Category Archives: Piemonte

Land of the Noble Grape

Review: “The Mystique of Barolo”

Maurizio Rosso’s “The Mystique of Barolo”

In 2002, in only my third year of visiting Piemonte, I discovered the English translation of the recently published, “Barolo: Personaggi e Mito” (“The Mystique of Barolo”). It was a rare find in the under-discovered northwest Italian wine region: a book about the region’s people, in English no less!

A panoramic view of the Barolo appellation taken from Maurizio Rosso's family farm in Diano d'Alba
A panoramic view of the Barolo appellation taken from Maurizio Rosso’s family farm in Diano d’Alba

What a beauty I unearthed! A book filled with bewitching photographs, rich history and, most notably, captivating stories about Barolo producers told in their own words.

Mystique of Barolo

For author Maurizio Rosso of Cantina Gigi Rosso on Via Alba Barolo in Castiglione Falletto, it was a labor of love. Rosso, whose own roots are buried deep in Barolo’s clay soil, gives us a unique opportunity to read the personal accounts of Barolo producers he lovingly chronicled.

Maurizio and Mia Rosso
Maurizio and Mia Rosso

Although born into a rich winemaking tradition in the heart of the Barolo appellation, Rosso pursued an education in foreign languages and literature at Università di Venezia Cà Foscari and Anglo-American literature at University of California Santa Cruz.

Rosso penned many historical novels, including the award winning “Il Castello dei Catari” (The Cathar Castle). His is a fictional account of the burning in Milan of over 1,000 Cathars from Monforte d’Alba in 1028, nearly 200 years before the much studied, frenzied annihilation of heretics in France.

Labor of Love

So why did this journalist-author turn from history and captivating tales he wove from it to a wine book? Rosso provided an answer in own words, “In those days [late 1990s] most press on Barolo was about the wines and hardly about the people.I wanted to stress the human factor and I gave the producers a chance to speak for themselves.”

During a two-year period from 1998, Rosso conducted extensive research and interviews, compiling what is more than a “mere” wine book. It’s akin to a compendium of love letters from vintners to the noble grape they collectively popularized across the globe and the land in which its vines are anchored.

Not only does Rosso capture the essence of the Barolo men, but also provides one of the few (if not only) English language accounts of Juliette (Giulia) Colbert Falletti, Marchesa di Barolo. Because of her vision, this aristocratic French saint-on-earth made it possible for today’s Barolo producers to provide the world with a noble wine from a humble land.

Historical Significance

Given some of those whose stories Rosso captured and visages Chris Meier photographed belong to men who sadly left us in the years since the book’s release, it will be treasured for generations as an historically valuable tribute to the hard work, dedication and unfailing love for the appellation by those whose families for centuries made Barolo their home.

When I first read the book, I thought perhaps it was written in English. It was not despite Rosso incredible language skills. Josephine Taylor’s translation perfectly captures the essence of Rosso’s introduction of the land and its wines that spans the first 73 pages of the book and makes accessible to Anglophones the winemakers’ words.

Stuttgart-born photographer, Chris Meier shot his beautiful photos in each season of the year. Meier, a gifted photographer specializing in gastronomy and still-life, is also a gastronome fond of Italian food and wine.  He has a penned several books about his travels including books featuring the cuisine of Sicily and Piemonte.

The product of Meier’s magical work behind his camera is intertwined with historical documents and photographs, many of which the producers provided from their family archives.

 “The Human Factor”

The “human factor” is crucial to the viability of this land and its greats wines. Yet, scores and vintages are often discussed in near sterile terms, devoid of recognition of the humanity behind the labels.

Yes, many oenophiles and journalists know producers, but do they know the stories of their families’ triumphs, tribulations and aspirations? Do they know the sacrifices made to acquire and retain their precious crus? What about the family schisms that divided centuries’ old wineries?

With Rosso’s help, we can all discover the rich human spirit needed to create these luscious wines. “The Mystique of Barolo” has been an invaluable research resource for my own book on Piemonte and the women of its wine families. It’s a must-read for every lover of food, wine and the indominable spirits of these Piemontese winemakers.

Monforte d'Alba against a backdrop of clouds and mountains.
Monforte d’Alba against a backdrop of clouds and mountains.
Sidebar: Where to find the book? Unfortunately, in the U.S. it is a pricey proposition on Amazon. My best suggestion is to jump on a plane to Malpensa (or the European gateway of your choice), hightail it to Barolo and purchase your own copy at Cantina Gigi Rosso on the main Alba-Barolo road in Castiglione Falletto. Not only will you have the opportunity to purchase this treasure, but also to taste the lovely wines of the estate and have the author sign your precious possession.

Discovering Under-Discovered Piemonte

Seeking the Sun in Piemonte

I’m in Piemonte now, spending a month wrapping up final interviews and research for my book project on the wine women of the Langhe and Roero.

It’s mid-May, a time when the weather can be unpredictable, but is generally kind to visitors and vintners. Although snowstorms still plague my home in the Colorado Rockies, here the sun is shining. At my agriturismo in the countryside, I am suspended between Heaven and earth, azure blue skies and rolling green hills.

Panoramic view of the Barolo appellation and the Cottian Alps and Alpes Maritime in the background as seen from Diano d'Alba.
Panoramic view of the Barolo appellation and the Cottian Alps and Alpes Maritime in the background as seen from Diano d’Alba.

Unfortunately, my experiences haven’t always been like today. The shyness of the sun in those early trips nearly foiled later adventures to the region. How I came to love this land and find a connection so deep that I am consumed with writing about it is something that did not come easy.

Since so many of my storytelling-moments involve Piemonte, people often people ask why I’m drawn to the province, particularly the Langhe and Roero, the two most prominent wine districts (my apologies to Montferrato and northern Piemonte wineries). It’s a fair question and actually quite easy to answer. This region in the northwestern corner of Italy is an endearing amalgamation of people, culture and natural beauty that literally bewitched me.

Spell-binding autumn colors of Piemonte's vineyards can still be seen and enjoyed on cloudy, autumn days.
Spell-binding autumn colors of Piemonte’s vineyards can still be seen and enjoyed on cloudy, autumn days.

A year passed before I experienced a sunny day in Piemonte and saw for myself what I had only seen in photographs – vine-covered rolling landscapes peppered with medieval hilltop towns against a backdrop of snow-covered alps far away on the western and northern horizons.

Reconnaissance Mission

In early November 1999, I set out on my first Piemontese adventure with my mom and my mini-Schnauzer, Otis.

Otis the Wine Dog
Otis the Wine Dog was welcome everywhere we went in Europe.

My mom was visiting and my husband Dani was in China overseeing a shipbuilding project at Jiangnan Shipyards in Shanghai, so this was a great opportunity to take mom on a reconnaissance mission to learn about this under-discovered region. We lived in neighboring Switzerland, so I loaded up mom who was visiting from south Louisiana, and Otis who enjoyed the benefits of Europe’s enlightened pet access rules into our white Ford Explorer for the nearly 5 hour drive south from Zurich.

Dani with the Wine Panzer at Marchesi di Gresy in Barbaresco appellation.
Dani with the Wine Panzer at Marchesi di Gresy in Barbaresco appellation.

Anyone who knows Piemonte knows Mother Nature usually unleashes her foul mood on the region in November after (hopefully) holding rains in abeyance through the autumn harvest. At a minimum, there’s always fog. But there is also rain. We had rain. Lots of it. Walking a dog in the pouring rain through sticky mud was not the experience I sought. Frankly, I was miserable.

In those days before bloggers and writers began spreading the gospel of Piemonte, there were few travel resources in any language much less English. A few of my colleagues at Swiss Re gave me tips, but for the most part, I didn’t know where to go or what to eat. I was just told it was hard to make a bad choice. My mom was along for the ride. Normally someone who wanted to be in full control, she happily ceded control to me. You might say it was a classic case of the blind leading the blind.

I discovered agriturismo Villa Meridiana on the outskirts of Alba. Perched on a west-facing slope high above the town with a view, I was told, of the Roero to the north and the Langhe to the west, it was one of the few agriturismi in existence at the time. As I had discovered when I booked, it was full. No one had told me early November was still high season when gastronomes across Europe descended on Alba to dine on and purchase tartufi bianchi d’Alba.

Sunset over Alba from Villa Meridiana on a later trip to the region.
Sunset over Alba from Villa Meridiana on a later trip to the region.

Fortunately, the owners had two vacant apartments in Neviglie, a hilltop hamlet in the Barbaresco appellation about 10 minutes to the east. We were delighted, but the terrifying drive on narrow, winding roads in pouring rain in what we would in later years dub the “wine panzer,” proved to be an unexpected stressor. Wine was needed.

We spent four rainy days and nights there, only once venturing outside at night. Although we didn’t discover very much beyond the apartment’s door, each day we had a delightful time buying grissini, bread, salumi, cheese and, of course, wine from the mercato d’Alba and small salumerie, panetterie, alimentari and enoteche.

A wide selection of delicious Piemontese specialities are always available at Alba Market on Thursday's and Saturday's, year round.
A wide selection of delicious Piemontese specialities are always available at Alba Market on Thursday’s and Saturday’s, year round.

The experience connected me to the region and I knew I would return if for no other reason than to see the sun shining on the vineyards.

Still Seeking the Sun

During the first February of the new millennium, I made my second trip to Piemonte, this time with Dani and my ever-present companion, Otis. Still not the best seasonal choice, but at least the persistent clouds didn’t rain on us. Although we didn’t see the vistas the Langhe was known for, the abundance of medieval villages, seemingly ghost towns in the mid-winter cold, held gastronomic secrets we soon discovered – excellent, family-owned restaurants.

Fog in autumn and winter can create beautiful scenery when settled into vineyard lined valleys.
Fog in autumn and winter can create beautiful scenery when settled into vineyard lined valleys.

We couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate introduction to classic Piemontese cucina. It was as it should be: simple, fresh and made with love. Needless to say, the concept of eating food grown within a few miles of the restaurants was a fabulous discovery.

The basics in all traditional Piemontese restaurants: fresh grissini and local cheese, salumi and, of course, wine.
The basics in all traditional Piemontese restaurants: fresh grissini and local cheese, salumi and, of course, wine.

The warmth of the food and those who prepared and served it made us long for more. We still hadn’t seen the landscape nor had we truly experienced the wine culture. That would soon change in a – positive – seismic way.

Discovering a part of New Zealand in Barbaresco

It wasn’t until later that year, again in November, when I saw the bright sunshine and what the clouds and fog had hidden from me. The trip began as expected: foggy days and even foggier nights. On the third day, an early season snowstorm blanketed the near naked vineyards with snow so that when the clouds surrendered to the sun, we discovered the landscape in all its splendor.

Early winter snow blanketing the vineyards of Martinenga. (Photo courtesy of Marchesi di Gresy).
Early winter snow blanketing the vineyards of Martinenga. (Photo courtesy of Marchesi di Gresy).

Snow-covered vineyards, azure blue sky – we call it “bluebird skies” in Colorado – and soaring mountains on the horizon made the wait worthwhile. Perhaps it was Mother Nature’s way of making visitors to the region worthy of witnessing the splendor she could unveil.

On that trip, we not only discovered what fog and clouds had hidden from us, but it was the beginning of our adventures in wine. After the brief period of sun, the snow melted and the fog returned. Piemonte was once again shrouded in her foggy winter mantle.

Nevertheless, despite the fog and daunting directions, we discovered the Kiwi wine wizard, Jeffrey Chilcott, maître de chais of the vaunted Barbaresco winery, Tenuta Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Grésy.

Marchesi di Gresy Maitre de Chais Jeffrey Chilcott
Marchesi di Gresy Maitre de Chais Jeffrey Chilcott

Nestled on the slopes of the Martinenga ampitheatre, it’s not an easy place to find, particularly when the pea-soup thick fog obscures signs. But we persevered and our lives changed forever. We quickly discovered it wasn’t just sun that had been missing, but an anglophone wine sage to guide us through the exciting world of Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Arneis and all the other varietals that make their home in Piemonte.

At Home – Briefly – in Piemonte

Fast-forward 15 years and over 20 trips to this morning in the Langhe. Once again, I’m rewarded with deep blue skies above, but now it’s lush green below my feet that dominates the colors of the landscape. Nascent grapes are profiting from warm, sunny days and vines are growing fast to produce leaves that will capture the nurturing sun’s rays.

Early season Dolcetto grapes in vineyards of Cantina Gigi Rosso in Diano d'Alba.
Early season Dolcetto grapes in vineyards of Cantina Gigi Rosso in Diano d’Alba.

Another vintage is dawning in the heart of Piemonte. I’m here to witness it and share with you stories of Piemonte’s wine families and their region.

Come back in the days ahead as I share stories and guide visitors to some of the under-discovered places that enchant us. Needless to say, I will introduce you to many people who have become dear friends, including Jeffrey, the tall Kiwi of Martinenga.

Ci vediamo tutti!

Passing of Ca’ del Baio’s Beloved Patriarch

Ernesto Grasso – 1922 – 2014

Fiorentina and Ernesto Grasso
Fiorentina and Ernesto Grasso

The Grasso family of Ca’ del Baio, a century-old Barbaresco winery in Treiso, experienced the pain of loss on March 11th with the passing of their patriarch, Ernesto Grasso.  Surrounded by the family that loved him dearly, Ernesto passed with the same dignity with which he lived, in the house he built over 5 decades ago.

On that late winter day, the Grasso family’s hearts collectively entered a winter of loss shared by all those who loved Nonno Grasso and the family that always surrounded him with love.  Nonno had been in failing health, but he still was able to participate in the winery’s work – including the 2013 harvest – and two years of delightful times with the fourth generation of his family, Lidia Deltetto. 

Sign of the noble vineyard of Valgrande, a great Barbaresco produced by the Grasso family of Ca' del Baio.
Sign of the noble vineyard of Valgrande, a great Barbaresco produced by the Grasso family of Ca’ del Baio.

The Legacy of Ca’ del Baio

Ernesto Grasso’s grandfather moved his family of six – including his son Luigi – from Calosso d’Asti to Treiso in 1881.  The wine made from the great Asili vineyard in Barbaresco Ernesto’s grandfather acquired as a wedding dowry from his wife’s family is today one of the Barbaresco appellation’s prized treasures.

Immediately after completing his military service during the First World War, Luigi married and founded Ca’ del Baio.  Luigi’s wife gave him five children of which the first four were girls.  In those days, the patrimonial system made it unthinkable for women to inherit land (what would Luigi say about his three granddaughters working the winery now!).  In 1922, Luigi’s prayers for a son were answered with the birth of his youngest child Ernesto.

Throughout the Fascist regime, Ernesto remained a bachelor, a stigma the Fascists branded with a special “bachelor” tax.  Ernesto obviously was waiting for the right woman to come along.  And she did.  In 1956, he married Fiorentina Cortese, the woman with whom he would share the next 58 years of life.

In the 1950s, Ernesto built the family’s home next to the ever-expanding cantina. It was then he stopped selling the family’s prized grapes and began the legacy he passed to his son Giulio – bottling wines under the Ca’ del Baio label.  Ernesto and Fiorentina, later joined by Giulio and his family, lived in the house Ernesto built until he passed quietly in his own bed.

The Future is Secure

For some time Giulio has been running the family’s winery, but Ernesto remain engaged in the day-to-day operations and watched with great pride as his three granddaughters – Paolo Grasso Deltetto, Valentina and Federica – took their places with Guilio and their mother Luciana in the winery.  How times have changed that the absence of sons as heirs no longer deals a fatal blow to an estate.  Thank God, because Ca’ del Baio will live on through the hard work of Giulio and Luciana, and their three daughters!

Three generations of Grasso winemakers - Giulio, his father Ernesto and Paola Deltetto Grasso (in the back)
Three generations of Grasso winemakers – Giulio, his father Ernesto and Paola Deltetto Grasso (in the back) – Photo courtesy of Valerie Quintanilla
Four generations of the Grasso Family in the winery's tasting room.
Four generations of the Grasso Family in the winery’s tasting room.

Soon, Paola and husband Carlo Deltetto’s second child will join sister Lidia in the next generation of the two esteemed wine families.  No doubt the knowledge his legacy is in capable hands helped him peacefully join his father to become Ca’ del Baio’s newest guardian angel.

My Thoughts

Although I met Nonno Ernesto at the turn of the millennium, I can’t say that I really knew him.  We didn’t share a spoken language, but we exchanged knowing smiles that we shared a love of his wonderful family and the wines they produce.  I got to see him in the winery, around the tasting and dining tables, playing tug with Rocky II and, best of all, seeing him play with his great granddaughter Lidia.

Ernesto Grasso enjoying a game of tug with Rocky II
Ernesto Grasso enjoying a game of tug with Rocky II

In March 2013 during a research trip for my book about the women of Piemonte’s wine families, I once again was invited to join the four generations of Grassos around their dining table for lunch.  With Lidia in her happy world of pasta on one end and Nonno Ernesto on the other end of the table sitting next to Nonna Fiorentina and two generations of Grassos in between, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming emotion of joy at being able to share part of their daily routine with them.  It’s an indelible image in my memory.  Such a privilege to be able to know them as family.  So much life happens around Italian dining tables and those snapshots of their life will live inside me forever.

Thank God family togetherness on a daily basis still exists in the hills of the Langhe!

Lidia Deltetto enjoying her pasta at lunch with three other generations of Grassos
Lidia Deltetto enjoying her pasta at lunch with three other generations of Grassos
Nonno Grasso and the ever-loyal Ca' del Baio winery dog, Milo.
Nonno Grasso and the ever-loyal Ca’ del Baio winery dog, Milo.


Piemonte – Early 2013 Harvest Report

On both this blog and, I strive to include valuable content from talented bloggers and experts.  Wine expert, blogger and fellow Piemonte-phile, Valerie Quintanilla of, is someone whose witty and informative narrative style is a delight to include on Winefamilies.

It’s the vendemmia (harvest) in Northern Hemisphere vineyards.  And one of my favorite Northern Hemisphere wine regions is Piemonte.  Valerie lives in Alba – I’m jealous – deep in the heart of Piemonte’s hills.  So since she’s there and I’m in snowy Colorado, she penned an overview at the ongoing vineyard activity in the Langhe and Roero regions of Piemonte for my readers.

With my own glass of Barbera d’Alba Superiore from G. D. Vajra in hand, I’m about to hit the “publish button.”  I hope you will grab your favorite Piemontese wine (or try out some of Valerie’s wonderful suggestions below) as you take an armchair journey to the autumnal vineyards of Piemonte.  I know you will enjoy it.  And we still have the Nebbiolo harvest to go!

Valerie Quintanella doing what readers should do when taking this armchair harvest trip to Piemonte
Valerie Quintanilla doing what readers should do when taking this armchair harvest trip to Piemonte

Piedmont Harvest 2013 Report: Early October
By Valerie Quintanilla

The 2013 Piedmont Harvest has the makings of a good year!  But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  We still have a few weeks to go and as different producers have told me, rain in the last few weeks can change everything.

Mother Nature’s insistence that late winter and spring should be cold and rainy in Piemonte (and many other wine regions such as Napa and Valais) made vintners as gloomy as the weather.  In Piemonte, bud burst was on average two weeks late and the vines struggled in the cold, wet weather.  Finally, in mid-June the sun came out and the vines sprung into action producing what looks to be beautiful fruit.

Better late than never! Early July grapes on the vine at Malvira in Roero.
Better late than never! Early July grapes on the vine at Malvira in Roero.

With harvest well underway, the first grapes picked were whites: Moscato, Chardonnay, and Favorita. From there, it moved to Arneis (also white), and Dolcetto, kicking off the reds. Barbera harvest has started in some areas, but not all. It depends on the location and the producer.

Autumn colors of the vineyards around Treiso in Barbaresco appellation.
Autumn colors of the vineyards around Treiso in Barbaresco appellation.

All around, the vibe is that the grapes are showing good quality, and good quantity. The lack of rain means these healthy grapes are maturing well with no mold issues and good air circulation.

Over the past month, I visited various producers and took notes on the 2013 Piedmont Harvest:

Cascina Bruciata
Zone: Barbaresco
Annual Production: 80,000 – 90,000 bottles

During a visit with winemaker Francesco Baravalle in mid-September, he praised the healthiness of the grapes thanks to wind cooperation and dry conditions. Francesco said the 2013 Piedmont Harvest will be slow, similar to 2010, which suggests a classic vintage.  Though, he cautioned that rainy conditions could change things.

Azienda Agricola Deltetto
Zone: Roero
Annual Production: 170,000 bottles

On Saturday, September 27th, Carlo Deltetto explained that harvest normally starts the second week of September.  However, the 2013 Piedmont Harvest didn’t kick off till September 20th.  By the 27th, they were halfway done with Arneis and Favorita (both white grapes).Carlo

Carlos’ take on the vintage is that nothing strange is happening.  The grapes are good quality and quantity.  The Pinot Noir (which the winery uses for its methode champanoise Spumante) looks fantastic. The Arneis is coming in very fruity thanks to the weather conditions – not too warm, which preserves freshness (tip: put 2013 Arneis San Michele on your list, based on this, it’s bound to be a beauty). The Nebbiolo also looks good.

Barrel room at Deltetto in Canale
Barrel room at Deltetto in Canale

Zone: Barbaresco
Annual Production: 60,000 – 65,000 bottles

On Wednesday, October 2nd, winemaker Martina Minuto explained that green harvest helps a great deal on time in the vineyards in terms of labor and also helps with grape health and maturation. Green harvest generally takes place around veraison when the grapes begin to ripen, changing from green to purple.  Producers prune the least desirable grapes, making way for better nutrients and maturation for the best bunches.

Martina Murito of Moccagatta.
Martina Minuto of Moccagatta.

Moccagotta started the Chardonnay harvest on September 23rd and finished in two days. Dolcetto was next, taking 1.5 days.  On October 2nd, they were taking Nebbiolo samples from the vineyards to check the progress of the grapes.  Martina said if the weather is sunny, they would likely harvest Barbera the week of October 7th.

Azienda Agricola Ca’ del Baio
Zone: Barbaresco
Annual Production: 120,000 bottles

ca del baio sign

On Thursday, October 3rd, the youngest of the three Grasso sisters, Federica, told us they were expecting to harvest Riesling the following day.  She updated me that the grapes look really good with good alcohol degrees, which means great wine. Takeaway: Get yourself a bottle of Ca’ del Baio’s 2013 Riesling.  Weather permitting, the Grassos anticipate harvesting Barbera the week of October 7th.  Federica echoed the sentiments of other producers: the grapes are healthy, good quality and good quantity.

Three generations of Grassos in the bottling room at Ca' del Baio (left to right: Giullio, his father Ernesto, Paola Grasso Deltetto (background) and Federica)
Three generations of Grassos in the bottling room at Ca’ del Baio (left to right: Giulio, his father Ernesto, Paola Grasso Deltetto (background) and Federica Grasso)

 Mid-Harvest Conclusion……

Overall, it’s looking like we are in for a classic 2013 Piedmont vintage.  If the weather continues as it has, that means the Barbaresco and Barolos will show great structure, will be well-balanced, and will develop well in the bottle for decades.  Bottom line – 2013 should be a vintage to lay down.

Grapes tomorrow (or a little later)
Grapes today….wine tomorrow (or a little later)

Be on the lookout for another 2013 Piedmont Harvest Report as Nebbiolo harvest kicks off!

About Valerie Quintanilla

One of Italy’s newest expats, Valerie has taken up residence in the beautiful hills of Piedmont, Italy. Follow her wine, food, and travel adventures on her blog,, on Twitter @Valeriekq and on Instagram.

Can’t visit Barbaresco now?

Can’t visit Barbaresco now?  Whether you are planning a trip to the region or want to take an armchair trip, is a great destination.

This recent post Marcella Newhouse shares with us is a wonderful pictorial trip to this fabulous wine region.  She poetically describes the beauty, cuisine, people and, of course, wine of the region.

Click the link and take a trip…..preferably with a glass of the beautiful wine from this appellation!

Next generation of women winemakers in Piemonte, Lidia Deltetto with the Ca' del Baio winery dogs.
Next generation of women winemakers in Barbaresco (or Roero), Lidia Deltetto with the Ca’ del Baio winery dogs.

Enoteca Marcella’s Advice

Wine expert, Marcella Newhouse of Enoteca Marcella, has some great advice on opening those special bottles of wine.  In her post, “So when are you going to open that?,” Marcella ponders that ago-old question, “why isn’t the bottle as special as I remember it?”  Her discussion of the abstract concept of wine appreciation is worth the read.


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.

Ornella Correggia: A Piemonte Woman of the Vines

Writing this article about Ornella Correggia for an upcoming Matteo Correggia wine dinner at Zino Ristorante in Edwards was a warm up for Chapter 2 of my book, “Under Discovered: Piemonte through the eyes of its women.”  Ornella  is a humble, kind and serene woman whose innermost courage and strength helped her endure the unimaginable loss of her husband, Matteo, 12 years ago.  She is a woman who is easy to spend time with and hard to say “good-bye” to as I discovered in March when I visited her at the winery outside of Canale in the Roero district of Piemonte.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse at a woman I greatly admire.

Behind the Scenes: A Piemonte Woman of the Vines

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

Ca’ del Baio

Ca’ del Baio

Four generations of the Grasso Family in the winery's tasting room.
Four generations of the Grasso Family in the winery’s tasting room.

In 2004, my husband Dani met Paola and Valentina Grasso at a Barbaresco tasting in the village by the same name.  He was snakebit by the wines and charmed by the knowledge and professionalism of the two young Grasso women.  Fast forward 10 years.  The three sisters – Paola, Valentina and Federica – work alongside their parents, Giulio and Luciana Grasso.

The Grasso family’s wine growing roots were planted in the 1880s when the family owned the entire prized Asili vineyard outside of Barbaresco.  Giulio’s mother and father – Ernesto and Fiorentina – built the house and cantina on the current location in the 1950s.  The site’s rich history dates to Napoleon, but you’ll have to wait for my book “Under Discovered Piemonte” for that!  Luciana and Giulio represent the fourth generation of Ca’ del Baio – house of the bay horse.  Oh yes, there is even a story about the horse!  Given women can now work in the wineries – but only in recent decades – the future of Ca’ del Baio is secure in their three capable daughters.

In July 2010, Paola culminated her 7 year courtship with Carlo Deltetto at the alter of the Lady of the Assumption church in Treiso.  Carlo is the son of noted Roero winemaker, Antonio (Tonino) and Graziella Deltetto.

Carlo Deltetto and Paola Grasso
Carlo Deltetto and Paola Grasso

The marriage of the two families created a buzz about whether new winery would emerge from their union.  However, it seems Carlo and Paola are committed to their own families’ brands.  The buzz will no doubt continue now that the two families share the fourth living generation – Lidia Deltetto, born December 17, 2011.

Lidia Deltetto and Ca' del Baio winery dogs, Rocky II and Milo
Lidia Deltetto and Ca’ del Baio winery dogs, Rocky II and Milo

Giulio Grasso is committed to sustainable farming and a respect for the generations of traditions in producing the big nebbiolo wine of the region.  The family’s production philosophy can be summed up as follows:

  • dedicate meticulous attention to each vine, especially during the pruning which is essential to well-balanced plant growth;
  • allow each single vintage to express its own, different identity;
  • bring out the genuineness in each wine by intervening as little as possible in the winery;
  • operate a sensible pricing policy, with no unjustified mark-ups.

Only native yeasts are used in fermentation.  Synthetic herbicides and chemical fertilizers were banished from the vineyards many years ago.  Only a small amount of sulfur dioxide is added to the wines.  Otherwise, it’s just Mother Nature with a little help from Giulio and his daughters responsible for the high quality wines Ca’ del Baio produces.

Valgrande vineyards
Valgrande vineyards

More information on the family can be found at their informative website noted above.


Barbaresco Asili
Barbaresco Valgrande
Barbaresco Pora
Barbaresco Marcarini
Langhe Nebbiolo Bric del Baio
Langhe Nebbiolo
Dolcetto d’Alba Lodoli
Barbera d’Alba Paolina
Langhe Chardonnay Luna d’agosto
Langhe Chardonnay Sermine
Langhe Riesling
Moscato d’Asti 101

Winery tours:
By appointment only.  

Nearby Lodgings (less than 5 minutes from winery):
Cascina delle Rose (bed and breakfast) – Tre Stelle

Agriturismo Il Bricco (bed and breakfast) – Treiso
Villa Incanto – Treiso
Hotel dei Quattro Vini – Neive 

Nearby Restaurants (less than 10 minutes from winery):
Profumo di Vino – Treiso
La Ciau del Tornavento – Treiso
Trattoria Risorgimento – Treiso
Osteria Unione – Treiso
Antica Torre – Barbaresco

Treiso with the Cottian Alps (Italy's western border with France) in the distance. by Robert Alexander
Treiso with the Cottian Alps (Italy’s western border with France) in the distance.
Photo Credit: Robert Alexander


The wines of Matteo Correggia Downunder

Sara Palma of the Roero’s stellar winery, Matteo Correggia, will be in Australia next week showing their beautiful wines.  There are two dinners – Sydney on the 29th and Melbourne the 30th.  Thirty days hath April, so I can’t think of a better way to end the first full month of spring (or fall) than attending a Matteo Correggia wine dinner.

You ask, why would I highlight this event?  Simple.  Ornella Correggia is one of the fascinating, courageous women profiled in my upcoming book “Under Discovered: Piemonte through the eyes of its women.”  Needless to say, the wines are beautiful and Sara is a delight.  Her knowledge of the wines and effervescent enthusiasm makes for an entertaining and educational wine experience.  Not to be missed!

Ornella Correggia (left) and Sara Palma in the winery of Matteo Correggia, Canale, Italy
Ornella Correggia (left) and Sara Palma in the winery of Matteo Correggia, Canale, Italy