They are famous for making incredible wine and keeping cherished traditions alive in a world that so desperately needs reality.
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.
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.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON UNDER DISCOVERED PRODUCTIONS LLC AND UNDER DISCOVERED: PIEMONTE, CONTACT SUZANNE HOFFMAN AT firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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 book, Labor 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Cocchi, G.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!
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.
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!
But despite not having the photo, I did get to write the story the photo tells thanks to Chiara’s generosity with her time and memories.
Here’s an excerpt about the connection between the Franco Boschis and the historic Borgogno families, and how it came to be, from Chapter 2 — Boschis — of Labor of Love. (Note: WordPress has it’s own mind about hyphenation. Not as it was originally in the book).
But first, to provide readers with a roadmap of the family — an idea of my editor, Elatia Harris, and something lovers of the stories repeatedly thank me for — the genealogy of the Boschis family.
I had already discovered it was impossible to talk about recent history in Piemonte without World War II figuring large. In 1943, before the German occupation of Piemonte, Chiara’s mother, Ida Chiavassa, bicycled from her home in Bra, south across the Tanaro River, to Barolo to visit her paternal aunt, Maria Chiavassa Borgogno, the wife of the winemaker Cesare Borgogno. As she proceeded along the journey, with steep inclines and twisting roads, the closer she got to her aunt and uncle’s estate, the angrier she became. It was common in those days for young girls to help wealthy relatives in their homes. The 16-year-old was not at all happy about the prospects of leaving her home, her sisters, her friends, and, most of all, her first love. Little did Ida know, the long bike ride led to something much more enduring than long hours of work and loneliness.
After the Germans occupied Piemonte, the Allies began to bomb the region. Travel across the Tanaro River became dangerous, so Ida remained in Barolo. And she never returned to Bra, not for good. Shortly after Ida arrived, a young man who had experienced his own disappoint-ments in life began working for the Borgognos. The times were tough economically and had dashed Franco Boschis’s dream of oenological school. He had to go to work. Fate took him to Borgogno.
Franco was delighted to see someone his age at the winery, particularly a pretty young woman. Ida, still fuming about her fate, paid no attention to the handsome young man. But as time passed, and more men left for war, then to the cities afterward, they became friends. In time, a romance blossomed and Ida and Franco married. Chiara told me, “My football-playing father claims it was his ‘nice legs’ that she first noticed.” Whatever it was, as soon as Ida turned her back on Bra, a future in Barolo materialized. That future involved wine and a daughter who would become world-renowned for her oenological prowess.
Ida’s uncle Cesare was the seventh generation of the Borgogno family to own and operate the historic winery, founded in 1761, on the outskirts of Barolo. Cesare’s acquisition of the winery deviated from the usual patriarchal inheritance, with the firstborn male inheriting the family’s property. Born in 1900, Cesare was the youngest child and third son of Giacomo and Giulia Borgogno. In Cesare’s 11th year of life, his father died. His elder brothers lacked interest in the wine business, but one of them helped his mother run the winery until Cesare assumed its management nine years later. His wife, Ida’s aunt, and Chiara’s great aunt, Maria Chiavassa Borgogno, took the traditional women’s task of working behind the scenes in the winery.
Chiara then told me a story that defined her uncle. I was riveted to learn about Cesare Borgogno and his 1935 vintage Barolo. In 1944, during the occupation, the Germans and their equally brutal Fascist allies terrorized — I use the word advisedly — the population of Piemonte. On June 30, 1944, three trucks filled with German soldiers lost their way to Bra. They mistakenly took the road to Barolo and stopped near the Borgogno estate. A group of partisan resistance fighters spotted the trucks, shot at and wounded several German soldiers, and vanished into the countryside. The Germans retreated, but only after driving into Barolo to open fire on the castle and on homes throughout the village. Fortunately, the locals had run for cover.
Two days later in a convoy of trucks and armored cars, the Germans returned and charged the Borgogno family with complicity in the partisans’ attack. It took them very little time to root out the entire 1935 vintage — 240 large wooden crates of 50 bottles each, cached mostly at Cantina Canonica. Only one crate was hidden at the Borgogno estate.
It was well known that throughout occupied wine regions across Europe, German soldiers would plant evidence in cellars as a pretext for confiscating wine as spoils of war. The Germans claimed to have found a gun in the cellar of the Borgogno winery and helped them-selves to copious amount of Barolo, breaking everyone’s heart at the mistreatment of so precious a wine. The entire vintage went to Turin with the Germans.
Accompanied by the pastor of the Catholic Church in Barolo, Cesare left for Turin, the German headquarters, in hopes of retrieving his wine. On the way to the city, Cesare and the priest stopped at the Lancia automobile factory in Chivasso to enlist the help of a former client of Cesare’s. Wine lover Giorgio Eggstein was no Nazi, but he held a position of authority in the German army. Eggstein accompanied the priest and winemaker to Turin. While there, Cesare encountered young male prisoners from Barolo accused of being partisans and destined for German work camps. It was a fate tanta-mount to a death sentence. Believing Cesare had come to their rescue, the prisoners rejoiced. But Cesare had come to save wine, not people. The commandant declared the wines were confiscated as spoils of war, not stolen booty as Cesare claimed. He offered Cesare a solution.
He would impose a tax on all of Barolo’s inhabitants in exchange for the wines. Cesare refused. Instead, rising to the full implications of the crisis, he bargained for the prisoners in exchange for the wine. The commandant agreed. An entire vintage in return for a few young lives — Cesare saw the right thing to do, and did it.
Cancer robbed Barolo of Cesare Borgogno in 1968. His marriage to Maria Chiavassa produced no male heirs, so Maria and Cesare’s niece Ida, and her husband, Franco Boschis, assumed control of the winery, continuing the Borgogno family ownership. Over time, Franco and Ida’s sons Cesare and Giorgio joined their parents at Borgogno. The Boschis family eventually bought out the other ownership interests in the winery and began much-needed improvements to compete with the burgeoning number of new Barolo wineries. In 2008, Franco and Ida sold Borgogno to the epicurean entrepreneur Oscar Farinetti and his son, Francesco, ending generations of family ownership. The famed winery would endure, but in the hands of another family.
Meanwhile, Chiara Boschis had come of age.
Personally inscribed and signed copies of my award-winning book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, that explores the life and times of 22 Piemontese wine families can be found on this website. The book is also available on Amazon.
Much has happened in Piemonte in the two intervening years since I sent the last edits of Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonteinto 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vail Symposium goes beyond the bottle
with the Chiara Boschis
Suzanne Hoffman, author of award-winning “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte,” will moderate the event
VAIL, Colo. – June 30, 2017 – There are few liquids more complex than wine. Each bottle of wine is unique, reflecting the terroir in which it was grown, the process in which it was made and the people who watched over it every step of the way. On Tuesday, July 11, guests will be able to go beyond the story that is told on the wine label and hear, firsthand, from Chiara Boschis, one of the Piemonte’s region’s most fascinating winemakers.
Barolo winemaker Chiara Boschis’ family history is as deep and rich as the soil in which her grapes grow. It includes a riveting story involving the German occupation of Piemonte, Italy during World War II and, later, the exchange of young prisoners from Barolo for an entire vintage of a precious wine.
Suzanne Hoffman, author of award-winning Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, has come to know Boschis well through the writing of her book and her visits to the region. As Hoffman leads the conversation, Boschis will talk about the deep history of her family, her winery and her own growth as a farmer, a defender of nature, a winemaker and a daughter. This is a rare opportunity to have a very personalized interaction with one of the leading vintners in the world.
“Personally, I want people to see a real winemaker, a farmer as she delights in saying, not a pop culture version that we see on TV and in magazines,” Hoffman said. “I want people to hear directly from this vibrant, passionate woman what it takes to balance the demands of the global wine market, which means traveling frequently and also welcoming clients to Barolo; the day-to-day operations of the winery cellar and the vineyards and the job she loves the most, caring for her 90-year-old father, revered Barolo vintner, Franco Boschis.”
Boschis is widely recognized as one of the first women producers in Barolo, although she comes from eight generations of winemakers. In 1981, the Boschis family acquired the E. Pira e Figli estate, occupying some of the most prestigious land in Barolo. In 1990, Chiara Boschis took over the operation on her own, bringing dedication, charm, patience and determination to every aspect of production in order to raise the quality and image of the winery to that which it enjoys today. In 2010, her younger brother Giorgio joined her, contributing a wealth of experience both in the vineyards as well as in the cellar.
“My goal is to introduce Chiara through my Q&A with her, but then to open up the floor for questions from the audience,” Hoffman said. “She can talk the legs off a coffee table — people hang on to every word she says — and she will love interacting with the audience. People will not want this to end. I also want people to leave with a deep appreciation of the hard work and manual labor that goes into producing a bottle of wine.”
As a winemaker, Boschis is a master of balance, crafting finessed and sophisticated wines that are some of the most aromatically dynamic expressions of Barolo today. But she is a farmer first, dedicating herself to the philosophy that quality begins in the vineyard where her impact on the environment is greatest.
“This program provides a wonderful opportunity for our community to get up close and personal with Chiara and hear her story,” said Kris Sabel, executive director of the Vail Symposium. “So often these events are wine tasting dinners which, while satisfying, can be quite expensive and focus more on the individual wines and food pairings than on the personal story of the winemaker, her love of the land and history of the people who have been creating amazing wine for centuries.”
The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and feature a reception where attendees can purchase and sample Boschis’s wine. After the program, Boschis and Hoffman will be signing copies of Hoffman’s award-winning book, “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte” will be on sale at a special price of $48 (regular retail price is $55) plus tax with $5 of every purchase benefitting the Vail Symposium.
If you go…
What: Beyond the Bottle
With: Barolo winemaker Chiara Boschis; moderated by Suzanne Hoffman, author of “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte”
Cost: $25 online before 2 p.m. on the day of the event, $35 at the door, $10 students and teachers
More info: Visit www.VailSymposium.orgor call 970.476.0954 to register. Attendees should utilize public parking structures. Summer parking is free in the Vail and Lionshead parking structures.
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About Vail Symposium
Over the past 45 years, the Vail Symposium has touched thousands of lives with its rich and varied history. Created in 1971, the Symposium was conceived by community leaders to create ideas and goals, attracting not only the majority of townsfolk but also policy shapers from across the state and nation. Throughout the years we have diversified and expanded our scope with a dedication to education and cultural programs which provide lifelong learning opportunities for everyone who lives in or visits our community. The Vail Symposium is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Media Contact: Katie Coakley
Reading Jill Barth’s delightful post about G. D. Vajra in Barolo made me home-away-from-home-sick for Piemonte. It’s a common experience for me, particularly when I recall the vivid image of Francesca Vaira bathed in the ethereal blue light the stained glass windows create as she describes to visitors the alchemy of fermentation that occurs in the room each autumn. Franciscan priest Fr. Costantino Ruggeri’s spectacular stained glass windows at G. D. Vajra complement the art that is the Vaira family’s wine.
No visit to the Vairas’ winery is complete without a walk through the tank room, with its towering stainless steel tanks where fermentation occurs, and the 26-foot-high stained glass windows the late Catholic priest and renowned artist, Father Costantino Ruggeri(1925-2007) created for his close friends, the Vairas. The tall, narrow windows with glass of varying shades of blue and splashes of other bright colors create a spiritual feeling inside the otherwise utilitarian space. The room is bathed in an azure blue light during the day, leaving no question that spirituality, faith, and a respect for nature and its Creator dominate the philosophy of this family in all they do. Everyone who works inside the room values the natural light from outside that creates the soothing blue hue reminiscent of bluebird skies on a clear autumn day. I’m told Aldo and Milena began dreaming of the stained glass windows in 1985. When asked why they installed these precious works of art in the winery, Aldo’s answer summed up the family’s philosophy of life and work. He said, “We always felt deeply that wine is a message of beauty and we would like all details, all actions, and all spaces of our work to resonate this beauty.” Aldo said that during the harvest, when so much work is done in the room through the night, the light from inside floods the exterior area in the same blue light workers inside enjoy during the day. In a later conversation, Francesca Vaira said, “The windows show a connection between the vineyards where the grapes grow and the room where they are transformed into wine.” I love that room and visit it often, albeit usually in my mind.
A visit to G. D. Vajra in Vergne, a tiny frazione of Barolo perched above the iconic wine village, provides nourishment for the soul as well as the senses thanks in large part to Padre Costantino’s magnificant windows. Come for the wine, stay for the art.
It has certainly been a momentus year for Barolo with the sale of a historic winery in Castiglione Falletto to an American businessman. Yes, it was definitely their choice to sell and no doubt a painful decision to make. For the good of the region and the selling family, we wish them all well.
But as the year winds down and rumors of a more painful sale of another Barolo family-owned winery — one not in my book! — fly everywhere, I opened Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonteto read again, and find reassurance in, the passionate words of Elisa Scavino of Azienda Viticola Paolo Scavino when I asked her about the possibility of the “Tuscanization” of Piemonte. Hers was not a unique answer to this question I asked of many families.
So, will iconic Barolo wineries remain in the hands of the Piemontese or end up owned by faceless, souless foreign corporations? No one really knows. The economy and financial considerations may be what dictate the future. What I do know is that I am even more dedicated to hearing the wine families’ stories and committing them to paper for all to read in years to come. Their history must not be forgotten.
Post Script (12/5/16): As the rumors of a seismic sale swirl around the hills of Barolo, it has become painfully apparent that the low birth rate in Italy (and all of Europe) could be the catalyst for sales now and in the future. If readers look at the genealogies of each of the 22 families in my book, they will see an unmistakeable thinning of generations over time, the reasons for which are many.
Of course, it only takes one to carry the estate forward into the next generation. However, when there are so few offspring — as we’ve seen in so many of wine families across Italy — the future of the estate as a family owned and operated entity relies on a near 100% occurance of the same passion to perpetuate the patrimony in future generations.
I’m optimistic that will be the case with the current generation of wine family women of Piemonte. Beyond the horizon, it’s anyone’s guess.
Friday, September 16, 2016, is the 90th birthday of one the wine world’s most precious gems, Giacomo Oddero, beloved patriarch of Barolo’s Poderi e Cantine Oddero. He served as a great inspiration for me as wrote Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte. No doubt in his many years as a revered wine industry leader he has inspired many others.
I will be forever grateful to Giacomo Oddero, his daughters Maria Vittoria and Mariacristina, and granddaughter, Isabella, for the more than three hours they spent with me in May 2015, as they wove the story of the Oddero family through the centuries, and the many months of follow-up that lead to their chapter.
It was for Giacomo and his family, and all the other families who made Piemonte’s wine culture one of the greatest in the world that I wrote Labor of Love. Therefore, in honor of Giacomo and of his late wife, Carla, I am posting an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my book. Those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him will gain some knowledge of the man, his region, and the women in his life. Those of you who do know Giacomo will no doubt smile and thank God such a man has walked the planet for so long.
Here’s to many more wonderful years of life to Giacomo Oddero!
Carla Scanavino Oddero (1927–2003)
In the early 20th century, education was still not commonplace in the countryside, but Maria insisted her sons Giacomo and Luigi attend school in Alba. Luigi chose oenology at the famous Scuola di Enologica. Giacomo chose a classical education at the Liceo Classico, then studied chemistry and pharmacology at the University of Turin. To this day, Giacomo is known fondly for frequently quoting Shakespeare and the classics. His favorite writer is Alessandro Manzoni, the beloved 19th-century author of I Promessi Sposi, the most famous Italian novel of all time.
Cancer took Giovanni Oddero in 1951. Maria and her two sons continued to run the winery as Europe entered into a postwar era for the second time in less than 50 years. This time, unlike the decades when the Fascists ruled after World War I, the economy prospered. Giacomo remained heavily involved with the family business, marketing the wines and beginning his political activities. Luigi ran the vineyards and cellar. Together, they expanded their land holdings primarily in La Morra as they acquired coveted vineyards in the Barolo villages of Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, and Monforte d’Alba with help from yet another strong Oddero woman.
During their high school studies at the Liceo Classico of Alba, Giacomo met Carla Scanavino. Their shared interests brought them together and on the 19th of April 1953, they married. Carla, who died in 2003, was a determined woman with a brilliant mind, one of the first women of Alba to graduate from university. Carla had become a pharmacist in Alba, eventually buying the pharmacy where she worked. That clever acquisition led to many more crucial land acquisitions for the family when, through Carla’s hard work, the pharmacy became the funding mechanism of Oddero’s expansion. Her earnings funded an expanded cellar and acquisitions of more important crus that positioned the company for greatness.
Giacomo called the purchases of the most historically important and prestigious vineyards in the region Carla helped secure, “the greatest satisfaction I had in my life as a wine grower.” A particularly fond memory was their acquisition of the Vigna Rionda in Serralunga and Rocche di Castiglione vineyards. “I remember I went into the vineyards at night, all alone, to admire the land I had just bought, with no other light than the moonlight,” he recalled. “I was full of gratitude for the efforts we all made to put aside the money to buy these amazing pieces of land.”
Despite financing the real estate expansion, Carla’s name does not appear on any official ownership documents. It just wasn’t done in those days. The end of patriarchal inheritance, giving women full rights, did not occur until 1975. She is, however, very much a part of the winery’s story. “Our holdings today are only possible because of my grandmother,” Isabella explained. “Our riches happened after World War II as the result of Carla, Giacomo, and Luigi,” she said. Isabella is frustrated that despite her grandmother’s significant contributions in the expansion of Oddero winery, no one outside the family knows it. It’s the unsung heroines — like Luigia, Maria, and Carla — who inspired me to be their families’ scribe. It’s a pity the three women didn’t live to see their granddaughters, Cristina and Isabella, become internationally acclaimed winemakers. One thing is certain — their granddaughters and other wine women of the present generation know that without the courage, financial savvy, and wisdom of these long-departed women, their lives would be quite different today. Here in the Langhe, the women of the past will never be forgotten.
Giacomo Oddero (1926)
The Oddero story is not only one of strong women whose boldness and wisdom made their families prosper, but one of its male heroes, too. Giacomo Oddero is among them. Everyone familiar with Italian wine is familiar with the classification system, particularly the acronyms “DOC” and “DOCG.” What isn’t as well known is Giacomo Oddero’s contribution to this system created to protect the integrity and quality of Italian wines. His intimate involvement in the landmark legislation was a moment of great personal satisfaction for him and great pride for the family.
In explaining to me the need for the classification system, Giacomo divided Piemonte’s post–World War II years into two phases. In the first phase, immediately after the war, people fled the countryside’s poverty for cities where industrialization took hold. Fiat, the car manufacturer in Turin, and Ferrero, the producer of heavenly chocolate confections in Alba, were two of the industrial magnets that drew many from the agrarian life their families had lived for generations. Giacomo Oddero and his younger brother Luigi were among the Piemontesi who possessed foresight about the area’s potential and remained in the Langhe.
At the time, wine production was mostly unregulated, leading to a crisis of confidence in the region’s most precious commodity, one that held the key to its economic viability. As the postwar economy improved, focus shifted to quality for both producers and consumers. From the implementation of a system that assured quality standards, farmers finally could benefit more from the results of their work. Slowly, step-by-step, they built a better life.
Giacomo Oddero and other “historical producers” including Giovanni Gaja from Barbaresco and Giovan Battista Rinaldi from Barolo were champions of quality and the integrity of their denomination’s wines. Before Giacomo began his five-year tenure as mayor of La Morra in 1965, he advocated for the adoption of laws to protect the Italian wine industry’s integrity, specifically Barolo. For nearly two years, Giacomo met with farmers most nights to explain the system’s importance to their industry. The farmers were concerned that it meant only more bureaucracy, but Giacomo convinced them that the proposed quality assurance laws meant protection for themselves and their consumers.
In 1963, Law 930 was enacted, creating the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC, or controlled designation of origin) system of strict rules governing the production of classified wines. That was a significant milestone in the history of the Italian wine industry, but it took several decades for the specific regulations for each DOC wine to be written. As the Cuneo and Asti regions’ vintner representative, Giacomo made frequent trips to Rome to meet with the Ministry of Agriculture, helping to craft the language of the new classification law as it pertained to Barolo.
By the early 1980s, industry leaders and government officials recognized the need for another, higher level of classification, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG, or controlled and guaranteed designation of origin). After producing a wine as a DOC wine for 10 years, producers could now apply for the DOCG, elevating the status of the wine with that one additional word “guaranteed.” Although some believe there are now too many DOCG wines, the philosophy is sound and its implementation was crucial in cementing Piemonte’s place on the world stage. From 1976 until 1992, Giacomo was president of the Cuneo Chamber of Commerce. During that time, he continued to help write specific regulations for other DOC wines of the region while continuing to champion quality and integrity in Barolo.
Giacomo is very proud of the system he helped create, ushering in what he calls the second postwar phase. He believes that the system built trust and halted the exodus of families and workers from the land. Farmers began returning to the hills, and the tide turned. Farmers who used to sell their grapes to negotiants, who in turn sold them to wineries, began producing wine under their own labels. This enabled them to send their kids to oenology school and travel the world to market their wines. “It was extremely important to the success of the region,” Giacomo said.
In 1985, Giacomo and other Langhe producers presented their wines for the first time at a wine expo in New York City. Giacomo laughed at how the French producers arrived with the French Minister of Agriculture on the Concorde, with the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” playing as they deplaned, while the Barolo producers had to scramble for posters of Verdi’s Aida to decorate their exposition. Although none of them spoke English, they succeeded in orchestrating a successful introduction of Barolo to the wine world, with Giacomo Oddero as a conductor. Beautiful wine like Barolo transcends language barriers. For Giacomo and many of his fellow Barolo vintners, it would be daughters, not sons, who would follow in their footsteps.
Oddero Women Crafting the Future
Cristina sees a bright future for Oddero and for the region. Looking back on the difficult years, the much-loved and respected Cristina Oddero reflected, “I feel good when I think about what I achieved after so many years of disagreements and difficulties I encountered on my way when I first approached business.” And her father is also happy to see his family strong, thanks to the indomitable spirit of its women. The winery will no doubt prosper under Cristina’s stewardship. She has the blood of Luigia, Maria, and Carla coursing through her veins.
Giacomo shared his thoughts about the ascendance of women in the wine industry. His wise, soulful words beautifully captured all that I witnessed over my years in Piemonte, watching the transition from a male-dominated wine culture to one inclusive of Piemonte’s strong women. Giacomo is happy to see so many talented women working together with their fathers as they prepare to one day inherit their family’s wineries. “The relationship between women and the Langhe wine industry is a brand-new typology of relations. This is a more deliberate way of working, with greater sensitivity and better attention to details. And small details make huge differences when talking about wine. Wine needs to be treated gently and with patience. These are characteristics inside women’s nature.” Long before Giacomo Oddero was born, women helped secure the future of his family. The inspiration and guidance born of his own mother’s character that he gave his daughters and grandchildren created a strong bridge to the future for the women and men who now follow him.
With 16 days left in myKICKSTARTER project, I thought today would be a great time for a sneak peek at this blessed vintner who is just a miracle or two away from sainthood.
The Last Marchesa of Barolo GIULIA COLBERT FALLETTI
With the reluctant permission of her husband and father, Giulia began to visit the prison frequently. The abuse she endured transformed into trust as Giulia befriended many women prisoners and led them to Christianity. Giulia traveled to England and across Europe to study the prison reforms that were under way. But it was not enough for Giulia to improve the hygiene and living conditions of the incarcerated women. She saw a dire need to provide the women with skills they needed to be able to contribute to society upon their release.
Giulia believed the cycle of poverty and sin these women endured had to be broken. She established a school for girls and women of all means to learn to sew and keep house. Giulia and Tancredi converted part of the ground floor of their grand Turin home into a kindergarten where working poor parents could leave their children in a safe environment to learn while they worked. Both within Turin and outside its gates, Giulia spread the love and money she could not lavish on her own children to those in need. By day, the ground floor of the Palazzo Barolo was a refuge and a place of hope for the needy, but when night fell, minds met above in Giulia’s salon.
In 1825, King Carlo Felice named Tancredi, who was then a state counselor, mayor of Turin. Tancredi’s piety and compassion for the poor and dispossessed that he shared with Giulia influenced his four-year tenure as mayor, during which time he pursued groundbreaking changes in Piemonte’s capital city. During the frigid winter of 1825 – 1826, Tancredi distributed bread and firewood to the poor. He established a bank for small savings and a free school for arts and artisanal crafts, paved roads, beautified the city with gardens and fountains, and pursued other projects to improve public hygiene and the well-being of Turin’s citizens.
Tancredi, like Giulia, was not content to provide the means for their charitable works. They were hands-on philanthropists. During the cholera outbreak of 1835, Tancredi fell seriously ill while caring for patients housed on the ground floor of the Palazzo Barolo. Three years later, upon the advice of her husband’s doctors, Giulia took Tancredi to the Veneto, where they believed the alpine air would aid his recovery. Tancredi fell seriously ill in Verona, so Giulia began the long trip home to Turin to arrange treatment for her husband. Alas, Tancredi never saw his beloved Turin again. On September 4, 1838, in Chiara, near Brescia in Lombardy, the last Marchese of the noble Falletti family of Barolo died in his wife’s arms.
Author’s note: I have Chiara Boschis of E. Pira e Figli to thank for the “introduction” to Giulia Falletti and Pierangelo Vacchetto for sharing his vast knowledge of Barolo’s history and the village’s beloved last Marchesa. Their contributions to my book – and my life – are precious to me.
I’m so humbled by the outpouring of support for my Kickstarter campaign to raise $13,000 to fund the second printing of my book Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte.
Loyal friends and readers helped me pass 50% of my goal today with 18 days left to go of the 30-day all-or-none funding campaign.
Since I am offering the book as a reward, there are many opportunities to obtain it with free shipping (in the United States and special book rate shipping within Italy) and discounts for multiple books (rewards of 2, 4, and 6 books are available). There are also some exciting, unique opportunities for Piemonte wine family experiences and a ski day with the author in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Giacomo’s grandmother, Luigia Borgna Oddero, was the wellspring of the family’s current landholdings, not through a landed dowry but through her savvy financial transactions. Giacomo described her as an “entrepreneurial spirit, a strong and smart woman with a tough character.” Luigia was born in nearby Albaretto della Torre in 1854. School attendance was not compulsory at the time, and literacy was almost unattainable for women, but Luigia’s enlightened parents paid for her reading and writing lessons. Their unconventional decision set the stage for their daughter to become a key figure in the Oddero lineage.
Following her marriage into the Oddero family, Luigia began purchasing vineyards while still in her 20s. Giacomo recalled that Luigia “lived her life with a lot of debts.” She would save money. She would buy more land. Luigia repeated the cycle many times from the 1870s until her death in 1943. In the late 1800s, Jewish families from Cherasco to the north, who owned most of the land below La Morra near the Oddero home, decided to begin selling their land. They sought buyers who could demonstrate an ability to care for vineyards, and Luigia convinced them to sell to Oddero. Over the closing decades of the 19th century, Luigia began acquiring parcels from these Cherasco families, securing important vineyards for the family business, including the highly regarded Bricco Chiesa cru. Giacomo credits his grandmother with vision and courage. “We must be thankful to Luigia for the land she acquired,” he said. His daughters and granddaughter nodded their heads in accord. It was a solemn moment of deep recognition for a pioneering ancestor.
Luigia possessed not only the financial competence to expand the family’s holdings at a crucial time when land was obtainable, but the instinct for an innovative collaboration with her husband’s uncle, Luigi Oddero. The “almost priest,” as the Oddero family refers to Luigi, studied at seminary and suffered a personal crisis before he could take his final vows. What that crisis was, Giacomo didn’t say. Luigi returned home to his enraged father, who forced him to work in the vineyards as punishment for not finishing his studies. After one week, Luigi threw down his shovel.
Want to know the rest of the story? Pre-order your signed, first limited edition copy of “Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte” from my Kickstarter campaign today! Kickstarting my labor of love just one click away at: