here she is cleaning a wine vat.

Chiara was one of the first to conduct a green harvest – crop thinning – in Barolo. If done correctly, as she does, the process of cutting shoots and bunches during the growing season produces quality over yield. Chiara strongly believes quality cannot be achieved when the vine is preoccupied and stressed with too much growth. It’s a delicate process, however, that is sometimes done three or four times as she monitors the vines’ development and the weather between June and harvest.

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

Her first green harvest, however, brought calls to her father from locals saying, “Chiara is crazy! She is cutting the vines!” She admits her father was also skeptical, but the proof of her logic rests in the high quality of her elegant wines.

Meteoric Rise to Fame

The splendid 1990 vintage was Chiara’s first on her own. She downplays somewhat the significance of the Tre Biccheri the Gambero Rosso awarded her her maiden vintage declaring, “It was a fabulous vintage.” True, it was, but she need not be humble about her achievement with that vintage. Four years later, with the release of the 1994 vintage, Chiara proved she was no flash in the pan.

In Europe, rain and mud were the hallmarks of the second half of 1994. Long before vines surrendered their grapes, the vintage was branded as poor. Although it gave only two out of five stars to the 1994 Piemontese vintage, Britain’s Decanter magazine noted, “Prolonged rain caused serious problems, although a few producers still made good wines.” One of those wines was Chiara’s cru from the legendary Cannubi vineyard.

As the winner of the sole Tre Bicchieri awarded for Barolo that year, her 1994 Barolo Cannubi proved she could make great wines even when Mother Nature was cranky. “Consistency is most important to success,” Chiara asserts. Weather can be changeable, but winemakers must always be at the top of their game to achieve consistently high quality wines. Since 1994, Chiara garnered numerous accolades for her Baroli that exhibit power, but with a Burgundian-like elegance, finesse and soft tannins, the signature of her wines.

Chiara Boschis' three Barolo "children"
Chiara Boschis’ three Barolo “children”

In its 2013 Duemilavini wine guide, the Italian Sommelier Association awarded its highest honor, “Cinque Grapoli” (five bunches), to Chiara’s 2008 and 2010 Barolo Cannubi. So I’d say that now, as she brings in her 24th vintage as the head of Pira, Chiara Boschis has proven herself worthy of her winemaking heritage.

Chiara enjoys taking her wines on the road. Here she is at Zino Ristorante near Vail, CO with Executive Chef Nick, Giuseppe Bosco and her loyal, trusted importer, Steve Lewis of Giuliana Imports.
Chiara enjoys taking her wines on the road. Here she is at Zino Ristorante near Vail, CO with Executive Chef Nick, Giuseppe Bosco and her loyal, trusted importer, Steve Lewis of Giuliana Imports.

Chiara’s wines continue to garner praise across the globe. Her personality, devotion and talent emerge from each bottle of wine opened in lands far from the humble Piemonte village of its origins. No doubt, most days someone meets Chiara for the first time by merely sipping her vinous creations.

Chiara Boschis with Giuseppe and Alisha Bosco of Vail Valley's Ristorante Zino enjoying Chiara's wines in her tasting room.
Chiara Boschis with Giuseppe and Alisha Bosco of Vail Valley’s Ristorante Zino enjoying Chiara’s wines in her tasting room.
Looking To The Future

Chiara bridges the past and future through her devotion to preserving Piemonte’s cultural heritage, insuring future generations remain connected to region’s land and the culture surrounding all it produces.

Chiara's feet are rooted in the soil of Barolo. She is most at peace among her vines.
Chiara’s feet are rooted in the soil of Barolo. She is most at peace among her vines.

Chiara is married to the land and protects it as she would her own offspring. As a certified organic wine producer who never exposes her vines to pesticides, she guards the environment and the health of her clients and neighbors. Her ardent belief – a view many of her peers share – is vineyards can survive without chemicals. A healthy future and continuation of centuries of Piemontese viticulture depend on farmers such as Chiara to protect the terroir.

With brother Giorgio who left Borgogno and joined her at Pira in 2010, she’s well into her third decade of creating beautiful, award-winning wines. Brother Cesare also left Borogono and now works with his sister and eight others in the “ethical” project to preserve the culture and production of Castelmagno in Rifugio Valliera. Together, the close-knit siblings are working to insure the region’s traditions remain a part of its fabric, leaving generations to come a bright future in Piemonte.

Chiara Boschis enjoying lunch al fresco at Rifugio Valliera in Castelmagno.
Chiara Boschis enjoying lunch al fresco at Rifugio Valliera in Castelmagno.

Alpine Adventures in Castelmagno

I met Barolo winemaker and nature lover, Chiara Boschis, on a research trip to Piemonte in March 2013. One of the first woman wine producers in the Langhe, Chiara is the proprietor and winemaker of E. Pira e Figli, a 30,000 bottle annual production winery in Barolo.

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

In that first interview, she told me the intriguing story of the Des Martin ethical project in Castelmagno, a commune high in the Valle Grana in western Piemonte.

The fusion of old and new at Rifugio Valliera.
The fusion of old and new at Rifugio Valliera.

In 2007, Chiara and nine others, including her brother, Cesare Boschis, embarked on a mission to procure and renovate a portion of Valliera, an abandoned timberline hamlet in the commune. Their goal: resurrect Valliera to preserve a dying cheese making tradition.

Rifugio Valliera, nestled at timberline in the Commune of Castelmagno.
Rifugio Valliera, nestled at timberline in the Commune of Castelmagno.

The project embodies Chiara’s passionate dedication to honoring nature and preserving tradition. The intersection of her enthusiasm for the project and my love of the cheese prompted me to ask her to take my husband and me to Valliera for a firsthand experience. Chiara promised to do so. Chiara makes no empty promises. Early in the morning on the last day of June 2013, our exploration of this bit of history began.

Not really a day of rest

Three months of relentless rain and cold nights stymied Piemonte’s vines in the early growing season. However, two weeks of warm sunshine in early June coaxed tendrils to reach for the sky and begin their summer grape-making chore. Developing vines demand attention and already Chiara had her own chores in the vineyards. Nevertheless, she willingly dedicated her Sunday to guide us on a unique mountain adventure few visitors – and locals – have experienced.

It certainly wasn’t a “day off” for Chiara. Truth is I’m not certain if such a thing exists for someone easily described as “The Energizer Bunny of Wine.” She volunteered to drive to Valliera, nearly two hours to the west of Barolo. Given her pickup was more suited for the rough mountain roads to the alpeggio than our low-to-the-ground rental car, I ceded driving responsibilities to her.

Chiara’s longtime Belgian friends, Willy and Marie Therese Van Riel, joined us at her winery in Barolo early that morning. For the past 17 years, the Van Riels have returned to Piemonte at least twice a year. This was their first trip into the Occitane valleys that lie along Italy’s western, alpine border. Together, we piled into the double cab pickup like excited kids on a field trip.

Traversing Varying Landscapes

Piemonte consists of three geographically distinct areas – mountains, plains and hills. Our drive west at Chiara’s leisurely pace – unusual for a Piemontese under the age of 80 – took us through all three. First, we drove along winding roads through rolling, vineyard carpeted hills in the southern reaches of the Barolo appellation. The lush, green canopies were in stark contrast to the barren vines of winter and spring, and vibrant gold and yellow leaves of autumn I’m used to seeing.

Undulating, vineyard covered hills of the Barolo Appellation with the Cottian Alps in the distance.
Undulating, vineyard covered hills of the Barolo Appellation with the Cottian Alps in the distance.

Soon, the hills were behind us as we reached the flatland between the Langhe and mountains. Here, instead of grapevines, the earth nourishes crops such as fruits, particularly apples and kiwis, vegetables and Cuneo’s famous climbing beans. Chiara gave us a lesson in all the crops, the increasing climate change issues, particularly hail, and the history of the region’s many frescoed churches and chapels. This really was a school field trip! Like sponges, we absorbed Chiara’s wisdom and knowledge.

Roadside Renaissance

Once the province’s capital Cuneo was behind us, the geography once again changed as we began our climb into the Valle Grana. Our first stop was the 15th century chapel of S. Sebastiano in Monterosso Grana.

Renaissance fresco of Piero da Saluzzo at the chapel of S. Sebastiano in the Valle Grana.
Renaissance fresco of Pietro da Saluzzo at the chapel of S. Sebastiano in the Valle Grana.

Earlier, as we drove across the plain, Chiara pointed out churches and chapels that house frescoes painted by 15th century artists who roamed from town to town. The wealthy House of Savoy ruled the region from the 11th century until the end of the Italian monarchy in June 1946. The noble family commissioned artists from Italy, France and beyond creating what today is a fresco museum of sorts spread across Piemonte. The chapel of S. Sebastiano is one of those hidden-in-plain-sight gems.

Located steps away from the busy road, adjacent to a cemetery, the chapel’s nondescript exterior belies the art treasure that adorns its ceiling. Only a simple sign on a tilting post provided hints of the chapel’s significance.

Pietro da Saluzzo was one of the prolific traveling Renaissance artists. We peeked through the large viewing window cut into the exterior wall and marveled at his incredibly detailed and well-preserved fresco, described by some as “remarkable and witty.” It was a bit surrealistic viewing this five century-old painting while standing beside a road, with cows grazing nearby. This is what I love about Italy. Not all its treasures are locked away in traditional museums. Had Chiara not stopped there, my ignorance of Piemonte’s Renaissance fresco painters would still exist.

The field trip continued as we piled back into the truck and continued our drive along the Grana River. Chiara was now on a mission. Next stop, a small bakery where sought-after baguettes are baked daily.

Two Baguettes, Cheese and a Smile

This bakery – sorry, didn’t get the name – is legendary for its crusty baguettes, an unusual bread in Italy, no doubt a result of French influence in the valley under the Savoys. Buying one, however, is challenging.

As we approached, people leaving the shop clutched their treasured baguettes and glanced sideways as though suspicious we would snatch their bread.

Chiara was not only determined to buy baguettes for a late morning snack at our destination, but to coax a smile from the aged, rotund and rather grumpy woman who ran the shop. Smiling is something Chiara has mastered. Her throaty laugh combined with her broad smile that easily spreads across her face, could make anyone grin. Except this woman.

Chiara pleaded with her to sell us two baguettes. It wasn’t an easy task since the day’s allotment of this caviar of bread was dwindling fast. I couldn’t quite understand the exchange between Chiara and the guardian of the bread, but whatever she said worked. We scored two loaves, but no smile.

Delicious, crispy bread with a somewhat salty crust deserves something very special to go with it. Since we were in the land of one of the most revered cheeses in Italy, Castelmagno was a no-brainer choice for Chiara to add to her bread purchase.

Crumbly yet creamy. Young Castelmagno cheese makes the perfect accompaniment  to crispy, fresh bread and red wine.
Crumbly yet creamy. Young Castelmagno cheese makes the perfect accompaniment to crispy, fresh bread and red wine.

As we climbed back into the truck, Chiara offered a loaf to us to try. It was still warm. Had we turned around and driven back to Barolo, the drive for the bread and cheese would have been worth it. However, waiting up the valley were more delights to tickle our senses.

Walk, Don’t Drive

In late autumn 2008, Dani and I explored Castelmagno’s villages. Therefore, when we began climbing the excruciatingly narrow and steep road to Colletto, the tight 180-degree switchbacks didn’t worry me. Well, at first that is.

Precarious, single lane road leading from the floor of the Valle Grana to Colletto and the alpeggi above.
Precarious, single lane road leading from the floor of the Valle Grana to Colletto and the alpeggi above.

The truck’s poor turning radius and difficult gearbox weren’t suited for the road. Chiara had to turn, shift gears, roll backward, shift, and turn again to navigate the tight switchbacks. The flimsy metal-pipe guardrail offered no solace to the terrified. Remember, I told you the road’s steep. Little did I know, this was child’s play compared to what awaited us between Colletto and Valliera.

The cliff-dwelling village of Colletto. Last paved road on trip to Rifugio Valliera.
The cliff-dwelling village of Colletto. Last paved road on trip to Rifugio Valliera.

As we reached the tiny, cliff-side village of Colletto, I finally exhaled. My easy breathing and lowering heart rate lasted all of 10 seconds. We began the final climb up the rocky, even narrower and steeper road – if that was possible – through the forest to Valliera. Cows and herders walk this road twice a year. Now we were driving it. I vowed to walk down, if we made it up.

Taking the metaphorical high road is often fraught with perils. The real ones can be risky, too. The steep gravel road with sharp turns and switchbacks was just that, risky. I trusted Chiara with her dogged determination and experience with the road, but my fear of heights plagued me.

Lush forest on road between Colletto and Rifugio Valliera.
Lush forest on road between Colletto and Rifugio Valliera.

Although I sat in the front passenger seat, I thought perhaps the back of the pickup may have suited me better, preferably under a blanket with my eyes squeezed shut. The lovely view ahead through the thick forest captivated us, but it was the absence of any road to my right and the sheer drop down the tree-lined mountainside that opened the door for fear to creep in.

“Don’t look,” I kept telling myself. Unfortunately, the plunging landscape mesmerized me. Chiara tried reassuring us that we weren’t really high up. Given the valley floor was 1,500 feet below, down the near vertical mountainside, I found no solace in her words. The chicken in me would not rest.

Finally, we were out of the forest. Valliera appeared like the Emerald City. As we parked in a clearing above Valliera, I released my death grip on the door handle and took my first easy breath since we left the valley floor.

View from Rifugio Valliera.
View from Rifugio Valliera.

In the distance, we could see tiny Colletto far below. Through breaks in the forest, I could see the steep road we traveled. Chiara jumped out and quickly set up an aperativo of Italy’s holy trinity – bread, cheese and wine.

Tailgate "brunch" of fresh baguettes, Castelmagno and E. Pira e Figli by Chiara Boschis Dolcetto d'Alba.
Tailgate “brunch” of fresh baguettes, Castelmagno and E. Pira e Figli by Chiara Boschis Dolcetto d’Alba.

The scrumptious late morning snack consisted of the crispy, slightly salty baguettes from the frowning lady’s shop, soft, flaky Castelmagno cheese and a bottle of Chiara’s own exquisite Dolcetto d’Alba. It beat any tailgate party I’d experienced.

Sunday morning aperitivo of the Italian "Holy Trinity:" Bread, wine and cheese.
Sunday morning aperitivo of the Italian “Holy Trinity:” Bread, wine and cheese.
Torino’s Siren Song

As we stood savoring Chiara’s treats, I felt haunted as I looked down at the ghostly hamlet Des Martin is bringing to life and thought of the centuries-old mountain culture that came to an abrupt halt in the 1950s and 60s.

For countless generations, the inhabitants of these high mountain hamlets tended their cows, sheep, goats and gardens in the summer and, with the animals, retreated indoors when the snows arrived. They made good use of the long, solitary winters. While barricaded in the hamlet until the spring thaw, they whiled away the hours repairing tools and making furniture. It wasn’t an easy life.

In the 1950s and 60s, the lure of jobs at Fiat and promises of the good life prompted mountain dwellers to abandon their villages and head for Piemonte’s capital, Torino. People simply took what little they needed, left the rest and fled their alpeggio life for the unknown – but promised – riches of the city. Valliera, like other hamlets in the Castelmagno commune, was abandoned.

For five decades, the abandoned hamlet endured Mother Nature’s high country winter wrath on its own. When the members of the Des Martin consortium arrived, the hamlet, though decaying, was mountain life frozen in time.

Beds with mattresses and clothes still hanging are some of the evidence of a culture gone by.
Beds with mattresses and clothes still hanging are some of the evidence of a culture gone by.

Tattered, moth-eaten clothes still hung in closets. Empty plates lay on tables. Stained, musty mattresses were on rickety beds. Chiara likens the exodus to the California Gold Rush when people abandoned lives they knew for promises of riches in a different world. They simply vanished, blending into Torino’s population.

Decades after the inhabitants moved to Torino, moth-eaten clothes still hang in Valliera's closets.
Decades after the inhabitants moved to Torino, moth-eaten clothes still hang in Valliera’s closets.

For an hour, we explored the dwellings before arriving at Des Martin’s renovated buildings – modern on the inside, rustic on the outside – that housed the consortium’s living and cheese production quarters.

With just a little renovation, this brick oven could be functional again as it was for generations.
With just a little renovation, this brick oven could be functional again as it was for generations.

Cheesemaker Ilaria Tomatis was busy draining forms of wet cheese.

Cheesemaker Ilaria Tomatis draining wet forms of Castelmagno cheese.
Cheesemaker Ilaria Tomatis draining wet forms of Castelmagno cheese.

We popped our heads into the two refrigerated rooms where 5-kilogram blocks of precious alpeggio cheese were aging. The short, five-month season yields 500 forms of Castelmagno. Obviously, much more is needed for economic viability. However, for now, the owners are content with saving the hamlet and starting up the operation.

Ripe Castelmagno d'alpeggio ready for sale.
Ripe Castelmagno d’alpeggio ready for sale.
Wheels of fresh Castelmagno d'alpeggio beginning their nine months of aging in Des Martins' cellars.
Wheels of fresh Castelmagno d’alpeggio beginning their nine months of aging in Des Martins’ cellars.

By 1:00, Chiara ended her intriguing guided tour of the Des Martin project. It was lunchtime!

Finding Refuge at the Table

Huts of all sorts dot the high mountain landscape throughout the Alps. In Italy, rifugi alpini (Alpine shelters) provide resting spots for trekkers across the mountains. Rifugio Valliera provided us a place to sit and enjoy a typical Occitania lunch al fresco.

At the long picnic table, we joined Flavia Arneodo, manager of the Rifugio, Ilaria, Flavia’s father Piero, workers and Des Martin’s cow herder. It was a feast!

Dining al fresco at Rifugio Valliera is part of the hamlet's magic.
Dining al fresco at Rifugio Valliera is part of the hamlet’s magic.
Table set and ready for a traditional mountain lunch.
Table set and ready for a traditional mountain lunch.

As with every Italian meal, antipasti were set out on wooden boards – frittata, lardo, and salami with the obligatory grissini. Travel in Piemonte is not a time to watch your cholesterol. Besides, this was fresh food, free of chemicals.

Antipasti including salami, lardo and frittata.
Antipasti including salami, lardo and frittata.

Small pitchers of house Dolcetto were set out, but Chiara produced another bottle from her cellar – Barbera d’Alba. What can I say about her wines other than each one, even those from the humblest grapes, is stellar?

My hubby Dani Hoffman and a bottle of Chiara Boschis' Barbera d'Alba.
My hubby Dani Hoffman and a bottle of Chiara Boschis’ Barbera d’Alba.

First course was salsiccia with fresh tomato sauce over polenta, the starch of choice for meat in Piemonte. On the table were plates heaped with Gorgonzola and creamy, fresh butter to add to the dish, as though additions were needed. What the heck? Cheese is one of my favorite food sins so I happily sinned on the region’s famous soft blue cheese.

Salsiccia in tomato sauce on polenta is a perfect Piedmontese lunchtime treat.
Salsiccia in tomato sauce on polenta is a perfect Piedmontese lunchtime treat.
Salsiccia on polenta served with fresh creamy butter and Gorgonzola.
Salsiccia on polenta served with fresh creamy butter and Gorgonzola.

Flavia then offered gnocchi with a rich, creamy fonduta of Castelmagno. This was an epicurean no-brainer. Despite having gorged myself on salsiccia, a meal in Castelmagno is incomplete without the most typical of dishes – gnocchi with a silky sauce of melted Casltemagno. It’s really a splendid dish that, despite what you may think, is not heavy. It was as though we’d come upon the pot of culinary gold at the end of the rainbow.

Gnocchi al Castelmagno is a speciality of the region not to be missed!
Gnocchi al Castelmagno is a speciality of the region not to be missed!

Dessert of crostada and panna cotta perfectly punctuated the meal. Cost of this feast? A whopping $15 per person. Just the view and the delightful ambience of sharing a meal with the locals were worth far more.

Crostada with espresso was the perfect end to the alpine lunch.
Crostada with espresso was the perfect end to the alpine lunch.

It was now time to say our good-byes and head down the road. The wine had done nothing to assuage my fears, so my husband Dani and Marie Therese Van Riel joined me for the steep hike down to Colletto. Chiara tried, but failed to convince Marie Therese’s husband, Willy, to drive the truck down so she could walk. Hiking gave me a chance to safely view the steep drop from the narrow road. Just as scary walking as driving, but the awe I felt gazing at the splendid vistas quickly replaced my fears.

Marie Therese perfectly stated the experience of visiting Valliera with Chiara and those dedicated to preserving this cultural gem, “It was an exclusive experience money could not buy.” Chiara mentioned we were probably the last to see the buildings as they were left decades ago. Renovation continued all summer during which time the ghostly remains of clothes, furniture and bedding were removed.

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The high road we had taken lead us back to Chiara’s cellar. Sipping her beautiful wines while she wove stories about their production was the perfect finish to an intriguing day.

Chiara and her brother, Cesare Boschis, who is director of Des Martin, possess an infectious passion for the project. Their vision is for Des Martin to have both cheese-making and lodging facilities, making it an agriturismo experience connecting old with new. I can’t wait to check in, but I think I’ll walk up next time.

Great way to end a day of new experiences in Castelmagno - wine tasting in Barolo with Chiara Boschis.
Great way to end a day of new experiences in Castelmagno – wine tasting in Barolo with Chiara Boschis.

Note: Des Martin’s agriturismo at Rifugio Valliera is scheduled to open in August 2014. Stay tuned for more details on these lodgings in the sky.

Elisa Scavino – Alchemist of Barolo

Piemonte – the land where Nebbiolo not only grows best, but the alchemy of grapes to wine would delight Bacchus himself.  One of the region’s rising alchemists is 31 year-old Elisa Scavino.  Her family name should be familiar to any Barolo-phile since she is the granddaughter of Paolo Scavino, founder of the venerable Castiglione Falletto winery bearing his name.

No signage outside, but no mistaking where you are once inside
No signage outside, but no mistaking where you are once inside

Although famous for its 7 Baroli produced from grapes of 19 single crus in 6 of the 11 Barolo appellation villages, Paolo Scavino’s portfolio also includes other lovely wines of distinction.  What I love most about Piemonte – what’s missing from Tuscany, in my opinion – is the broad range of different interesting varietals, both red and white, the Langhe and Roero offer.  That’s certainly not missing at Scavino.  Six other wines grace the winery’s portfolio, all beautiful expressions of the region’s varietals.

This month I visited Piemonte to continue research for my book, “Under Discovered: Le Donne di Piemonte.” One of the women of Piemonte who will grace my book’s pages, Paola Grasso of Ca’ del Baio, introduced me to Elisa.  Since I restrict my writing to family owned wineries where the “family business speaks to the culture of wine,” in Paola’s words, I delighted in the opportunity to meet someone from the famous Scavino family.

Discovering a Barolo Treasure

On my last full day in Piemonte, I drove to the Scavino winery, spitting distance from our agriturismo, Gioco dell’Oca, on the outskirts of Barolo.  The winery’s buildings reflect its owners: non-pretentious, but distinctive.  Setback from the busy Barolo – Alba highway, the winery lies behind a lovely iron gate with a simple “S” on each panel.  Other than the obscure sign I barely saw from the highway, it was the only clue I was in the right spot.

The familiar tinkling sound of bottles moving along a bottling machine’s conveyor belt greeted me when I walked through the massive wooden doors into the courtyard.  It seems like everywhere I went, something delicious was going into bottles, some for sale now, some to age for a few more years.

After a few short minutes alone in the tasting room, the door opened.  In trotted a large, somewhat smiling yellow lab, Lino (short for Ercolino), and Elisa Scavino.  The first thing I noticed about Elisa was her smile.  Unlike many people whose smiles are restricted to the muscles around their mouths, Elisa’s smile sparkled in her dark, half-moon eyes as well.  My intuition is usually spot-on.  It was screaming, “This is going to be a wonderful experience.”  It certainly was.

Lino, Elisa's constant companion
Lino, Elisa’s constant companion

No more “Due di Picchi”

Elisa has plenty to smile about.  Like Paola Grasso, Elisa was born in a time when women are no longer relegated to the shadows.  “Women’s work” no longer excludes making wine.  Elisa is a member of a growing demographic of talented, rising stars of Piemonte: young women.

Elisa and Lino
Elisa and Lino

Since the 1980s, Piemontese women now possess career choices.  However, for Elisa, there was no “choice” to make, only opportunity to grasp.  She was born into a wine producing family.  To her, like Grasso, there was never any doubt she would be a winemaker.  Since early in her life, Elisa worked hard to join her father Enrico’s profession.  To her, to be a successful winemaker is to honor her father.

It’s a good thing women are now accepted in the wine industry since so many of the prominent Piemonte houses will pass into women’s hands in coming decades.  This was not always possible.  For generations, the birth of daughters and no sons doomed estates.  Given the culture of the times, having girls was akin to being dealt a “due di picchi” (bad hand) at cards.  Those times have changed.

In the 1980s, women like Chiara Boschis and Livia Fontana graduated from the “school of hard knocks” after learning viticulture and oenology from their fathers.  These pioneering women emerged as Barolo’s first women wine producers.  When Barolo master, Bartolo Mascarello, passed away in 2005, daughter Maria Teresa assumed control of the family winery, continuing in her father’s footsteps.  Now, Elisa and sister Enrica, Marta Rinaldi, the three Grasso sisters – Paola, Valentina and Federica – and many other women are in line to inherit generations old wineries.  The future of great estates is no longer at risk to the whims of genetics.

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

Cracking the Educational Glass Ceiling

Although daughters of wine families could learn winemaking from the time they first walked, formal wine industry training was not possible.  Only in recent decades did the famous Wine School of Alba (formerly the Royal Enological School) Domizio Cavazza founded in the late 19th century accept women students.  Elisa and two other women, including Rosanna Gaja, comprised one of the earliest classes of women oenologists the famous school graduated.

For Elisa, however, the only education she wanted was the one she got in the vineyards and cellar with her father.  Her parents encouraged her to consider other studies, such as science or classical studies, but only wine school’s six-year program would do for Elisa.

Next, Elisa graduated with an oenology degree from the University of Torino’s three-year program.  Since long before her first awareness of Barolo’s special nature with the release of 1985 vintage in 1989, Elisa knew what she wanted to do in life.  She now had the tools to do it.  In January 2005, Elisa returned to Castiglione Falletto and took up her position in the family business.

Finding Her Place

Family businesses often are daunting places to launch careers.  Pressures to contribute and learn all aspects of the business, including marketing and competition, created new challenges for Elisa.  No longer were her days in the vineyards part of crafting career aspirations.  This was reality, not dreams and longing.  Her career took flight as she accepted the heavy responsibility that comes with being a member of a wine producing family.  Elisa considers that time to have been a “big moment for her” in her “changing life.”

Shortly after graduating, with older sister Enrica, Elisa made her first marketing trip to America.  Enrica, who studied languages and now handles marketing and sales for the winery, wanted Elisa to experience firsthand the their wines’ American market.  It was an eye opening experience.  Following the birth of Enrica’s first child in 2011, Elisa assumed more responsibility for traveling the world to show the wines.

Aging wines to their perfection takes time and money.
Aging wines to their perfection takes time and money.

Elisa enjoys tasting their wines with clients in different countries, but home definitely is where her heart lies.  Although Elisa cherishes her earliest childhood memories of her father playing the harmonica while he drained casks in the cellar, she loves her work in the vineyards most of all.  She explained to me how liberating she finds the lack of control one has when growing grapes.

Elisa finds “playing and interacting with nature” and following “nature’s philosophy” less intimidating than working in the cellar where she must confront the alchemy of the wine.  Control is crucial in the cellar. I envy Elisa’s ability to eschew control and let nature take its course. It’s a gift.

The vineyards of the Barolo appellation stretch for miles across the Langhe's rolling hills.
The vineyards of the Barolo appellation stretch for miles across the Langhe’s rolling hills.

No doubt, Paolo Scavino would be proud to see his granddaughters, members of an evolving generation, walking the path he laid for them when he started his winery in 1921.  No more shadows for the women of Piemonte.

Discovering the Under Discovered in Barolo – In Search of Chiara Boschis

You’ll have to wait for my book, “Under Discovered: Piemonte through the eyes of its women” to get the full story.  In the meantime, I thought I’d introduce you to some of the wonderful women and their families who will populate the pages of my book.  Many I’ve known for nearly 14 years, but a few I’ve only just met through the process of researching my book.  One of those women is the effervescent and immensely talented Chiara Boschis, winemaker and owner of E. Pira e Figli in Barolo.

WInemaker Chiara Boschis at home amongst her treasured nebbiolo vines
Winemaker Chiara Boschis at home amongst her treasured nebbiolo vines

On Monday, I introduced my Vail Daily readers near and far to Chiara.  You can read more about her at:

http://www.vaildaily.com/article/20130331/AE/130339983&parentprofile=search

What I didn’t tell you was how I discovered this well-known, under-discovered maven of Barolo.  Serendipity is wonderful and often its surprises can yield incredible fruit.

After a grueling month of first getting my husband Dani off on his long trip to Israel, I was off on my odyssey in Piemonte.  I arrived in Treiso at Agriturismo Il Bricco evening of March 19th.  The journey had taken nearly 27 hours, but I was excited to be back in the land of the noble grape.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday took me back and forth between Treiso, Barbaresco and Barolo interviewing fascinating women and men from the winemaking families of Cantina del Pino, Marchesi di Gresy, Gaja, G. D. Vajra, Livia Fontana and Cascina delle Rose.  Although I still had interviews to conduct at Deltetto, Ca’ del Baio and Matteo Correggia the following week, the weekend gave me a much-needed break to process all that I had learned in the hours of interviews.  Most of all, the weekend meant market day in Alba.

The Alba mercato is located on the fringes of the old city.  During the week the area under and around the massive roof is a parking lot.  But on Saturdays it becomes an expansive gastronomic venue.  Everything one needs to make prepare a stunning Piemontese feast – including the utensils, gadgets, pots and pans – can be found at the market.  Ok, so you have to shop elsewhere for the treasured tartufo bianci in autumn, but even the clothes and shoes to wear for the occasion can be purchased here.  Nothing like an hour walking around, envying the availability of beautiful vegetables, cheese, meat and seafood to remind me of what I miss most about living in Europe.  Why can’t we have markets like that in Colorado instead of the over-priced weekend farmers’ markets?

Pasta Perfection in the Alba mercato                    Mediterranean Mollusks

WIth that obligatory stroll through the mercato complete, I drove back to Il Bricco, deposited my goodies – chestnut honey, roasted hazelnuts, lace scarves and the Parmigiano-Reggiano given to me as a gift from the cheese couple I wrote about last year – and headed west to Barolo (see below).

Husband and wife cheese merchants in the Alba mercato

I was on a mission.  Ristorante La Cantinetta was my destination.