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Labor of Love:
Wine Family Women of Piemonte
By Suzanne Hoffman
By Suzanne Hoffman
Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte
A groundbreaking book about generations of inspiring
women in 22 Piemontese wine families coming
into their own as vintners and leaders
I am Suzanne Hoffman, the author Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, a book unlike any ever written about wine families. I tell the hidden stories of the women of 22 wine families rooted for generations in the Italian wine region of Piemonte. Whether famous the world over or known only within Italy, each family is rich in history. Wine family women in Piemonte are stepping out of the shadows as owners and vintners, undreamt of a generation ago. And how that came to be is a story I have held in sacred trust…until now.
I love food. I adore wine. I am Sicilian on my mother’s side. I was born and raised in the rich gastronomic culture of south Louisiana as a member of the third generation of a vibrant, loving Sicilian family of immigrants. Being Sicilian means knowing and craving tradition – in wine, in food, and in anything to do with the family. From the moment I first set foot in Italy in 1975, I’ve been on a very natural path to becoming a wine family expert. It has taken many years.
“With her sensibility and passion, Suzanne has slowly come ever closer to our culture and has absorbed its intimate values. Only the completion of this wonderful book will contribute to the legacy of female culture in the millennia-long history of Italian civilization.”
~ Maurizio Rosso, author, historian, and owner, Cantina Gigi Rosso (Barolo)
I lived and worked in Switzerland for 20 years. Traveling the short distance to the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato regions of Piemonte pulled me into another world that I instinctively understood and felt as though I belonged to. I heard stories drawing me into an immense 19th century novel of sacrifice, joy, loss, and triumph.
The lives of these families – some aristocratic, some rising from abject poverty – were worthy of great Italian opera plots. All the while I was witnessing a tremendously moving process – an agrarian society coping with seismic change.
The shedding of societal norms that kept women in the shadows – queens in their houses, but serfs in the wineries and vineyards – meant that wine family women could now share control of their families’ patrimonies, and take a firm hand in shaping their own destinies. Daughters began to take the reins of some of the most famous wine brands in the region, unimaginable only a few decades ago. To see an entire generation of women rapidly striding into the forecourt of the region’s lifeblood industry awed me.
Oh, my – I felt such urgency to tell the story of this transformation, and to tell it as the wine families themselves experienced it. Time was of the essence. Many patriarchs and matriarchs were approaching their 90th year. Would I tell their stories in time for them to read the book?
I chose 22 diverse wine families for my book, plus the most famous wine family woman of all, the blessed 19th-century vintner, Giulia Colbert Falletti, Marchesa di Barolo.
The first wine family women to inspire me to write Labor of Love were Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose in Barbaresco, and her late grandmother Beatrice Rizzolio. The stories of many other women and their families soon captivated me. You can see why they are special.
Isabella Oddero of Poderi e Cantine Oddero originally chose a career in international marketing, far away from her family’s generations-old winery in Barolo.
But the deep instinct that keeps Piemontese families together brought her back to help save and contribute to the patrimony that generations of her grandmothers had helped to create. Family, wine, land: the youngest, like Isabella, hear the call as plainly as their ancestors did.
These women, their Piemontese sisters — and the men and children in their lives — are real people who want you to know where they came from and who they are. What began as a modest effort to write about the families I knew best exploded into an odyssey of over 200 hours of interviews and countless email exchanges with members of 22 families. I was given access to private histories, family photos, and I was given trust – most precious of all.
“This book IS a labor of love, for the author and her subjects. You can sense it on every page. But most of all, this book records the spirit of what fuels wine. It’s an essential contribution that helps to fill the gaps in the history of wine. It’s essential, especially, for those of us who love what wine brings to our lives.”
~ Cathy Huyghe, wine industry journalist and author of “Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Wine Glass”
“Thank you for your incredible work. I can really feel your love for the story of our region. We could not ask for more.”
~ Isabella Boffa Oddero, Poderi e Cantine Oddero
My determination to share these stories with the world before more of the wine family elders died drove me to create my own publishing company. The slow machinations of traditional publishing were not for me. Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte is the flagship publication of Under Discovered Publishing LLC in Vail, Colorado. The stories of wine families across the world are still to be told and Under Discovered will produce them.
Labor of Love will be a beautiful 9-1/4” x 11-1/2” (23.5 cm x 29 cm), 320-page hardcover, jacketed book containing 22 chapters about the wine families, plus an introductory chapter on Giulia Colbert Falletti, the Marchesa di Barolo, considered to be the mother of modern day Barolo wine. It will look like a coffee table book, but read like a novel. The chapters were written to be read independently, but will captivate readers such that they may find it hard to put down this treasure.
Each chapter begins with a genealogy of the family to provide a generational roadmap for the reader, particularly useful for those families with more than eight generations on the land they now farm.
The chapters, based on interviews I conducted with families and individuals, are beautifully designed to draw readers into this special world – a centuries-old agrarian life committed to family and land and wine.
The book is filled with vibrant, captivating color photographs of landscapes and family members…
…and family photos from generations past
Each chapter ends with an overview of the family’s winery to give readers a feel for the size, age, and location of each winery.
Independently publishing a book of this magnitude and superb quality – worthy of the families who placed their sacred trust in me – required that I assemble a team of high-caliber editorial and design professionals.
Do you know families who live far, far away, making their living from the land in a remote and beautiful place? Making one of civilization’s highest gifts, vintage after vintage, for hundreds of years? Have you listened to the voices of women reared in tradition as they assume leadership and experience their power for the very first time? Labor of Love delivers these behind-the-label stories, in the words of wine family members who have lived the life up to now known to so few. There is harsh labor, there is a far-seeing vision, and there is splendor in stories like these.
You can see the unique and characteristic stories emerging from my labor of love. You can feel my sense of mission. As I write this very day, Piemonte wine families are taking the night watch to keep the caterpillars from destroying the tender buds on their vines. Their labor never ends.
Printing and binding, the next step in bringing Labor of Love to life, is now in the hands of VeronaLibri, a leading printer of art and museum books based in Verona, Italy, a city where books were first published over 500 years ago. The first printing is 2,000 copies. An additional 1,000 copies may be ordered shortly after publication.
The publication date of Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte is set for June 2, 2016, in Barbaresco, Italy.
Want to support the next step of bringing these wonderful stories to a wider audience across the globe? Go to my Kickstarter project page and check out the great rewards available to supporters, including books (free shipping and reduced prices available in US and Italy, respectively), unique items featuring the copyrighted cover art, and exclusive Piemontese wine family experiences.
The final stages of the birth of Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte began at VeronaLibri early Monday morning, April 18th. The presses began rolling to bring the product of my three-year adventure in Piemonte to life. Soon I will be able to hold this precious book in my hands and share it with the world.
When we first began shopping printers for my book, we looked first at China for quotes to print 3,000 copies of the 320 page book. We could not find the quality we believed this important book and the wine families who shared their stories with me deserved. So we looked into Old World printers and found a leader in the production of art and photo books in Italy: Verona Libri.
VeronaLibri is a the choice of such luminary organizations as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the White House Historical Society. Seeing their beautiful work confirmed that they were the perfect choice to print Labor of Love.
Not suprisingly, we discovered the prices in Italy were much higher. Well worth the added cost. The comprise we needed make to print in Italy was to reduce the first print run from 3,000, to 2,000 books.
Now that we’re seeing the initial excitement about this groundbreaking, unique book about the women of 22 Piemonte wine families, we want to print the additional 1,000 books we initially intended for the first print run.
For that, I’ve turned to Kickstarter to crowdfund the $13,000 needed for the additional copies.
Please take a look at my Kickstarter program and consider one of the many delightful rewards, such as:
Supporting my book project on Kickstarter is not a donation. By pledging the purchase of a reward, you pledge support to the project – and the wine families whose stories must be told to a wider audience. If I fall short of my $13,000 goal by May 19th, 2016, you owe nothing. If I succeed, which I am confident I will, your credit card will be charged and you will receive your chosen reward(s) this summer.
So please check out my Kickstarter campaign and learn more about me, my labor of love, and the people I’ve grown to know and love.
CLICK HERE TO KICKSTART TODAY MY NEW BOOK:
LABOR OF LOVE: WINE FAMILY WOMEN OF PIEMONTE
Today, across wine regions of Europe, wine families are under the crushing weight of over-regulation. Big Brother is an unwanted participant in the wine industry, particularly in Italy.
Unlike large wineries that can afford the high cost of labor and hire dedicated administrative staff, small to medium size family-owned wineries struggle to tend to their vineyards, make wine and comply with the albatross of regulations from the European Union and Italy bureaucracy. Oh, did I mention trying also to raise a family and have a life?
A list of Italian wine industry regulatory bodies that can at a moment’s notice conduct snap inspections on the wineries include:
It doesn’t matter if regulators arrive in the midst of time-critical work in the vineyards or cellars. Nothing takes priority over the controllers. Although like Mother Nature the government requires immediate attention, the latter can be quite unreasonable if its needs are not met.
Labor is extremely expensive in Italy. Family owned wineries and restaurants have been forced to reduce staff. Volunteer labor – once part of the cultural beauty of the Italian harvest – is strictly forbidden. If you happen to be in Piemonte during the harvest and see helicopters flying overhead, it’s not National Geographic taking photos, but the government’s labor controllers. They compare the work sheets of farmers with aerial photos. If the numbers in the latter are greater than the numbers reported, crushing fines are imposed on the farmers. The result? Wine family members must be able to attend to all demands of the winery both internally and externally. And I haven’t even mentioned the market demands they must tend to in order to sell their wines.
I have to wonder how an industry that has been around since before the Romans could survive without governmental regulations. But it did. With no sign of a halt to the expansion of European Union and Italian government regulations, let’s hope the industry – particularly the artisanal family wineries – can survive the suffocating weight of bureaucracy.
Note: For an interesting discussion on the history of wine regulation in Europe, read “On the History and Political Economy of Wine Regulations in Europe” by Giulia Meloni and Johan F.M. Swinnen
Long before the Cordon Bleu and Culinary Institute of America were founded, there were mothers and grandmas who taught their female offspring to cook, binding generations together with culinary traditions. In Piemonte, Italy, this “nonna culture” has cultivated many fine chefs. Elide Cordero, Chef/Co-owner of Ristorante il Centro in Priocca, Italy is a culinary offspring of that culture.
Piemonte, the large province located in northwest Italy, is home to a diverse landscape that yields a cornucopia of agricultural bounty, perfect for instilling in her inhabitants a rich culinary legacy. In the mountains, milk and cheese are the primary products. The region’s sub-alpine hills are home to Alto Piemonte’s vineyards. On the flatlands, fed by the Po River, cattle, rice and crops such as beans and other vegetables flourish. Finally, vineyards and hazelnut groves carpet the undulating landscape of Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato. That’s just a bird’s eye view of the region’s agrarian landscape.
It’s in that surrounding Elide’s grandmother and mother nurtured her culinary roots. At her family’s restaurant Il Centro in the Roero town of Priocca, Elide Cordero has blossomed into one of Italy’s leading chefs, although in her shy, modest manner she’d deny that stature. Her well-deserved Michelin star gives the Cordero family’s restaurant global notoriety, but Elide, like her cuisine, has remained humble and true to the region.
Unlike many of her peers who earned degrees at expensive private culinary schools, Elide studied at one of the oldest and most prestigious of all – the family kitchen. Her earliest memories were of a yearning to cook. Under her grandmother and mother’s tutelage in their farmhouse kitchen in Pocapaglia, 32 miles south of Torino, Elide fell in love with nature’s bounty growing just beyond their kitchen door. The two women she loved and admired most showed her how to coax delectable flavors out of the simplest ingredients. Those experiences set her on a path well-deserved fame.
The evolution of Elide Cordero’s culinary prowess began on her family’s farm. Growing up in the middle of nature instilled in Elide a solid work ethic and keen appreciation of the seasonality of food and the time needed to produce it. Elide finds the ability to buy strawberries from some distant land in the cold of December unnatural.
Food has a seasonality that should be respected. Gone are the days we pined for our favorite fruit or vegetable to be ready for harvest. Strawberries in spring. Melons in summer. Grapes in autumn. Today, Western societies have settled for “on-demand” food, available anytime of the year. As Elide notes, the demand may be met, but the price paid is quality and health.
On Elide’s parents’ farm, chemicals – a given in today’s industrialized farms – were eschewed. It was unheard of to alter a plant or animal’s development. Nature would take her time. She needed no interference from man’s chemicals. Fertilizer came from cows not a chemical plant miles away.
In the face of commonplace economic hardships, farmers like Elide’s father, Francesco Mollo, possessed a complete understanding of nature’s ways. They knew the origins of everything their families ate and respected nature for providing it. Sadly, industrialization of the food industry has tainted – perhaps forever – the land once so lovingly tended.
The knowledge transfer Elide enjoyed came each day after school when she and her brother Giovanni would tend the farm animals and harvest vegetables and herbs for dinner. She then would help her mother Francesca cook. It was a hard, demanding life, but in her words, “It was a life lived from the heart, so it wasn’t tough.”
Wood, not gas, fired the stoves of Elide’s childhood home. In winters, Elide would accompany her father to collect wood. The wood’s use was dependent upon its characteristics. Slow burn was obviously best for the kitchen. Rovere and Quercia – types of oak trees – are prized for their very slow, even burning characteristics. Elide’s daughter Valentina fondly remembers peering through a hole in the top of the stove while her grandmother added more wood to fire a slow-cooking dish.
From this respect for nature that cocooned her budding culinary skills, Elide learned how to coddle a product, developing its best flavors. It’s the essence of her philosophy in her kitchen at Il Centro. The best products cooked in the correct manner – usually slow – yield the best dishes. That philosophy, engrained in Elide long before she became a chef, drives her creative cuisine that pays homage to the rich Piemontese culinary heritage.
Elide’s journey to Il Centro began in her early 20s. Her workweek consisted of 8-hour days in a garment factory followed by evenings helping on the farm. Fridays didn’t signal an end to work. Weekends presented another work opportunity when she would travel about 16 miles to work as a server and a barista at a bar in Priocca.
In early 1980s’ Piemonte, restaurant excursions were primarily weekend events. That’s when bars such as the Cordero family’s Il Centro would be transformed into restaurants serving patrons celebrating birthdays, weddings, christenings and first communions. Elide had little interest in serving. Cooking for restaurant patrons was closer to her heart.
The alchemy of cuisine energized Elide and filled her dreams. An encounter with a “coup de feu” when she met Enrico Cordero helped make those dreams come true.
Love at first sight is often viewed as a cliché. Not for Elide and Enrico. Within 6 months of love’s lightening strike, they celebrated their nuptials. Once again, Elide’s culinary education was in the hands of two women, her mother-in-law Rita and Enrico’s grandmother Lidia, each with a love of cooking. A year later, they welcomed their first child Valentina into their lives.
Mornings found Elide in Il Centro, behind the bar, making coffee. Afternoons she moved to the small kitchen for her cooking education. With no formal culinary background, Elide stressed over the dishes she prepared.
Her first task was learning to make pasta. Piemonte is famous for its traditional pasta – agnolotti di plin, small ravioli; and egg-rich tajarin, a tiny version of tagliatelle only 1/12” wide. Making each is time-consuming and challenging, but Elide mastered the techniques. Then came desserts. Although happy to be cooking, she yearned to expand the bar-restaurant’s menu.
A few years after Valentina, her brother Giampiero was born. The little family was complete. Six years after her wedding, Elide realized she needed to venture to other restaurants to absorb knowledge from seasoned chefs to achieve her full potential.
Elide’s first culinary experience beyond Il Centro was a 3-day stage with Georges Cuny, a French chef in Piacenza she discovered through a long-time customer. The short stage yielded a wealth of knowledge that helped her better organize and operate Il Centro’s kitchen. But since she believed “the hand of woman is very different than that of a man,” Elide wanted to continue her education under the guidance of a woman chef. She found that opportunity in the medieval hilltop town of Montemerano, halfway between Florence and Rome.
Chef Valeria Piccini’s restaurant Da Caino is located in an agricultural zone much like that surrounding Elide’s beloved childhood home. Here Elide reveled in learning new techniques under the guidance of the Michelin two-star chef. Having enhanced her culinary repertoire, Elide now had the confidence she needed to take Il Centro to the next level. Chef Piccini urged her to take the plunge. And plunge she did.
Enrico Cordero’s chef-father Pierin bought Il Centro in April 1956. For 100 years before and in years since he purchased Il Centro, it had always been a bar first, restaurant second. The restaurant concept didn’t fit Elide’s vision. The pool table and pinball machine certainly weren’t suitable furnishings for a white linen restaurant. The tiny kitchen was woefully inadequate. Changes were needed.
In the late 1980s, the transformation from bar to world class restaurant began. Although the entrance is still a bar where patrons can enjoy a coffee or something a bit stronger, the pool table and pinball machine are gone. In their place is a small, discrete private dining room with soft lighting under the original vaulted brick ceiling, giving guests a feeling of renaissance dining. The elegant, but non-pretentious main dining room is bright and airy with pale yellow walls and stately white molding.
The kitchen more than doubled in size, becoming a stage for Elide and her team’s epicurean performance six days a week.
Elide’s dessert station was once her entire kitchen.
As it always has been, Il Centro remains a family affair.
Valentina, now a journalist in New York City, spent her childhood with her brother Giampiero working with and learning from their parents. Even now, when she visits from New York, Valentina joins her family in the restaurant.
Giampiero, a graduate in enology of the prestigious Alba enological school, now works in the front of the house with his father Enrico.
Together, they manage the impressive wine cellar and insure Elide’s beautiful cuisine receives the presentation it rightly deserves.
The road from the farmhouse kitchen in Pocapaglia to the heady atmosphere of Il Centro, where people from around the world flock to enjoy her cuisine, has been a long, but happy one for Elide. Her smile and her delight at creating simple but sumptuous dishes out of Mother Nature’s bounty are key ingredients in Elide Cordero’s cuisine. Her successful journey from farmhouse to world class restaurant kitchen where she cultivates culinary excellence is now complete.