Tag Archives: Barbaresco

Koki Wine Bar: Barbaresco Gem



When I first drove into Barbaresco two decades ago this autumn, the village was cloaked in thick, bone-chilling fog. I soon learned the mantle covering the village was emblematic of Langhe in November.

Barbaresco was a ghost town. In the Piazza del Municipio in the village’s heart, only the Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco and the Antica Torre, then around the corner from the Enoteca, seemed to have signs of life. Not much happening in that late afternoon period between coffee and aperitivo. At the other end of Barbaresco’s singular street, via Torino, the air was heavy with that intoxicating post-harvest smell of fermenting grapes in the Produttori del Barbaresco. In between the two ends of the village, the mysterious alchemy that is winemaking was no doubt going on behind the thick, green iron gate that hid the inner sanctum of the renowned Gaja winery from view. That was it. Not a creature was stirring.

Wait a minute! That was it? Barbaresco? So famous, but so small and quiet.

That was then.

Koki Wine Bar helps keep Barbaresco alive at night throughout the year.

Fast forward twenty years and on most days Barbaresco is anything but quiet. Between her awakening and long past the sun’s descent behind the Alps to the west the village buzzes. No longer is the tiny village only alive with tourists in the sunny months of September and October when tractors laden with precious, ripe grapes lumber along the cobblestones to the wineries, or in late March and April when Europeans north of the Alps seek Langhe’s early springtime warmth. Today, Barbaresco is alive with locals and visitors for most of the year.

Fame from Piemonte’s rising star as a popular wine tourism destination drew people to the village from which the famous wine takes its name. But it took a young man from Japan and a wine bar sporting his name to help transform Barbaresco into the energetic village it is today. Anyone who has found themselves under the plane trees in the piazza sipping a glass of wine on a hot summer day knows I’m speaking of Koki Sato.

Barbaresco’s very own Koki Sato

The hissing sound of an espresso machine, wine glasses clinking, and laughter amid chatter now fill the tiny piazza from 9:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays, when the wine bar is shuttered for its mandated weekly closing, the village is quieter. Koki Wine Bar has become a gathering spot of locals and visitors and has played a large role in energizing the village.

Japan to Barbaresco thanks to Barolo

Koki began his odyssey from Japan to Barbaresco in 1998 with a job in an Italian restaurant in hometown of Sapporo. Here Koki experienced cucina italiana and soon tasted the wine that sealed his destiny – Barolo.

One night a customer offered Koki a taste of Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino from the stellar 1990 vintage. I suppose if one is to experience Barolo for the first time, it’s quite special to start with one of the best. To say it was love at first sip is an understatement. The wine captivated Koki with its elegance as it filled his mouth with rich fruit, lingering for a long finish, providing gustatory sensations that inspired him to learn more about wine.

A senior sommelier in the restaurant initiated Koki’s vinous education with a virtual tour of the world of wine. Koki tasted wines from many different regions and began to expand his wine horizons and appreciation. In 2005, the year after his first trip to Piemonte, Koki became a sommelier in his own right.

Wine was not the only education Koki pursued in the two intervening years between Piemonte trips. He studied Italian, preparing him for a longer stay in Piemonte that began in 2006 when he moved to the region to master his favorite grape, Nebbiolo.

In 2009, Koki began working at La Ciau del Tornavento, the celebrated restaurant just behind the church in the tiny Barbaresco village of Treiso. Again, nothing like starting at the top as he did with Barolo. Michelin-star chef Maurilio Garola and his restaurant co-owner, Nadia Benech, gave Koki the opportunity to broaden his wine knowledge and service skills in one of Italy’s greatest restaurants. With an expansive, labyrinthine wine cellar of over 60,000 bottles, Koki was able to serve some of the finest wines ever produced. This further deepened his love of wine, particularly Nebbiolo. Through the years, Maurilio and Nadia have become Koki’s cherished mentors and sources of inspiration. “They are special to me,” he emphatically said.

After four years working at the pinnacle of the Italian restaurant industry, Koki returned to Japan. He pondered opening a wine bar in his hometown. In those heady, exciting first years of the new millennium, the Far East was fast becoming an important, emerging market for Piemonte wines. Koki was not alone in Japan in his love of the region, its food, and, of course, its wine, so demand was certainly in his favor.

Before Koki could take the plunge in Sapporo, Maurilio offered him the opportunity to open a wine bar in a small space in the center of Barbaresco. For about two weeks Koki thought deeply about the chance to work in Italy rather than remain in Japan. Six months later, in March 2013, Maurilio’s Prima e Poi del Tornavento opened with Koki at the helm.

Koki later purchased the bar and in April 2017 it was renamed “Koki Wine Bar.”

In the short time since Koki dove headfirst into the world of business ownership, Koki Wine Bar has become a favorite of local wine producers who enjoy ending their days with an aperitivo on the patio in summer or inside the warm, cozy bar as the night chill of autumn chases everyone indoors. Koki and his peers across the Langhe in Barolo at such places as Barolo Friends and La Vite Turchese, and More e Macine in La Morra, have filled a need for a place to have a quick bite between winery visits, a light dinner after a long day of food and wine, or just a place to sit, sip, and watch the wine world go by. Venues that are part wine bar, part osteria were sorely needed in the wine villages of the Langhe. Koki certainly made an important contribution with his little oasis.

Labor of Love Society Autumn 2019 “Board of Directors Meeting” at the group’s headquarters, Koki Wine Bar. Pictured left to right: Jeffrey Chilcott (seated), Alessandro Boido, Elena Sottimano, Ludovica di Grésy, Lorenzo Scavino, Silvia Altare, Denise Pardini, author, Alberto di Grésy, and Koki Sato..
Thriving Part of the Langhe Dining Culture

One of the attractions of the Langhe restaurant culture for many, including myself, is the tradition of multicourse, slow lunches. A large lunch and a small evening meal of salumi, cheese, bread, and, on occasion, wine, was always my preferred way to tackle the region on short visits. But for people wanting to visit several wineries a day, it can prove to be an insurmountable gastronomic challenge to have a long lunch.  The evolution of wine bars such as Koki Wine Bar in Langhe and Roero have solved that pleasant dilemma for visitors and locals.

Now, in Barbaresco, oenophiles can enjoy a short, relaxing snack between winery appointments. A favorite of my tour guests at the end of a week of Bacchanalian adventures is to have a light lunch on Koki’s patio. His salumi and cheese board and Piemontese salad along with  a glass or two of wine is the perfect entre-winery fuel.

Ask Koki for a wine recommendation and watch as his smiling demeanor changes into evidence of deep, serious contemplation. Then out comes a suggestion you should not ignore. This is serious business for Koki. Pairing the right wine with a guest is as important to him as pairing the right wine with food. To Koki, it isn’t about the most expensive wine or most famous producers. It’s about taking his guests on an adventure through his wine list. It is also about providing the growing number of up-and-coming Piemonte producers a stage for their wines in this incredibly competitive market. Koki knows most of the producers on his list of Piemonte wines so you will probably get a story or two along with the wine. As it should be.

Like so many young entrepreneurs in the Langhe, Koki is not afraid to venture outside the norm and create unexpected experiences for his guests. Last December – a time when the pace in the cellars slows down a bit and wine producers get to relax and enjoy quiet evenings out – Koki and Chef Masaki created Friday night Japanese dinners that quickly became popular sellouts. Each Friday featured a different style of Japanese cuisine, culminating with seafood night featuring a large plate of sushi rolls and sashimi. Tuna carpaccio topped with white truffles, a favorite of Koki’s, was one of the most unusual uses of the precious fungus I’ve ever had. Superb. Koki, no stranger to high quality, had gone to Milano himself to choose seafood for Chef Masaki. Those fun evenings proved to be the best deal around at 35 euros for the three courses and were a huge hit with the locals. Koki tells me that his Japanese Fridays are making a return to Barbaresco this December.

Last of Koki’s Friday night Japanese dinners in December 2018. Returning in 2019.
The Future for Koki

No one, including Koki, knows what the future holds for him. He just celebrated his 40th birthday and already he has fostered a following on several of the Continents. Koki’s dedication to the local vintners and to providing a fun venue for their wines to be tasted and sold has earned Koki their loyalty and support. Koki’s fans, myself included, would love for him to remain forever in his little wine bar in Barbaresco. As long as his parents are healthy, he told me, he’d like stay in Piemonte, but his vision is to one-day own two wine bars – one in Japan and one in Italy – and travel between the two countries.

Koki will succeed wherever in the world he lands. His passion for quality, knowledge of food and wine, his talent for creating a warm, inviting environment, and, most importantly, his ability to foster loyalty will always be in demand. And no doubt, Nebbiolo will be the star of any wine bar he opens.

Important things to know about Koki Wine Bar
  • Location: Piazza del Municipio 30, Barbaresco (across from the Municipio)
  • Opening Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. (closed on Wednesdays).
  • Retail wine purchases available.
  • Small menu. Try the agnolotti in a jar and the anchovies with bread and butter.
  • Delicious cugnà from Cà d’Gal available for sale.
  • Best patio in the area thanks to Koki and his team.
  • Best Barbaresco t-shirts and biking jerseys for sale!
  • Headquarters of the Labor of Love Society, a group of vintners and wine professionals dedicated to camaraderie and preservation of the region’s familial wine industry culture.
What the local wine producers have to say about Koki

I asked some of the local producers for their insights about Koki and his place in Barbaresco’s culture. The responses were so warm and filled with admiration and love for Koki that I struggled to dissect them and include them in the article. So I decided to add an “in their own words” section to this post. Think of it as one of the most valuable, honest reviews of Koki and his wine bar you’ll ever read. These days, we need to hear more such words to drown out all the acrimony.

Koki with Alberto di Grésy who enjoys his evening gin & tonic at Koki Wine Bar when he’s in town.
Alberto di Gresy, Marchesi di Grésy (Barbaresco)

“Koki is a great guy, simply! When is bar is open, the village is also open, alive.

That’s apparently because of its location, at the very entrance of the major street Via Torino, but many do not love to [go to] Barbaresco on Wednesday because Koki is closed.

[Koki] has always been very well accepted for his professionalism and kindness as a former maître of la Ciau del Tornavento, and Maurilio was the one to believe in Koki…

This place [Koki Wine Bar], I repeat, is able to give to anyone arriving in the village a SIGNAL, and when is closed (on Wednesday) the little village seems like the desert.

 Koki is always allegro, charming guy. Every conversation is brilliant with him, very interested [in] any news, positive, always smiling…also he was able to select [experienced] helpers for the service, and by summer (with the patio open) they make a big job in numbers of guests. Not that easy to reach with that quality!!

If I can, I go there even more than one time a day. Formidable!”

Koki Sato and Jeffrey Chilcott, cellar master at Marchesi di Grésy.
Jeffrey Chilcott, Marchesi di Grésy (Barbaresco)

“Always good to pass by Koki’s after work for a refreshing birretta, also some vino too! [Koki Wine Bar] is a good meeting point for sure, and a chance to catch up with what’s happening in the village and who’s in the village. Koki has become a great local figure and his solid team are quick and efficient. [He is] a key figure in helping the village as it continues to grow. Barbaresco is a central point of reference now, travelling the world by words, glasses and bottles. KAMPAI KOKI!”

Daniela Rocca, Albino Rocca (Barbaresco)

“Koki is a great person who had great courage to leave his country. For that we have a big respect for him. He has a great passion for wines and a very good knowledge. He is the kind of guy who is always smiling. We like him also because he always has new ideas about food and he has enlarged the wine list, making a big investment. All the people from Barbaresco love him.” 

Silvia Altare, Elio Altare (Annunziata, Barolo)

Koki’s place in Barbaresco is the place to go. Whether you need a coffee, a good glass of wine, or a nice dinner, Koki will guide you through his deep wine list and share his knowledge gained from years of experience in Piemonte. We need more Kokis around the region!

Chiara Boschis, E. Pira e Figli (Barolo); sentiments shared by Claudia Cigliuti, Az. Ag. F.illi Cigliuti (Barbaresco)

“Koki has great professionalism, dedication and kindness in what he does. You can feel the deep passion and respect for our land, people, wines and culture. I can tell you that he is such a good person that we all love him a lot. He [has fought] through many difficulties of his work, but he never complains and never asks [for] anything. He always just smiles warmly and make you feel special’ He is amazing!”

Carlo Deltetto, Deltetto 1953 (Canale, Roero)

“Koki is a great friend and [his wine bar] is one of my favorite places in Langhe. I’m from Roero, but when I have the chance with Paola or simply when I’m in the area just for wine deliveries, or riding my motorbike through the hills of Barbaresco, I always stop to Koki. For a quick lunch or just for a glass of wine. Why? Not just because of the quality of the food, the wine, and the beautiful location, but because of Koki. He always welcomes us with a smile, ready to share a glass of wine. I often like to ask him: give me something new, something that you like and that maybe I don’t know… and it is always a great tasting experience. I also like to share with him a new Deltetto label or vintage. His opinion is always very important for me. He has a great experience in wine tasting and, because of lots of tourist passing through Barbaresco, he knows what the people of all the world likes.

 Simply, Koki is a very special guy.”

 Paola Grasso, Cà del Baio (Treiso, Barbaresco)

“Koki is first a good friend of our family, second, he is one of the best ambassadors of the Barbaresco area. [Koki] is a hard worker, professional with clients and smiling and funny with children. My daughters, Lidia e Anna, love him! I think there is not one person that can talk badly of him. Sometimes I think about is culture and how it was for him before and I can definitely say his is now a true piemontese guy!” 

Valentina Grasso, Cà del Baio (Treiso, Barbaresco)

“Koki is a great person and believer of our area and the Nebbiolo grape. He is always happy to welcome every person coming into his bar.”

Isabella Boffa Oddero, Poderi e Cantine Oddero (Santa Maria-La Morra, Barolo)

“Koki is a person that immediately inspires positivity, happiness, and professionalism. When you talk with him you understand that he really cares for his job, he is so respectful of the wines, and of the work of the producers of the area. He is simply the best genuine ambassador for our region! He welcomes you with a smile and knows what hospitality really means. His honesty and serenity are so special to me!”

And finally, something in Italian.

Alessandro Boido, Cà d’Gal (Santo Stefano Belbo, Monferrato)

“Io ho sempre ammirato i ragazzi come Koki sono venuti qui nelle Langhe da 10000 km per conoscere meglio la nostra terra, imparare un mestiere, oggi lui ha fatto di più e diventato un punto di riferimento per tanti momenti, e gente, che amano il vino il cibo ecc. 

E un ragazzo ingamba che ha dato a Barbaresco una cosa in più che un Wine Bar, un bel posto dove trascorrere ore in compagnia in ogni momento dell’anno.

In più si è rivelato un grande amico dal cuore buono !  

 As Jeffrey Chilcott likes to say, “Forza Koki!”

The excellent team at Koki Wine Bar: (left to right) Alessandro Ferrando, Roberta Minasso, Koki Sato, Martina Culasso, and chef Masaki Yokoyama.
May 2018 Labor of Love Society “Board of Directors Meeting” at Koki Wine Bar.
June 2018 Labor of Love Society “Board of Directors Meeting” at Koki Wine Bar.




by Emanuele Caruso, Obiettivo Cinema s.a.s.
and Under Discovered Productions LLC

Enjoy a REAL reality video about the under discovered lives, history, and culture of the Piemontese wine families.

Click here for video link.

Not famous for being famous!

These people are not famous for being famous.

They are famous for making incredible wine and keeping cherished traditions alive in a world that so desperately needs reality.

Chiara Boschis
Chiara Boschis
Look upstream, not only downstream

It seems the wine programs are always about the downstream part of the business and typically the only wine producers featured are the big, uber-famous ones. They are great and open many doors for the wine regions.

But what about the those like Giulio Grasso, Toni and Carlo Deltetto, Silvia and Claudia Cigliuti, Elisa Semino, Chiara Boschis, Nadia Curto, those who populate the pages of my book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonteand SO VERY MANY MORE too numerous to list?

Wine producers
Piemontese vintners at Cà del Baio winery.

They are citizens of the wine world who rise long before sunrise for work wherever they are needed — in the blazing hot or freezing cold vineyards (pick your season, they are always there), in the cellar doing an array of tasks that involve all the senses and strength, or working at the whim of the market to sell their wines.

What about their stories and those of their ancestors who lived through poverty, pestilence, fascism, war, and occupation? That’s the reality that brings to so many of you the wines you love.

We will march onward to bring our documentary series to life, but in the meantime I want to share the lovely work Emanuele Caruso did during the difficult, smoggy 2017 autumn and while he was preparing to release his highly acclaimed film La Terra Buona. Emanuele is an amazing artist and, along with the wine producers, speaks beautifully from a rich Piemontese heart and soul.

God bless them all!

Hope you enjoy. Spread the word about this truly magical wine region and the under discovered stories of her inhabitants, culture, and history.


Cascina delle Rose
Bringing the Nebbiolo grapes home to the cantina at Cascina delle Rose in Barbaresco.
Jeffrey Chilcott
Jeffrey Chilcott, cellar master at Marchesi di Grésy winery in Barbaresco.
Davide Sobrino
Davide Sobrino and his father Italo in the vineyards of their family’s Cascina delle Rose in Barbaresco.

Vinous Holiday Companions

I’m now in the heart of the Langhe until the beginning of my 20th year of over 30 visits to Piemonte that included one successfully published book on the region’s wine families.

Thanksgiving morning, while sipping my morning cappuccino and visiting cyberspace, I came upon several articles about Thanksgiving wine advice. Although the holiday has come and gone, there is still a lot of merry to be made before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. Being in Piemonte, I couldn’t help but share some of my own  suggestions and some shopping tips for your vinous companions this holiday season.

Treiso (Barbaresco)
The village of Treiso in the Barbaresco denomination of the Langhe.
Vinous Experiences

Wine is an experience, not merely a beverage, so my tip for any meal is to serve wines with stories behind them (of course I would say that). Make the wine producers and their terroir part of the meal conversation by telling their stories. There are lots of them out there in cyberspace (and in my bookLabor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte). Or, even better, you could visit their wineries with me and meet the wine families on a Labor of Love tour. Talking about them and their labor of love certainly beats the heck out talking politics at the table (or anywhere else).

Book cover
Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte

In our Colorado high country home, we don’t pair wine with food. The opposite. First we choose the wines we want to drink and then figure out what to cook. More often than not, those wines are from Piemonte, Sicily, or Valais Switzerland. Since I’m in Piemonte for the holidays, let’s go with some of my thoughts on those wines.

Twinkle Twinkle, Little Sparkler

My go-to sparklers I love are Metodo Classico bubbles from Piemonte (aka classical style…think Champagne, not Prosecco…please). I particularly like Ettore Germano Alta Langa, Deltetto Spumante Brut or Extra Brut (try the Brut Rosé – 50/50 Nebbiolo/Pinot Noir), and Contratto For England Pas Dose. Can’t go wrong with any of those. If you can find it in the States, Marchesi Alfieri Blanc de Noir (100% Pinot Noir) is an excellent choice for your holiday bubbles.

Spumanti aging
Deltetto spumanti aging at their winery in Canale (Roero).

Whatever you choose, please don’t think the word “spumante” is not associated with quality wines. Far from it. Spumante merely means “sparkling wines” in Italian. Personally, I believe the Asti Spumante commercials of Christmases past put a damper on today’s  efforts to market spumante in America. Sad because there is some excellent Asti Spumanti out there.

Bottom line, each type of bubbles has its place.

Not all Rieslings Are Created Sweet

Regarding Riesling. Nails on a chalkboard when people say to me “Riesling is too sweet for my taste.” Trocken (dry) Riesling is NOT sweet. So please, taste one from Piemonte because as far as I’ve experienced, they are all dry. My particular favorites are Ettore Germano “Herzu,” G. D. Vajra “Petracine,” and Cà del Baio Riesling Langhe Bianco DOC.

For a great primer on Riesling (and all other varietals), visit Wine Folly or buy the book by the same name.  Sidebar: this book makes a great Christmas present for the oenophile in your life. I look forward to the day when Madeline adds Piemonte to the list of regions where one can find dry Riesling. Hint.

The Little Rascal

Arneis is more than a white wine. It’s also the name of my dog who, like the meaning of his name, is a rascal. When I began spending more time back in the States in the early part of the millennium, Arneis — the wine — was hard to find. It is now readily available across the U.S. At the risk of upsetting my Langhe producer friends, I am partial to the Roero Arneis. To my palate, sand makes for a better Arneis and there is much of it to be found in the soil of the Roero north of Langhe across the Tanaro River.

Fortunately there is a wide range of Arneis producers exporting to America. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say there are many importers in the States who got wise to the grape’s appeal and are importing it. Whichever way you look at it, there are some great Roero Arneis choices of different styles to be found in the U.S., such as Deltetto, Matteo Correggia, Monchiero-Carbone, Negro, Malvirà, and Vietti.

Arneis the dog
My little rascal
The Next Big Thing

Paola Grasso of Cà del Baio said to me today, “Timorasso is the next big thing in Piemonte.” She’s savvy, with a keen eye for developments in the market and judging from the growing interest in the grape from journalists and importers, she is no doubt onto something.

This past week I visited Elisa Semino of La Colombera in Colli Tortonesi in the far southeastern corner of Piemonte. It was love at first sip for me. I dream of her Timorasso! Hard to imagine that before the 1980s, many Timorasso vineyards fell victim to the popularity of Cortese. Vintners ripped out Timorasso vines and replaced them with the high demand grape from which Gavi is made. Now, vintners like Elisa and her brilliant mentor, Walter Massa, are ushering in the renaissance of the Colli Tortonesi’s signature wine. Sadly, it’s what’s happening today with Dolcetto, so the rebirth of this superstar gives me hope that the trend of ripping out the Dolcetto vines in favor of Nebbiolo and hazelnuts will end.

Lots of great articles can be found online about Timorasso. I can’t wait to add this precious white wine to my cellar back in Colorado.

Elisa Semino
Elisa Semino at home in her family’s winery in Colli Tortonesi, La Colombera.
A Red for All Tables

A great go to red for nearly every meal is Barbera. Whether bearing the names of Alba, Asti, or Monferrato, Barbera is a versatile red and high quality bottles at great prices from a myriad of producers can be found everywhere. Some of my favorite wineries for Barbera d’Alba are Chiara Boschis – E. Pira e Figli, Elio Altare (now in the hands of his charismatic daughter Silvia), Punset, Cigliuti, Mauro Molino, Paolo Scavino, Matteo Correggia, Monchiero-Carbone, and Albino Rocca (the Gepin is a particular favorite of mine). For Barbera d’Asti, look for Marchesi Alfieri’s queen of their portfolio, Alfiera, and their La Tota named for the last Marchesa of Alfieri, Adele.

This list is far from exhaustive! Check out the Table of Contents of Labor of Lovesince producers like Cantina Marsaglia make a delicious Barbera, but you’ll have to visit them in Castellinaldo d’Alba since their wines are not available in the States.

Table of Contents vinous companions
You can find many vinous companions from the Table of Contents of Labor of Love
King of the Table

Of course, the big daddy of Piemonte’s vineyards is Nebbiolo and the two wines consisting of 100% of the noble grape: Barolo and Barbaresco. A wonderful selection of these wines is available in the States, but since I live in Colorado I’ll list some of the producers well represented there: Ca’ del Baio (Barbaresco), Chiara Boschis (Barolo), Elio Altare (Barolo), Paolo Scavino (Barolo), Oddero (Barolo), Albino Rocca (Barbaresco), Cigliuti (Barbaresco), Mauro Molino (Barolo), Marchesi di Grésy (Barbaresco), GD Vajra (Barolo), Cantina Gigi Rosso (Barolo), Punset (Barbaresco), Cascina delle Rose (Barbaresco), Cantina del Pino (Barbaresco), Gaja, (Barolo and Barbaresco), Marchesi di Barolo (Barolo and Barbaresco), and Sottimano (Barbaresco). This is NOT an exhaustive list and there are many more that I enjoy, but these are readily available in Colorado, except for Cascina delle Rose…sadly so…but their USA presence is growing.

As an aside, each one of these wineries produces fabulous Barbera as well.

The Nebbiolo of Langhe is the best known, but the grape also flourishes in Roero and in Alto Piemonte. Each of the Arneis producers listed above makes excellent Roero Nebbiolo, including Matteo Correggia, the winery bearing the name of the late Roero visionary who believed in the grape’s potential in the terroir of Roero. His belief in Roero Nebbiolo was well-founded. Gattinerra in Alto Piemonte is home to Lorella Antoniollo and her family’s winery. If you haven’t tried the Alto Piemonte Nebbioli, treat yourself to some from this excellent winery.

Not in the market for the higher prices of Barolo and Barbaresco, but love Nebbiolo? Look for declassified versions of the grape, such as Langhe Nebbiolo or Nebbiolo d’Alba from any the producers I’m mentioned and in my table of contents. You will not be disappointed with the gems coming out of Piemonte’s Nebbiolo vineyards whether they sport the DOCG label or not. If a producer is known for her or his Barolo or Barbaresco, their other Nebbiolo wines deserve a place on your table. Currently, our house red is Albino Rocca “Rosso di Rocca” Langhe Nebbiolo 2017.  Excellent wine and a particularly good value for money.

Hint, can’t find these wines at your favorite bottle shop? See below at the end of the post two names of great wine sleuths who can source just about anything.

Chiara Boschis
Barolo vintner Chiara Boschis holding Nebbiolo must after another successful harvest in 2015.
Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto
Sweet Endings

Now for dessert. Amongst the “sweet” choices there are the sweeter versions such Passito made from grapes dried before vinification and there are the light (5.5% alcohol), bubbly ones such as Moscato d’Asti. There was a time when Moscato d’Asti was the wine the Savoy royals sought and Monferrato eclipsed Barolo as the epicenter of Piemonte wine. Before there was the King of Wines (Barolo, according to many), there was the Queen of Wines. Those from the Monferrato region are very special. My two favorites are Cà d’Gal (not available in Colorado – yet), particularly Alessandro Boido’s old vine Moscato, and Marenco Scrapona (available in Colorado from Vias). Passito Bric du Liun from Deltetto is 100% Arneis and is equally comfortable as a pairing for foie gras at the beginning of a festive meal as it is at the end with dolce. I’m a fan of Brachetto d’Acqui from Marenco and their two passiti – Moscato and Brachetto. Save a bottle of Moscato for your “day after” breakfast. Marenco’s Scrapona is often on our table for summer Sunday brunch.

Marenco Scrapona
My Sunday brunch favorite!
And for the Tummy

We can’t forget my favorite digestivo, Barolo Chinato. The much-loved end to a great meal is gaining popularity in the States…finally…but still hard to find. My May 2018 Labor of Love tour guests of wine educators from Sheral Schowe’s Wasatch Academy of Wine finished most every meal with Chinato. The experts know about the delights of this prized digestivo.

Wine Searcher says it best in their concise description of this complex digestive with pharmacological roots:

“[An] aromatic beverage differs to the ‘classic’ Barolo through its production method, which involves the infusion of Barolo wine with China Calissaya bark (quinine bark, translated in Italian as china, hence the wine’s name chinato). Up to 21 other herbs and spices, including rhubarb roots, gentian, orange peels, cloves and cardamom seeds, are also added to the mix. This process is a slow maceration at room temperature for around eight weeks. The aromatized wine is then fortified to 16% alcohol and matured in small barrels for up to one year.

This Barolo wine is generally characterized by its bittersweet aromas and lingering, smooth aftertaste. It is usually consumed as an after-dinner drink, either as a dessert wine or a digestif. It is also considered an excellent accompaniment to dark chocolate, or it can be served as an aperitif with soda and ice (similar to sweet vermouth).”

So if that tickles your fancy — and it should — go forth and seek out brands such as CocchiG.D. Vajra, and, of course, Cappellano, the family of the 19th century creator of this unusually delicious drink, pharmacist Giuseppe Cappellano.

But That’s Not All

I’ve only touched on most commonly known varietals of the Piemonte vinous landscape, and one up-and-coming superstar, Timorasso. There is a long list on other varietals you should try this holiday season, such as Pelaverga, Ruché, Freisa, and  Erbaluce, to name but a few. Exploration is fun, especially when it comes to a region like Piemonte with such an expansive choice of varietals.

Remember, it’s all about the experience. Discovery is a wonderful experience!

Shopping Tips

Colorado: Here are a few of the importers working in Colorado that I can highly recommend: Giuliana Imports, Old World Wines, Dalla Terra, Indigenous, and Vias. All have some great choices. Don’t just read the front label on the wine bottle. The back label tells you a great deal about the wine and who’s behind, including the importer. Importers like these take great care in choosing the producers they represent. You can’t go wrong with any of their names on the bottle.

Beyond (and in) Colorado: One of the best sources I’ve found for wine from Piemonte (and most anywhere else) is John Rittmaster at Prima Vini Wine Merchants in Walnut Creek, CA. Not only does John do dynamite wine events in his shop and next door restaurant Prima, he can find just about anything at competitive prices.  Do yourself a favor and get on his mailing list so you don’t miss any great deals and events.

Straight from the Source: This tip is for oenophiles across the globe. If you want a gastronome’s dream bike tour, join Davide Pasquero of Terroir Selection in wine countries across Europe, particularly in his home region of Piemonte. If you want Piemonte wines straight from the source — particularly up-and-coming producers — Davide is the expert for you. His personal relationships with producers, passion, and great depth of wine knowledge makes him a perfect source for discerning oenophiles looking for just the right wines. Piemonte is not his only region of expertise. Checkout his website for more regions he covers. Pretty much everywhere. Like John Rittmaster, Davide is a wine sleuth. If he can’t find it, it’s probably not available anywhere.

Davide Pasquero
Davide Pasquero, Wine Sleuth, of Terroir Selection in Treiso, Piemonte.

What started out as a quick Facebook post morphed into something bigger. It always does when I start talking about my beloved second home, Piemonte. I hope I’ve given you some helpful, not too technical, tips for wine choices this holiday season…and beyond.

Whatever you choose, you really can’t go wrong if you invite the wine producers into your home vis-à-vis their wines and the stories behind their labels. Vinous companions for your holiday celebrations should not be limited to those you know. It’s a great time to meet new vintners through their labor of love.

Now, onward to the Christmas Holidays. Buon Natale!

Salute tutti!


Felice Ringraziamento! Happy Thanksgiving!

Giving thanks for Piemonte for its beauty and bounty, and for all who live on its land !

After weeks of rain, fog, and clouds here in Piemonte’s Langhe wine region, as the sun set on Wednesday, we had hope that  we might see the sun on Thanksgiving Day.

Montevideo from Treiso
Monteviso to the west in the Cottian Alps as seen from Treiso in the Barbaresco denomination.

And we did!

Although the day dawned cloudy, skies cleared and Mamma Nature treated us to views of the Pennine, Cottian, and Maritime Alps we haven’t seen for a long time.

Villa Giulia in Barbaresco
Cottian Alps to the west at sunrise (alba) with Villa Giulia on the ridge to the right in the photo.
Treiso in Barbaresco
The village of Treiso in the Barbaresco denomination of the Langhe.

As you can see, we had a beautiful day for giving thanks here in the heart of God’s wine country.

Felice Ringraziamento…everyday of your life!

Fiorentina Cortese Grasso (1933 – 2018)

Beloved Nonna of Cà del Baio

Nonna Fiorentina of Cà del Baio’s Grasso family lost her soulmate in early 2014 when her husband Ernesto died peacefully at the age of 92. As I watched her in the four years that followed the passing of “Supernonno,” as his granddaughters refer to him, Fiorentina’s heart never seemed to mend. I believe it is true that one can die of a broken heart. Finally, on April 8, 2018, nonna Grasso joined her beloved Ernesto in peaceful slumber.

I loved her very much. We didn’t speak the same language of the tongue, but our hearts connected and spoke to one another over our shared loved of her family and her land. I shall miss her very much.

In honor of nonna Fiorentina, and all the wonderful women of her generation, I would like to share excerpts from my book taken from her stories she told to me through her granddaughters, Paola, Valentina, and the youngest, Federica, who, for me, played the role of the family historian and conveyed stories and emotions that came from deep inside her soul. Federica brought to life for me the childhood she shared with her sisters at Cà del Baio, showered in love, but with the discipline of a strong work ethic that is clearly evident today in all that the sisters do as they work alongside their parents, Giulio and Luciana. The value of the “nonna factor” in the lives of Piemonte’s wine families can never be overstated, and, God-willing, will never cease to exist.

Building the House of the Bay Horse

Ernesto and Fiorentina Grasso

One half of the land of Cà del Baio came from Giuseppe “Pinin”
Grasso’s initial Barbaresco acquisition in 1870. The other half of the Cà del Baio patrimonial equation came from Fiorentina Grasso, neé Cortese, Federica’s paternal grandmother, wife of Ernesto.
Fiorentina’s family was originally from Mango, a village about six miles east from Treiso. Her grandfather Luigi Sterpone purchased a farm and the Asili vineyards on the outskirts of Barbaresco in 1903. Luigi chose Barbaresco over the larger village of Neive because of the farm’s close proximity to Asili’s prime southwest-facing
Nebbiolo vines.

Valle Grande, home to Giulio and Luciana Grasso and the family’s Cà del Baio winery. Photo credit: Pierangelo Vacchetto.

Knowing a little history of Barbaresco’s awakening in the late 19th century is helpful in understanding the life and times of the early Grasso farmers. Until the middle of the 20th century, with exceptions, Barbaresco farmers commonly sold their grapes to negotiants, brokers who in turn sold to the few large wineries. The farmers only made enough wine for family consumption. Often, farmers found themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous negotiants who were known to bide their time on market days in the Piazza Savona in Alba while farmers sat helplessly as their grapes cooked in the hot sun. Only when the negotiants were certain the farmers were desperate would they make an offer to buy the crops. Quality was not an issue in those days. Only quantity.

The first attempt to change this unfair business model came in 1894. Domizio Cavazza, Piemonte’s oenological icon and founder of the prestigious Scuola Enologica di Alba, envisioned a way for
Barbaresco to compete with the more advanced Barolo denomination while improving the lot for local farmers. Cavazza, with nine
Barbaresco vintners, founded the Cantina Sociale di Barbaresco, the first Barbaresco cooperative. Cavazza’s ingenious cooperative produced wine and provided a fair market for farmers throughout the Barbaresco denomination. The Fascists closed the struggling cooperative in 1925. In 1958, a revered local priest, Don Fiorino
Marengo, created the second Barbaresco cooperative in a church basement with 19 family grape growers. Five decades later, with 52 members, Produttori del Barbaresco remains Italy’s largest wine cooperative, producing extraordinary Nebbiolo wines.

Cà del Baio’s current patriarch is Giulio Grasso. His maternal great-grandfather, Francesco “Cichin” Cortese, a founding member of the Cantina Sociale, married Ernesta Sterpone. Francesco went to work in the Sterpone family’s Asili vineyard in the early 1900s. Their daughter Fiorentina, Giulio’s mother, would carry the prized Asili vineyard into the Grasso family through her dowry.

Although the practice of paying dowries faded into history in the mid-20th century, it was in earlier times a common vehicle by which property passed to another family. In those days, there was no such thing as dating, so matchmakers, known as bacialé in Piemontese, were an important part of society. Bacialé not only found brides for grooms, but they often mediated the transfer of property, transactions fraught with deep emotion, particularly for brides’ families as they surrendered control of parcels of land.

In 1953, Luigi Grasso died. His only son, Ernesto, the youngest of five children, inherited the patrimony. Soon after, Ernesto married. The 1955 marriage between Fiorentina Cortese and Ernesto Grasso was a love match, but it was also a formidable real estate transaction. The union of the Cortese family’s grand Asili vineyards and the Grassos’ extensive holdings in Treiso formed the viticultural foundation of the house of the bay horse, Cà del Baio.

Ernesto and Fiorentina Grasso on their wedding day.
Super Nonni at Ca’ del Baio.

In the difficult post–World War II years in a wine region yet to make its name, the couple forged a bond that remained strong until Ernesto’s death at the age of 92 in 2014. Fiorentina and Ernesto had two children, Giulio and Franca. Giulio followed his father into the wine industry where he worked at the Produttori del Barbaresco until 1987, when he joined his father at the family’s winery.

Ernesto and Fiorentina Grasso with their children, Giulio and Franca.
Giulio and Luciana Grasso bottle wine with their daughters, Valentina and Federica. Photo Credit: Pierangelo Vacchetto

Revered Ernesto Grasso — known as “Super Nonno” to his grand-daughters — was a kind, sweet, and very quiet man, much like his mother, Lina, according to Federica. His son Giulio inherited those special qualities from his father. I was privileged to have known Ernesto, albeit our communications were through smiles and warm handshakes. We didn’t speak the same language, but we loved the same things — Cà del Baio, its wine, and most of all its family.

Ernest and Fiorentina left behind a vibrant legacy and a beautiful family in whose hands Cà del Baio will continue to flourish. Photo Credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto


Albino Rocca (1924 – 2017)

Albino Rocca

Fortunately, since Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte was published on June 2, 2016, I have only had to memorialize one passing member of a wine family. That was Carlo “Carlin” Deltetto in
August 2017. One month later, Albino Rocca, beloved nonno of Daniela, Monica, and Paola Rocca, passed away at 93.

In honor of Albino, I wanted to share a few excerpts from the book that intersected my life with his and his family’s. I cherish the memories made in the short time I spent with him and his granddaughters in their tasting room of the winery bearing his name.

Excerpt from Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte

When I first visited the Rocca sisters in 2014, I interviewed their grandfather Albino, then 90 years young. Although he had lost his wife, daughter, and son in the previous 10 years, he appeared at peace, comforted by the love that his three granddaughters showered upon him. In a mixture of Piemontese dialect and Italian, Albino spoke with me through Daniela and Monica. We chatted a bit about his boyhood growing up in the vineyards, a boyhood spent in the dark years before and during World War II. When I asked him about the German occupation and life in the vineyards of Barbaresco during that dark time, a shadow passed across Albino’s craggy face punctuated by laugh lines and wrinkles from his long life under the Langhe sun. “It was a very hard life,” he said with a heavy sigh. “It was difficult to get food.” Germans, Fascists, and partisans alike helped themselves to food and animals that provided sustenance to farming families.

Various factions of partisan resistance fighters fought Germans and the Fascist Black Brigade in the vineyards and forests of Barbaresco. Civilians often were caught in the crossfire, executed for aiding partisans or targeted for collective punishment for the resistance fighters’ attacks. Albino recalled one such retaliation for the partisans’ capture of several German soldiers. Smoke billowed across the landscape as several large homes and barns the Germans and Fascists had torched burned to the ground. It wasn’t enough for the brutal occupiers to destroy property. They needed blood to be shed to further terrorize the populace into submission. I also had heard this story from Fiorentina Grasso of Cà del Baio, who is a few years younger than Albino. According to Albino, as the Germans prepared to shoot as many as 20 men and boys, the Bishop of Alba came to the rescue. Miraculously, the holy man was able to talk the partisans into releasing the Germans in exchange for the release of the villagers. Sadly, such attempts were rarely successful.

After Piemonte was freed from the shackles of war and occupation, the region awoke to a new wave in viticulture. Tsunamis start small, as did the tsunami of change that washed over the region in the second half of the 20th century. Little by little, the momentum of transformation built. In the mid-1940s, Giacomo began his wine business. First, he sold grapes to wineries through negotiants (grape brokers). Soon after, Giacomo began producing wine he sold in demijohns. The round, long-neck vessels held several gallons of wine and were the common wine vessel before bottles were mass-produced.

In 1960, Albino built his cantina and the house in which he raised his family and still lives. From their home at the top of the hill near the village of Barbaresco, Albino and his wife, Vittoria, and their two children Angelo and Giuditta had a commanding view of the amphitheater of vineyard-carpeted slopes below and of the Castello di Neive to the east. It’s the same view visitors to the winery enjoy today. Between 1960 and 1970, when his father, Giacomo, died, Albino sold most of his wine in bulk. Upon Giacomo’s death, Albino and his brother

Alphonso divided the ownership of the estate as was customary among farmers’ sons, and split the vineyards. Because Albino had already built his own house nearby, Alphonso took the family home where they were both born. In 1970, the year his father died, Albino began to put his own label on his wines, although the family considers 1960 as the winery’s founding, the same year Albino built the house and cantina.

Rocca family with Angelo and Albino
Albino’s beloved wife, Vittorina Marchisio Rocca (1926 – 2011)
Albino Rocca
Albino Rocca
Albino Rocca

Intersections of Joy and Grief in Piemonte


Much has happened in Piemonte in the two intervening years since I sent the last edits of Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte into cyberspace to Verona in April 2016. Over 720 sun-
rises and sunsets. The designation of the vineyard landscape of Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014  helped stimulate growth of the region’s already robust wine tourism. An iconic winery changed hands and Barolo’s Nebbiolo vineyard prices continued on a flight path to the stratosphere. And there were changes within the wine families that were intersections of joy and grief.

Sunrises. Sunsets.

Several Labor of Love families, such as Oddero (Barolo) and Marenco (Monferrato), gave life to new generations. Others, such as Sophie and Giuseppe Vaira of G. D. Vajra (Barolo), continued to add to the generation that began with the birth of their first child in spring 2013.

Sadly, some families had to say good-bye to remaining members of the generation that I call “Piemonte’s Greatest Generation,” the one that bridged the painful past of poverty, fascism, and Nazi occupation with the current era of great success and prosperity. These passings in Piemonte were painful.

In summer 2017, we lost one of Barolo’s most beloved and revered vintners — an authentic Barolo Boy —  Domenico Clerico. Unlike his older brethren who left us recently, he was a post-war child. Domenico, who always reminded me a bit of Shakespeare’s Puck, inspired and taught many younger producers who are now a part of Barolo’s great success story. The new year was only a few weeks old when Langhe legend Bruno Giacosa passed away. Grief touched three of my Labor of Love families with the passing of Roero pioneer Carlo “Carlin” Deltetto in August 2017 (see earlier post), Albino
Rocca in September 2017, and most recently, Fiorentina Grasso of Cà del Baio.

Nightfall in the Langhe.
Photo Credit: Pierangelo Vacchetto
Albino Rocca (1924-2017)

In 2017, in the midst of one of the most challenging harvests in memory, the three sisters of the Albino Rocca winery – Daniela, Monica,  and  Paola – bade a sad  farewell to their  beloved  nonno  Albino. In his 93 years he had witnessed the violence that engulfed the region in between 1943 and early 1945. He had felt the heartbreak of untimely loss of a young brother during World War II, then in the span of three years, his wife, his daugher, and, in October 2012, his son, Angelo. But in his final years, he also witnessed with pride and joy his three granddaughters and Paola’s husband, Carlo Castellengo, following ably in Angelo’s footsteps following his untimely death. Albino was there for them through four vintages without their iconic vintner father. He saw them awarded the Gambero Rosso’s coveted Tre Bicchieri for their 2013 Barbaresco Angelo from their first vintage without any earthly guidance from the wine’s namesake. Albino gave them love and provided guidance as they assumed control of the winery bearing his name that he had created decades before.

The Rocca Sisters, Carlo Castellengo, and Rocca family patriarch, their nonno Albino. Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto.
Fiorentina Cortese Grasso (1933-2018)

Further down the road on the outskirts of another Barbaresco village, Treiso, on April 15, 2018, grief descended upon Giulio Grasso, his sister Franca, and their families. Fiorentina Cortese Grasso, beloved wife of the late Ernesto Grasso and final member of the oldest of four generations at Cà del Baio, passed away peacefully at home after a painful struggle with ill health. It would be just  like nonna Fiorentina to wait for the return from a business trip abroad of her oldest child’s oldest child, Paola, before she closed her eyes for the last time. Such was her grit and determination. What a gift to Paola to be able to say “good-bye.” The melancholy expression on Giulio’s face in a photo with his three daughters at Vinitaly days after her passing told the story of the deep sadness that has blanketed the family. But life goes on at Cà del Baio, as it always has. And that’s how nonna Fiorentina would want it to be. The product of Fiorentina and  Ernesto’s labor of love  is in good  hands with  Giulio, his  wife Luciana, and their three daughters, Paola, Valentina, and Federica. I will certainly miss seeing her at lunch in Cà del Baio, but like all Piemonte wine family matriarchs, her presence will be felt for a long time to come.

Generational bookends: Ernesto and Fiorentina Grasso with Lidia Deltetto, their great-granddaughter, the first of a new generation.

I know in coming years there will be more end-dates — more sunsets on long, productive lives —  that will have to be added to the 22
genealogies in Labor of Love. Although I will grieve over having to note more departures, I will take heart that these wonderful matriarchs and patriarchs trusted me with their stories so that those whose names I will add to the genealogies will always feel a connection with their deep roots in the Piemontese soil. Each sunset  shall be followed by a new dawn and new life on the land.

In honor of Albino Rocca and Fiorentina Grasso, in the coming posts I will share excerpts of their stories from Labor of Love.


Tre Bicchieri 2017 – Angelo Rocca’s Legacy

Tre Bicchieri 2017

It’s that time of the year again. Harvest is underway throughout the Northern Hemisphere, a signature agricultural and cultural event for wine countries. In Italy, it’s also time for Gambero Rosso’s annual Anteprima Tre Bicchieri , the announcement of the wines that garnered the coveted Three Glasses from the respected Italian Wine Guide.

This year, nine of the recipients were wine families from my book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte:

Cà del Baio – Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2011
Albino Rocca – Barbaresco Angelo 2013
Gaja – Barbaresco Costa Russi 2013
Paolo Scavino – Barolo Bric dël Fiasc 2012
G. D. Vajra – Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2012
Oddero – Barolo Bussia Vigna Mondoca Ris. 2010
Marchesi di Barolo – Barolo Cannubi 2012
Elio Altare – Barolo Cerretta Vigna Bricco 2010
Monchiero Carbone – Roero Printi Riserva 2012 

These wines represent Gambero Rosso’s recognition of excellence in the Italian wine industry, but one stands out with particular poignancy this year — Albino Rocca 2013 Barbaresco Angelo. The wine is made from Nebbiolo grapes from vines ranging in age from 20 to 70 years from the Ronchi and Ovello vineyards of Barbaresco and Montersino vineyard in San Rocco Seno d’Elvio.

The Rocca sisters - Daniela, Monica and Paola - with their late father and Barbaresco visionary Angelo Rocca.
The Rocca sisters – Daniela, Monica and Paola – with their late father and Barbaresco visionary Angelo Rocca.

Appropriately named for the late, esteemed Barbaresco producer Angelo Rocca who perished on October 8, 2012, this is the first vintage his three daughters — Daniela, Monica, and Paola — and his son-in-law, Carlo Castellengo, faced alone without his presence during the entire growing season and wine production. Or perhaps he was present in their hearts and all of those who knew him then and who have come to know him through his family’s wines.

In memory of Angelo, and all the vintners who once walked Piemonte’s vineyards their descendants now tend, I would like to share excerpts from the Albino Rocca family’s chapter in Labor of Love.


October is a celebratory time in Piemonte’s wine country.

Months of sleepless nights and worried gazes at dark, stormy horizons are put to rest until the next growing season as grapes come home to cantine (wineries) for the next phase of the vintage. Regardless of the quality of a vintage, joy and relief are common emotions throughout the region. But in the autumn of 2012, one week after the harvest ended, sadness, shock, and despair struck like a dagger in the collective heart of the Langhe and devastated a renowned winemaking family. It did not, however, destroy it, thanks to three talented, determined women.

On October 8, 2012, shrouded in the dense autumn fog so common in Northern Italy, the ultralight plane Angelo Rocca piloted fell to the ground shortly after takeoff near Alessandria. The crash, just 45 minutes east by car from Angelo’s home near the village of Barbaresco, took the life of the highly respected vintner and his companion, Carmen Mazza. Although many feared the fatal crash spelled doom for the winery bearing his father Albino’s name, Angelo’s vision and talent were not entirely extinguished. He had passed those on to his three daughters, Daniela, Monica, and Paola, and they would ensure that his light continued to shine across Barbaresco as a beacon to the wine world far beyond the hills of Piemonte.

Had the crash occurred 60 years earlier, without male heirs, the Albino Rocca winery as a family enterprise could have been doomed. Vineyards sold. Cantina shuttered. Not so today, when women routinely assume control of family wineries upon the passing of a patriarch. Fate had both taken one of Barbaresco’s leading visionaries from his family and the wine world and brought Angelo’s three daughters to work with him in the winery in the final years of his life. Their decision to join their father and perpetuate the Rocca family’s legacy proved lucky, even though they never imagined they would assume control of the winery so early in their lives.

Paola Rocca, mother of Simone and Daniele. Photo Credit - Elisabetta Vacchetto
Angelo Rocca’s legatees (L-R): Paola Rocca and her husband, Carlo Castellengo, Daniela Rocca, Monica Rocca. Photo Credit – Elisabetta Vacchetto

Angelo died exactly when many considered him at the pinnacle of his profession. His wines were routinely lauded as some of the best in the region. His affable personality, reflected in his beautiful wines, was enjoyed across the wine world. “How could three women who only recently joined their father at the winery continue his legacy?” people asked. To that skep-ticism, Monica said with a touch of defiance in her voice, “There was never any question that we would continue.”

The 2013 vintage was the family’s first Barbaresco release without Angelo. It belongs entirely to Daniela, Monica, Paola, and Carlo. The biggest change, they noted, is that before Angelo’s death, he and Carlo made all the winemaking decisions. Now, the four of them collaborate on important decisions as they continue the work of establishing their own vinous identity. “We make wines somewhat different because our tastes and likes are different than my father’s,” Daniela said. “Carlo is most important now at the winery because he is an alchemist and makes the amalgam of personalities and tastes.”

The Rocca Sisters, Carlo Castellengo, and Rocca family patriarch, nonno Albino.
The Rocca Sisters, Carlo Castellengo, and Rocca family patriarch, nonno Albino. Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto

The future looks bright for Albino Rocca SSA, the name given to the winery once the bureaucratic wrangling was completed a year after Angelo’s death. Facing fierce global competition, the more than 100 producers in the denomination have recognized the need to collab-orate and share their experiences for the good of Barbaresco. Daniela is looking forward to a future that satisfies her strong desire to try new things. Her sisters share in that longing for new experiences they inherited from their father, along with his passion for the vine. They believe at one time Angelo wasn’t sure his daughters would continue the business, but they are confident that by the time he died, Angelo was happy having all three daughters with him in the winery. They took up his mantle far too early in their young lives when fate robbed them of many more years under their father’s tutelage. But they did it with grace and dignity, with the help of loved ones, their community, and their clients across the world, whose loyalty was readily transferred from Angelo to his daughters. Of course, credit should also be given to the strength of Piemonte’s women, which is embedded in their DNA. A bright future awaits the next generation of Rocca children should they wish to follow in their mothers’ footsteps.

Angelo Rocca (1948 - 2012)
Angelo Rocca (1948 – 2012)


Note: Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte (Under Discovered Publishing 2016) is my compilation of stories of the women of 22 wine families from the Roero, Monferrato, and Langhe areas of Piemonte. In Piemonte, the book is available through bookstores, enoteche, Cà del Baio and other producers in the book. In the USA, it is available on this website and through Amazon.

LABOR OF LOVE – Barbaresco Families


Twelve hour days, seven days a week over the last two months slowed me down a bit in keeping my loyal readers apprised of the final stages of writing and producing my first book. It’s time to announce the Labor of Love Barbaresco families that were so gracious to open up their lives to me. Barbaresco – specifically at Cà del Baio in Treiso – is where “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte” will launch on June 2, 2016.

On February 19, the photographs, primarily from Pierangelo Vacchetto and his daughter, Elisabetta, and son, Eugenio, traveled through cyberspace to Verona, Italy where VeronaLibri will begin the process of preparing the photos for print. Now comes the final, nerve-wracking days of the last proofreading, fact-checking, and lots of prayers before designer Cindi Yaklich of Epicenter Creative in Boulder, Colorado, hits the button to send the completely designed 9.25″ x 11.5″ (23.5 cm x 29 cm), 320 page book to Verona.

In addition to the six families below, I would like to thank Marchese Alberto di Grésy and cellar master Jeffrey Chilcott of Marchesi di Grésy in Barbaresco, Renato Vacca and his father, Adriano, of Cantina del Pino in Barbaresco, Aldo Vacca of Produttori del Barbaresco, and Andrea Sottimano of Barbaresco for their kindness, invaluable guidance and resources.

So, without further delay, here are the six Barbaresco families in Labor of Love:

Cà del Baio (Giulio and Luciana Grasso family)

Giulio and Luciana Grasso bottling their precious Barbaresco Valgrande with two of their three daughters Federica and Valentina.
Giulio and Luciana Grasso bottling their precious Barbaresco Valgrande with two of their three daughters Federica and Valentina. Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto


Albino Rocca

Albino Rocca with his granddaughters (L-R) Paola, Monica, and Daniela.
Albino Rocca with his granddaughters (L-R) Paola, Monica, and Daniela. Photo credit: Vacchetto


Punset (Marina Marcarino)

Marina Marcarino of Punset.
Marina Marcarino of Punset with Giuggliola (the star of Marina’s cat family)  at sunset in Neive in January 2016. Photo credit: Vacchetto


Cascina delle Rose (Giovanna Rizzolio)

Giovanna Rizzolio and husband, Italo Sobrino (rear), with their sons Davide and Riccardo.
Giovanna Rizzolio and husband, Italo Sobrino (rear), with their sons Davide and Riccardo. Photo credit: Vacchetto



(L-R) Lucia, Gaia, Angelo, Rossana, and Giovanni Gaja on via Torino in Barbaresco. Photo credit: Andrea Wyner
(L-R) Lucia, Gaia, Angelo, Rossana, and Giovanni Gaja on via Torino in Barbaresco. Photo credit: Andrea Wyner



Renato and Dina Cigliuti with daughters, Claudia and Silvia, and Claudia's daughter, Giulia (left).
Renato and Dina Cigliuti with daughters, Claudia and Silvia, and Claudia’s daughter, Giulia (left). Photo credit: Vacchetto

Piemonte Labor of Love


My Piemonte labor of love is progressing beautifully.

In seven months – God willing – I will introduce you to the women with whom I’ve spent so much of the last 30 months. Many of them are delightful ghosts who have been with me day and night as I labored to learn more about them, their families and the times in which they lived.

You will meet strong, brilliant women like Luigia Oddero, her daughter-in-law Maria and granddaughter-in-law Carla, all of whom played crucial roles in the success of their family’s winery in Santa Maria La Morra. I doubt, however, you would find their names in wine publications, something that saddens Luigia’s great-great-granddaughter Isabella Boffa Oddero. She knows how significant those women were to the patrimony of the Giacomo Oddero family.

Luigia Oddero, nonna of Giacomo Oddero of Poderi e Cantina Oddero in S. Maria La Morra.
Luigia Oddero, nonna of Giacomo Oddero of Poderi e Cantina Oddero in S. Maria La Morra.

After you read “Labor of Love,” I know you’ll be inspired to visit Monchiero Carbone in Canale in Roero. As you sit in the tasting room sipping their luscious wines, you’ll notice on the wall the black and white photo of Clotilde Valente Raimondo, known as Tilde, the woman who created the legacy of the wine you will enjoy there possible. The black, kind eyes of the petite woman will enchant you. You’ll want to ask about her daughter Francesca (Cesca). If you meet Cesca’s great-granddaughter Lucia Monchiero, you’ll be meeting the future of the winery.

Clotilde Valente Raimondo, grandmother of Marco Monchiero of Monchiero-Carbone.
Clotilde Valente Raimondo, grandmother of Marco Monchiero of Monchiero-Carbone.

In Barbaresco, you’ll discover a woman you may of heard of before – Clotilde Rey – because her name and that of her great-granddaughter Gaia were merged to create the brand name of the legendary winery’s Langhe Chardonnay – Gaia & Rey. But did you know about her crucial roll in her father-in-law Giovanni Gaja’s legacy? Clotilde died long before I set foot in Piemonte, but I can’t help but believe that to meet Gaia Gaja is to meet Clotilde Rey such is her great-granddaughter’s brilliance and drive.

On the ridge in Tre Stelle in Barbaresco you’ll find Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose. There’s a strong, formidable woman in her family whose story is known to so few, but whose life touched so many, particularly during the dark, brutal days of the German Occupation between September 1943 and May 1945. You can find the name of Beatrice Rizzolio inscribed on the wall of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Beatrice Rizzolio, Righteous Among the Nations and nonna of Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose.
Beatrice Rizzolio, Righteous Among the Nations and nonna of Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose.
Wall with inscription of Beatrice Rizzolio at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Wall with inscription of Beatrice Rizzolio at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.


These are but a few of the women from the 23 different families that you’ll meet if you follow me on my labor of love. Sadly, these grandmothers across the generations are no longer here for me to interview, but their families have brought them alive for me and by extension for you. What a delight and an honor it has been to get to know them and have the opportunity to be their storyteller.

“Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte” anticipated release date is June 2016.