Reviews – What’s Being Said About Labor of Love?
“One of the most important existing documents
related with our area of Langa”
— Alberto di Grésy, owner of famed Barbaresco winery,
Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Grésy
“A Visual Temptress”
— Tamlyn Currin, JancisRobinson.Com
Labor of Love
Wine Family Women of Piemonte
Under Discovered Publishing
This was the second large hardback book to come my way for reviews. This is rich in colour, a feast of glorious photographs and illustrations on thick, sumptuous-feeling pages, and is laid out with a feeling of space and light – a visual temptress.
Suzanne Hoffman has chosen remarkably specific subject matter. It’s not just about one, well-publicised region of Italy, it’s about the women in that one region, and furthermore it’s the women in the wine families of that one region. It’s unusual for a wine book to have such a narrow focus, and the pitfalls are obvious, so it was with some trepidation that I opened these pages. Hoffman is American, from Louisiana. An attorney and journalist, she’s lived in five different states and spent 20 years in Switzerland, and it was while in Switzerland that she discovered Piemonte, visiting more than 20 times over a 14-year period. Her indefatigable curiosity and a growing love for the wines and the region led to this book.
Labor of Love is in many ways a history of Piemonte. The overview, which includes a great map of the provinces and some of the DOCs of Piemonte, has an ‘At a glance’ page with timelines of the rulers and occupiers of Piemonte, and the first chapter of the book is about the remarkable Giulia Colbert Falletti, Marchesa of Barolo, 1785-1864. Through the stories of these women, we see a changing Piemonte as it is shaped and scarred through the First and Second World Wars, depression, poverty, the disastrous vintages and the sublime vintages, oenological revolutions, scandals and a growing international respect and demand for wine from this region.
Hoffman selects 22 wineries from Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero and Monferrato. With each, she describes her first trip to the winery, her first meeting with the woman (or women) involved. Clearly in almost awed admiration of these women, Hoffman then recounts the family past, often following the thread from great-grandmother to grandmother to mother to daughter, bringing ghosts back to life, and acknowledging, to the outer world, the tremendous work that these women have done – so much of it unseen.
Some of the stories are deeply moving. She tells of the staggering courage of Beatrice Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose as she stood between the guns of German soldiers and local teenage boys, telling them, ‘They are young. Shoot me, I am an old lady’ – this being the same woman who burst through the prison gates with a wagon-load of food for starving wartime prisoners, and ordered the gobsmacked German guards to feed them. She writes about the quiet depth of resilience and strength in Ornella Correggia, who picked up the pieces of their shattered lives when her young husband was killed in a freak accident in the vineyard, and she and her two young children carried on making wine and carrying his vision. She writes about ordinary women who struggle to juggle child rearing and homes with demanding jobs, and women who helped hide young partisan resistance fighters from the Nazis. It’s a book full of memories.
It’s a very personal story. I was surprised at how much of Hoffman’s life and emotions are told in these pages. I wonder whether she identifies with them in some way. It’s almost as much Suzanne Hoffman’s journey through Piemonte as it is the stories of the women of Piemonte. Her family birthday celebrations, her friendships, her travels, her own roots, her love of cooking, her fears, her own memories and inspirations are woven inextricably into each chapter. Sometimes I wondered if perhaps there was too much of the author – I don’t really want to know, for example, what she wore when she met Chiara Boschis, whatever the temperature might have been or whatever Chiara herself was wearing. I wasn’t sure whether what she ate with her Mom on her first trip really added to the book in any way. But arguably she has gone behind closed doors, sat at kitchen tables over cups of coffee, befriended women, sifted with them through old family photos. A wine journalist sits at these tables and asks questions about the age of vines and lees stirring, listens to summaries of the vintage; Hoffman has asked questions about courting, love, babies and hardship, listened to stories about German occupation and tragic personal losses. She has spent hundreds of hours understanding the challenges of being a woman in the not-too-bygone days of male-powered Piemonte (‘women who failed to produce male heirs were seen as weak. Even if a woman produced many girls, other women looked down on her as though she were childless’) and the different, modern-day challenges of being a woman in Piemonte wine. Perhaps the only way to tell these tales is to walk right through them, side by side with the women one writes about. Perhaps her stories of getting lost in the rain and fog en route to wineries is part of what this book is about – the simple, gritty, everyday humanity behind great wines.
Labor Of Love: Or, What It Takes To Know Wine From Piedmont
October 31, 2016
It may take a few decades, but there IS a way into the wines of Piedmont.
I’m exaggerating, of course. The way into the wines of Piedmont is to uncork a bottle that’s labeled “Piedmont” (or maybe “Piemonte”). But that’s a little bit like saying that the way to swim is to watch fish in an aquarium — you’re missing the experience and the feel of a whole world around you.
For reasons I do not claim to understand, the Piedmont region in the northwestern corner of Italy seems both difficult to navigate and beguiling for its opacity. (There’s even a local phrase for it — bogia nen, which refers to the tough, stubborn character of the Piemontesi who prefer to solve their problems without help from the outside.) We hear of its world-class wines — Barolo, Barbaresco, and Moscato d’Asti in particular — the way we hear of urban legends: localized, enticing, persistent, and often exacting a cost.
All of which may help to explain the appeal of Piemontese wine, and the level of tolerance that some of us maintain to un-muddle its opacity. A little while ago I wrote an article on the subject; it was called Where Winemakers are Like Bears: Barolo and the Game of Come-Hither, and it summed up several weeks’ worth of travel, visits, and tastings.
Suzanne Hoffman, on the other hand, has written an entire book on the family winemakers of Piedmont; it is called Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, and it is the summation of almost two decades of not only un-muddling, but of sincerely breaking through, with narratives about 22 wine families in particular. It took 16 years and the help of a Virgil in the form of a transplanted Kiwi winemaker named Jeffrey Chilcott, but break through she did.
Hoffman begins with the perspective of why-this-book, and why-now. She feels the urgency to tell these narratives now because the women in Piemontese wine families are in the midst of a generational and a gender transition. “During the final decades of the 20th century, women increasingly emerged to claim not only the work of winemaking but ownership of that work,” she writes. “The children of these women will be one of the first generations to learn the wine business from their mothers as well as their fathers. Daughters are taking the reins of some of the most famous wine brands in the region, unimaginable only a few decades ago. The die is cast.”
The “labor” of the title is that of the winemakers, of course, but it is also that of the author, and the “love” is for a multi-generationally consistent (some might say stubborn) attachment to a place. Hoffman and Piemonte adopt each other.
The chapters are like a handbook of how to respectfully and with sincere curiosity come to know a place, conversation by conversation, one often-serendipitous introduction at a time. Hoffman takes the long view of each chapter and each family, starting with a family tree dating back hundreds of years and including landmark moments – often about events during World War Two and the Nazi occupation, or about individuals like the mother of modern day Barolo (that is, Giulia Colbert Falletti), to the founding of the local/global Ferrero chocolate company (through Beatrice Rizzolio), to the Gaja family bringing running water to Barbaresco as late as 1964.
The book’s photography (mainly by the talented Elisabetta Vacchetto)* is rich and deeply personal and, in those two ways in particular, complement the text. The text itself includes extensive detail because that’s how this happens. Slowly, and face to face, over meals and bottles and word of mouth. There’s no rushing it because it takes time to build the trust, to invite a non-family member to the table and open the audiobooks of history.
Is it worth it, in the end, to spend quite so much effort to appreciate the wines of a particular place? Is it worth it, similarly, to take the time to read and savor this book?
I vote yes, because Labor of Love is the opposite of a dry, academic book on wine – it is instead a deep dive into the texture of Piemonte, into its ridges and nubs, into the rises and falls that give the region its contours. Your experience of Piemontese wines, moving forward, will benefit from this nuanced treatment of the people behind the glass.
Cathy Huyghe is the co-founder of Enolytics and the author of Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass. Find her online at cathyhuyghe.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
*Suzanne’s Note: Elisabetta and her father contributed an equal amount of photos in addition to those by her brother, Eugenio, and some from the wineries.
Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte,
by Suzanne Hoffman – A Book Review
August 9, 2016
Some of you know my tagline of my personal blog is “Between Colorado, Italy, and a Wine Glass.” For a few years I tried to figure out how to split my life between the two. Needless to say, discovering this latest book by a Colorado author about Italy was like coming home to both, albeit in a wine glass. The book that captured my heart this last week is Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte. There have been many wine books under my nose these past couple of years. Yet, after my final WSET Level 4 Diploma exam in June swore off them this summer for a much-needed break.
This book, however, is unlike any other wine book in my cork dork arsenal. Needless to say I fell off the “no wine books this summer” wagon.
Family heirloom sepia photos, gorgeous photography of fog-enrobed vineyard hills, and multi-generational family portraits are generously stationed throughout the book. Seriously – photos on nearly every page – invite you in and make you want to stay. I might add a bottle of each producer’s wine is a must-sip for each chapter of this must-read book.
Brazen sacrifices, romance, victories, stories once shared only verbally, are now carefully and lovingly written. Suzanne is the trusted voice of these families and recorder of these treasures. We are so fortunate she now shares them with us. In a respectful and appreciative voice Suzanne preseves history for future generations. These are the precious family legacies of some of the world’s most cherished wine producers.
It’s safe to say, Val hasn’t gotten this excited about a wine book since Wine and War and Champagne. Suzanne Hoffman’s first book, however, earns its place on that massive level of contribution to wine history. Most certainly Beatrice Rizzolio, Giulia Colbert Faletti, and Clotilde Valente Raimondo are now, on paper, occupying places of honor alongside their heavily documented wine family sisters, Louise Pommery, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Cliquot, and Lilly Bollinger. If these ladies are not somewhere in the hallowed halls of wine legends sharing glasses and toasting I’d be very surprised.
Suzanne has made history, I believe. She honors the survival stories, the grinta (grit) and courage during war. Current political and cultural situations are also recognized, as is a look toward the future. The Piemonte zeitgeist of grape growing and wine making of the last couple of centuries is poured into the present day. Pride, joy, the deep-seated love for not only their own families, but their country, community, livelihood transcend generations. All of this is celebrated in the bottle today and translated through these chapters.
I once wrote, “I always had this feeling that when I opened a bottle of Italian wine that what came out was so much more – tradition, passion, and I had to know what the allure was. ” Suzanne’s tender retelling of wine family secrets in Labor of Love give us more insight into that allure in 300 pages. A bonus, of course, is a Table of Contents that reads like a Piemonte collector’s cellar inventory.
In all fairness, this is probably more of a book celebration than a review from a wine lover and Italofile – I’m half Italian, so I kind of dig “my people.” I can feel through this book the passion and determination that brings good wine to the table and families and friends around it.
Fortunately, I also attended one of Suzanne’s author events. We pensively sipped the wines of another resolute woman, Ornella Correggia. Suzanne read from her journal the entry that started the whole endeavor. She spoke of her experiences with people in the book as they became more like family. Suzanne told us, “Many people thought this would be a little book. That’s not how I do things.” I silently toasted to that sentiment and felt the book’s weight cozily on my lap.
If you can, get thee to a Labor of Love author event near you. Perhaps your city hasn’t scheduled one yet? Well, Suzanne can probably remedy that, as it’s the full experience that brings this labor of love full circle.
Mise en Abyme
Book Review: Suzanne Hoffman’s Labor of Love
July 27, 2016
I write this review of Suzanne Hoffman’s Labor of Love from a unique perspective. You see, I know and love the author of this book. I know the story of the birthing pains of this book. I was a member of a small Facebook group that the author formed to share the daily highs and lows of the book’s progress. We laughed with her. We cried with her. We died with her. And then we basked in the reflected glow of her accomplishment when the initial copy rolled off the press. I travelled to Piemonte, along with my wife, and members of Suzanne’s family and friends, to stand with her at the official book launch. It was while I was in Piemonte that I truly understood why this book and why this author for this book.
While a lot of attention, as regards Piemontese winemaking, has revolved around the battle of the modernists versus traditionalists, or the Burgundization of Barolo, the region has also been undergoing an under-reported transformation: the rise of women into the wineries’ leadership ranks. And it is this under-explored story that Suzanne Hoffmann captures, and tells effectively and empathetically, in her initial publication Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte.
EnotecaMarcella attributed the historically patriarchal leadership profile of the Piemontese wine industry to the following:
Out in the hills of the Langa, Asti, and nearby regions, society is rooted in tradition. There are a lot of good reasons for this as these areas were fairly poor farming communities until just the last 30 – 40 years. The family unit was and is still valued and respected above most all else. Piemonte has a tumultuous political history as well and the family unit had to be maintained to develop a sense of identity when the outside world was in flux.
Suzanne, in her introductory chapter of the book, builds on the foregoing and shows its implication on the Piemontese landscape: “Though women were the glue that held so many families together through war, poverty, and political upheavals, there had existed a societal prohibition against their inheriting land and working it as wine producers.”
But, according to Suzanne, as she became more familiar with the region (and its people), she noted that a seismic change in this system was underway, led 9in the 1980s) by a number of “strong, courageous women … who took the helm of their wineries.” And this trend will most likely be further solidified by the fact that a number of young women began studying winemaking at the Enological School in Alba in the 1990s and are working alongside their fathers and grandfathers today, poised to take over ownership reins when/if the occasions presents themselves.
It is these stories that Suzanne explores in the Labor of Love. A total of 22 wine families (shown in the chart below) with women in leadership positions are profiled therein. But this is not a cookie-cutter book.
The book begins with an introductory chapter which relays the story of Suzanne’s introduction to the region and a fortuitous meeting with Jeffrey Chilcott, the Marchesi de Gresy Cellar Master (I have had difficulty finding that estate in the middle of the day) which opened the door to this entire venture. Beyond that introductory chapter, each estate is treated in a separate chapter.
Each chapter begins with a genealogical chart but that is where the similarity ends as the stories are all so different. If we examine the first five stories that bear on the subject at hand, four of the estates are currently women-owned while the fifth features a woman who works alongside her father in the cellar while her sister works in Germany distributing the estate’s wines. Of the four owners, three own the estates outright while the fourth is owned by three sisters. Of the three that are solely owned, one was acquired through an inheritance, the second was an acquisition, while the third took ownership upon the sudden death of her husband.
There are a wealth of stories here and Suzanne captures the threads and weaves a rich tapestry which takes us behind the labels and into the inner workings of a female-led enterprise. We see the challenges they face, challenges which would be foreign to their male counterparts — in some cases challenges created by their male counterparts –and the solutions that they bring to bear on the problem. We see young women working alongside their mothers and wrestling with the issue as to whether they should follow their parent into this industry. We see the conflicted mothers, staying above the fray as children wrestle with that decisionmaking process.
Suzanne has a deep passion for the region and its people. And it shows. In the events preceding the book launch I saw her easy familiarity with, and deep knowledge of, the family running the Il Centro Restaurant in Priocca. I saw the joy in that family’s eyes when Suzanne formally presented them with a copy of the book and told them the inspirational role they played in the project.
I saw it in the attendees at the launch event. The venue was packed, with almost total representation of the families included in the book. I saw their pride in the fact that their stories had been recognized, documented, and was being told to the outside world. And with the reputation that the region has for being insular, it was a testament to Suzanne’s earnestness, tenacity, and reassuring persona, that they entrusted her, an outsider, with the material to tell the stories.
This is a beautifully presented book. Stunning front and back covers, high quality paper, and a multitude of high-grade photographs, many of the latter provided by the wine families themselves. This is a book befitting the subject and the region. And your bookshelf.
©Wine — Mise en abyme
Sassi Italy Tours
BOOK REVIEW: SUZANNE HOFFMAN’S LABOR OF LOVE
July 25, 2016
“Wine is a memory of a place. Wine is the memory of the grass, the bacteria, the insects, the memory of what happened millions of years ago, the memory of the people who worked there and are no longer here.”
–Winemaker Gaia Gaja, on the importance of viticulture and being connected to the land.
Suzanne Hoffman’s Labor of Love is an ambitious undertaking, representing the results of more than a decade invested in getting to know the families of significant Piemontese winemakers. She offers a fascinating and engaging focus on the women behind those families, women who uniformly serve as the strength, direction, and irrepressible determination behind some of the best wines being made anywhere. The book opens making no secret about its rather noble mission–getting the reader to not only become familiar the Wine Family Women of Piemonte, but to feel admiringly connected to them.
It is no endeavor to be idly embarked upon; the average wine consumer knows Italy at best for the Chianti that sometimes bears the mark of the black rooster. The above-average wine consumer has maybe heard of Barolo (but perhaps doesn’t know that name refers to a town and a DOCG denomination, not a grape) and knows it as the expensive wine gathering dust on a shelf at the better wine stores around town, but probably still can’t name other Piemontese varietals, let alone the vintners who produce them or the names of the sub-regions in Piemonte. The really dedicated Italian wine fan can list along with Barolo the Dolcettos, Barbarescos, Barberas, Arneis, Nascetta, etc also found in Piemonte, but probably still feels no psychological connection to the rolling hills just south of the Alps in northwestern Italy. For all its weight in the wine world, Piemonte just does not get the tourist traffic that the Rome/Florence/Venice track gets, or anywhere near it. It is without a doubt the key wine region in Italy any connoisseur will want to know, but it rarely hits the radar of the average first or second or third time visitor to Italy.
How best to bridge that gap? How best to have the non-Italian reader feeling engrossed in the inner workings of Italian wine families in a decidedly quite, bucolic, off the beaten path corner of the peninsula?
Hoffman goes about it in possibly the best way–writing eloquently to put you in the kitchens, tasting rooms, neatly trained rows of Nebbiolo and Dolcetto and Barbera, and most notably in the warm hearts of the women who make the Piemonte wine scene possible. The beautifully bound, substantial tome is lovingly laid out with extensive use of excellent photography that plants the reader right there in the vineyard; after an introductory chapter that lays bare why there might not be a Piemonte DOCG today were it not for the selfless labors of Giulia Falletti (the ‘patron saint’ of Piemonte wine women) you spend each of the twenty two chapters reading the fruits of a decade and a half of considerate investigatory labor, taking in a thorough examination of the history of the vineyard, a description of the family structure behind it, and the role that the women in the family have played over the past couple centuries. You begin to understand how, through the trials and travails of two world wars, depressions, phylloxera epidemics, occupations, the Industrial Revolution, mass production of cheap jug wines, and proliferation of modern technologies, it has always been the inner strength of these amazingly resourceful women providing the psychic glue Piemonte’s wine families needed.
In short, when tilting a glass of Nebbiolo or Arneis, you are touching the essence of truly locavorist artisanal culture that would not prevail today were it not for the tireless and often thankless labors of women in a culture that frankly still often fails to see women as equals politically and socially.
This is not to say that Labor of Love is a merely sentimental hagiography of women in Piemonte; it is rather an honest, thoroughly researched, and warmly offered recounting of stories that are quite often rather tragic. The reader will note many common themes throughout, perhaps chief among them perseverance through tragedy. All but universally these women have had to carry on through brutal occupations by Nazis, and past deaths of sons and husbands and daughters, through hunger and starvation and loss of crops, and often while not knowing if they would even be able to inherit the very land they were tilling with calloused hands in the fields.
Reading the stories gives you an emotional connection to women who themselves live and embody an undeniably heartfelt connection to the land that sustains them, and to their forebears. They express repeatedly the redemptive qualities of working the land, and being invested in it for a lifetime, and you come to understand it more deeply than you thought possible.
Another common theme is charity, whether it was risking their lives in World War Two to feed Italian partisans fighting the Nazis and the Fascists, or whether it was helping neighbors keep their crops alive. It is quite clear by the book’s end how deeply held the sense of community is for the wine women of Piemonte. In sum, their experience is a microcosm of the Italian experience in the last 150 years generally, what with the changing role of women in society and the changing sense of self-awareness of the Italians themselves as it morphed over the last century and a half from a loosely affiliated collection of regions and city-states into parts of a larger, Italian whole; the challenges these women have overcome parallel the ones the entire peninsula has endured, and the future they worry about collectively is in many ways the same set of challenges Italy will struggle with in the 21st Century, namely how to preserve a sense of “Italianess” in an increasingly globalized economy wherein Italy is not quite sure of its place.
Labor of Love will inevitably have you looking at your calendar wondering when you can next jump a plane to Italy to start exploring; you will certainly close the book not only wanting to explore the wine they make, but get to know the women whose hearts and minds the book has offered tantalizing insights into.
Wine is culture, wine is indeed civilization. It is a liquid connection to the very earth from whence all of us came, and it is the very expression of the earth that feeds all of us. To truly know a culture is to taste its food and wine, and learn about the people who bring it to us. This book is a great way to begin that journey, and be forewarned–you won’t be able to read it without feeling a tremendous urge to get to Piemonte.
Wine Pass Italy
Book Review: Labor of Love, by Suzanne Hoffman
Suzanne Hoffman, an attorney by trade and freelance journalist, became acquainted with Piemonte over the thirty years she and her husband lived in Switzerland. For fourteen of those years, they traveled frequently to Piemonte, where she began to uncover stories about winemakers.
She discovered there was a wealth of history and untold stories, particularly about the women of winemaking families. They were indispensable partners, working alongside their husbands, fathers, and sons to help successfully run the winery, yet were often unmentioned or forgotten. They made decisions in purchasing land, spearheaded marketing, tracked family finances, worked in the vineyards, and much more. All the roles that men “traditionally” played were revealed to be the traditional roles of many women, too. These are the stories Suzanne recounts in her well-written and engaging book.
Labor of Love is a captivating read for its stunning photography and compelling content. Full-color, glossy photos grace almost every page, depicting the people, landscapes, vineyards, homes, and black and white or sepia-toned vintage family photographs of families from the Langhe, Monferrato, and Roero. The content is filled with facts, but that doesn’t make for stale reading; quite the opposite! It is akin to becoming engrossed in a good book as opposed to reading quick, impersonal articles online; or to living in Italy to experience the country and its culture first-hand, rather than hearing about it from across the Atlantic. The stories pulled me in.
Suzanne recorded over two hundred hours of one-on-one interviews with family members and producers, sometimes with a translator. The resulting stories are written warmly, filled with personal memories, anecdotes, family histories, and—my favorite—stories from when World War II came to the region. Woven together, they form a complete picture of what has created the wine culture of this part of Piemonte. What you won’t find in Labor of Love are tasting notes and technical notes on specific Piemontese grape varieties or winemaking techniques.
It is said that knowing the story behind a wine makes it much more enjoyable. Suzanne does this ten times over; it is a book to read slowly, ideally to savor alongside a glass of wine.
Labor of Love
Throughout the book, many hidden gems reward the reader. Facts and philosophies are revealed that otherwise may have remained buried forever. For example, I loved discovering that there is an oak tree planted at the crux of three wine regions, the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato. Or, I enjoyed reading quotes from the winemakers. Their winemaking philosophies often encompass life lessons. In describing the work of tying the vines, “Angela [Scavino] recalled sap coming from the vines as they were twisted. ‘The vines would cry. To grow well, you must have some pain.’” Or Chiara Boschis of the Barolo winery E. Pira e Figli says, “Consistency is most important to success. Weather can be changeable, but winemakers must be consistent,” a determination that could be applied to many careers: just replace “weather” with “market demands” or “customers,” and “winemakers” with another job title.
This book would be enjoyable for a wide variety of audiences because of its personal tone and fascinating stories. However, I do believe that those who already have some knowledge of Piemonte will get the most out of it. They will find their perceptions of Piemonte and its viticulture growing more profound and complex, a gratifying experience while reading. Connecting names and dates to major historic events is a pleasure, and an overarching theme of overcoming adversity through working together—men and women, despite what labels say or “official” history reports—provides a richer context for the region’s wine heritage (and while tasting its wines!).
Overall, the deep ties that the Piemontese feel for their vineyards and land is very apparent. There is the sensation of continuity and building for the future, even with the knowledge that the most enduring fruits of labor might be appreciated and acknowledged only years down the road. In a fast-paced world of immediate recognition, online fame, and pining for often-empty leisure time, this is certainly another important lesson to take from the book.
Learn Italian Wines
Piemontese Women Have Their Say
July 6, 2016
I’ve read dozens of wine books over the past few decades. Most of these works are meant as reference guides, filled with facts and figures about vineyards, cellars, grape types and other such data. A few have been exceptional, but all have added to my education regarding wines from around the world.
Now though, a new book has come along that is just as valuable as those others, but instead of information on clones or how vineyards are planted, the focus of this book is on people, specifically women in the region of Piemonte, in Italy’s northwest. The book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, authored by Suzanne Hoffman, is not only a well-written, fascinating journey into this region’s history over the past hundred years or so, it’s also an engaging work that is quite refreshing, as it gives us a look at the individuals that make wine.
Hoffman, an attorney by trade, has been traveling to Piemonte with her husband for many years and slowly but surely, thanks in large part to the friendship of a Barbaresco producer, has been introduced to several local winemaking families. She tells the story of multiple generations of these families, with the focus on the women. One of the principal tenets of this book is that these women now have more visible duties as far as winemaking, sales and marketing, but the author points out that the women that made these wineries great along with their husbands, uncles and sons, had tremendous responsibilities in the past as well. Perhaps they weren’t doing any cellar work, but their behind the scenes labors were just as important some forty, fifty and seventy years ago.
A great example of how important women were to these firms can be found in the chapter on Cascina delle Rose, a small, traditional producer of stellar quality in Barbaresco. The current owner is Giovanna Rizzolio, an opinionated woman of fierce convictions (Hoffman labels her as “gregarious.”). In the family history that the author explores, it is Giovanna’s grandmother Beatrice Rizzolio that emerges as a strong influence, not only with her immediate family, but also with the community, as she would do others favors, such as lending money. As Hoffman points out, Beatrice did this with not with a written contract, but merely with “a handshake and meeting of eyes.” That was sufficient for Beatrice.
But there is more to this woman that simple favors for locals. Hoffman details her activities from 1943 to 1945, when the German army settled in the area. Beatrice stood up to these invaders, at one point putting herself in bodily harm, in order to protect a group of teenage boys. Stories such as these help give the reader insight into Beatrice and other strong women of Piemonte, which in turn help us understand the moral fiber of these people. Is it any wonder then why the local wines are so distinctive?
There are numerous stories of how local women stayed strong, as their decisions were needed. An example of this can be found in the chapter on the Poderi Oddero estate of Santa Maria, below the town of La Morra. The author notes that the Mariacristina Oddero, who learned about winemaking and terroir from her father as well as in her studies in Alba (she has a degree in vineyard management and taught classes on soil chemistry for several years), had to confront her uncle Luigi about the direction the winery would take – would it be bulk wine or improved quality through stricter work? The story is a fascinating one.
Hoffman writes about 22 wineries in Piemonte, ranging from famous Barolo producers , such as Giuseppe Rinaldi and Elio Altare, to lesser-known, but equally quality-minded firms such as Monchiero Carbone and Deltetto, both located in the Roero district. She has done a remarkable amount of research for this book, with most of it being sit-down interviews with the current generation of women, who took the time to narrate their family’s history to Hoffman. One telling remark comes from Gaia Gaja, duaghter of Angelo Gaja, one of Piemonte’s and the world’s most famous vintners. The younger Gaja tells Hoffman that there is not a competition between fathers and daughters, as there might be with fathers and sons. “It is about open love, sharing knowledge and passing it on to the next generation,” she remarks.
There are more than two hundred, full-color photos in the book, along with a few dozen vintage black and white images. The photos are excellent and how gracious of the author to take the space at the end of the book to credit the local photographers.
All in all, here is a book that was written by an outsider, an outsider in name only. After reading Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, you would swear that Suzanne Hoffman is someone that has been living in Piemonte for years. In reality then, she has become an insider. All of us who love the wines of Piemonte should read this book, if only to understand that these singular wines are great not only because of decades of work in the vineyards, but also the determination of these people as they present wines that represent their traditions, their heritage and their anima – their soul.
Labor of Love: When Women and Wine Embrace
June 9, 2016
Last Thursday was no ordinary day. Of course, as every year, on June 2 Italy celebrated the Republic Day. But this year there was another important event taking place on this date in the world of wine: at Ca’ del Baio, in the beautiful scenario of Treiso vineyards and under a light rain, American writer Suzanne Hoffman presented her new book, a loving tribute to the wine families of Piemonte where women played and still play a major role in preserving traditions while fostering innovation in the name of their love for the hard work called winemaking.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that the book launch took place on that day as Suzanne’s “Labor of Love” is more than a simple book about wine. In fact, it’s completely different from any previous work of its kind. Passion, respect and admiration shine through each and every one of the stories and portraits in the book, in the same way as Suzanne could barely control her emotion while sharing with her audience the most touching encounters and the individual life stories that urged her to write the book. To the 22 wine families in the book and to all her readers, she asked never to forget these examples of true Piemontese life and values, and to pass down this prized legacy to the future generations, to people in Italy and worldwide, because they are part of the history and culture of this beautiful region.
Maurizio Rosso, who introduced the author to the public at Ca’ del Baio, chose this passage from the first chapter of the book to recreate the atmosphere that accompanied Suzanne and her husband during their “16 years of research and friendship” in the hills of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato:
“It was springtime, a delightful season in the hills of Barbaresco, although true Piemontephiles like me find any season in the gastronomically rich region inviting, no matter how cold or gray. The vineyards were awakening after their long winter slumber and the sun chased away the foggy mornings. Coming from Switzerland, where it was still winter, my husband, Dani, and I needed sunshine.”
And they found it, not much in the rigid Piemonte climate, but in the smiles and generosity of the people they met there, who confided to her family stories since then mostly untold, intertwined with historical events such as World War II, the German occupation and the post-war political instability. Suzanne launched a successful project on Kickstarter in April to raise funds for the printing of “Labor of Love” and decided to publish independently, in order to have the book ready as soon as possible. In fact, many of the people who inspired her and that she interviewed are very old: to procrastinate would have meant some of them would probably have not been there anymore for the book launch.
There are so many things I could say about this wonderful book and the stories it tells, but nothing will ever be like reading it first-hand. So please do, possibly, as Suzanne suggested to me signing my copy of the book, “savour the pleasures of the written word enjoying a glass of Piemontese wine!“
Barolo & Co.
June 28, 2016
June 1, 2016
May 30, 2016
May 20, 2016