Tag Archives: Treiso

Passing of Ca’ del Baio’s Beloved Patriarch

Ernesto Grasso – 1922 – 2014

Fiorentina and Ernesto Grasso
Fiorentina and Ernesto Grasso

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

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

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

The Legacy of Ca’ del Baio

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

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

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

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

The Future is Secure

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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


Ca’ del Baio

Ca’ del Baio

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

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

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

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

Carlo Deltetto and Paola Grasso
Carlo Deltetto and Paola Grasso

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

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

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

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

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

Valgrande vineyards
Valgrande vineyards

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


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

Winery tours:
By appointment only.  

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

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

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

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



On a roll!  Four covers in a row! On to Finanziera, an historic Piemontese dish.

The second part of my two part article on Chef Memo Field Melendez of Profumo di Vino in Treiso appeared on the cover of today’s Highlife section of the Vail Daily.  After I submitted the article, I ran across an interesting history of finanziera – there are many!  I didn’t want to burn up my word budget on it in the article since this dish deserves an article of its own, so I didn’t delve into it.  But it’s so interesting I had to post it:

“Yet the poverty and inventive genius of peasant have also given rise to one of Piemonte’s most aristocratic modern-day dishes: finanziera.

Photo of FInanziera from the cookbook of restaurant Il Centro di Priocca.
Photo of FInanziera from the cookbook of restaurant Il Centro di Priocca.
Photo of Finanziera (specifically the cock's comb) from the book "Piemonte: A Vai Dei Saponi."
Photo of Finanziera (specifically the cock’s comb) from the book “Piemonte: A Via Dei Sapori.”

Sandro Doglio reckons the recipe was created to use of the bits when cocks were castrated to become capons.  Capons were of course raised and fattened for the lord of the manor or to sell at the market. But to the crests and the barbels of the poor birds and the organs cut off to reduce their masculinity – all parts of no commercial value – peasant women learnt to add a few drops of sour wine to make a tasty steve, which they thickened with a pinch of flour.  Some sources claim that this stew – the so-called finanziera – was a sort of tribute paid by peasants going to Turin market to sell their poultry.  To have a free passage into the city, they bribed the customs guards, or finanzieri, with giblets (livers, hearts, gizzards, testicles, crests and barbels).  And with these bits and pieces, the wives of the customs officers would prepare one of the region’s greatest dishes, an example of imagination, genius and astuteness combined.” 

– from “The Rhythms of the Langhe,” Mario Busso, Carlo Vischi, page 35

Perhaps the fact that finanziera is listed under “Regalie” (meaning, gifts) in some of the cookbooks I’ve seen gives credence to this conjecture about the origins of this innards stew.

This is one of my favorite books about the region.  Full of wonderful folk lore, great recipes, history and stunning photos of the region.  It can be obtained in the States.  I bought a second copy recently on Amazon.com after losing track of my copy that I repeatedly leant to friends and oenophiles.   Still wish it would find its way home along with my copy of the “Atlas of the Langhe.”

Two other wonderful Piemontese cookbooks (in Italian) where you’ll find finanziera recipes are:

Piemonte: La Via Dei Saponi by Mario Busso and Carlo Vischi
Piemonte: La Via Dei Sapori by Mario Busso and Carlo Vischi


Cookbook of "Il Centro di Priocca" restaurant
Cookbook of “Il Centro di Priocca” restaurant
Attributions for "Il Centro di Priocca"
Attributions for “Il Centro di Priocca”

Obviously, Mario Busso gets around quite a bit!  All three of these books are a must if you are a true blue Piemonte-phile!

If you haven’t had a chance to read the two articles about Chef Memo and his wonderful restaurant in Treiso – where you can usually find finanziera in winter – here are the links.  Feel free to “recommend” them!

Part 1 – Planting Mexican Culinary Roots in Italy

Part 2 – No Longer a Stranger in a Strange Land

Ci vediamo, tutti!

And we’re off!

With the best intentions to write everyday, I set up my blog. Unfortunately, the umbilical cord that keeps the lifeblood of our internet addiction flowing – wifi – has been unreliable.

I arrived in Geneva mid-afternoon on Tuesday, March 19th, after a long journey from Denver to Washington D.C. onward to Frankfurt – now there’s a marathon of a flight connection! – and finally Geneva.  It was my intention to jump into the rental car and drive either to Chamonix or Courmayeur since I didn’t believe for a moment I could survive the long drive – particularly through Torino – after such a long plane trip.  But the weather was so beautiful and the roads fairly empty that when I popped out of the Mont Blanc Tunnel at 4:30 in the afternoon, I kept going.  And yes, it is possible to drive for four and a half hours without radio, CD or MP3!

Snow had fallen in the Alps the night before, treating me to stunning views of trees covered with fresh snow and soaring alabaster peaks against a bluebird sky.  I’ve seen Mont Blanc from nearly every angle, including once from a low-level flight in Swiss International Airline’s brand new A340 on a journalist’s junket, but never quite so unforgettable as this.

Anyone who lived in Europe when the 7-mile long, two-lane tunnel was transformed into an inferno the morning of March 24, 1999, can’t possibly enter the tunnel without a little uneasiness.  I can’t.  This was the part I worried about the most as I drove through the Arve River valley to the tunnel.  If I had felt the least bit tired, which I wasn’t, I would never have taken the risk of entering the tunnel.  Not fair to anyone.  Driving through the Mont Blanc tunnel is one of the few times I witness restraint on the part of Italian and French drivers as they respect the speed limit and the 500 foot distance required – and monitored – between vehicles.

Once out of Valle d’Aosta and into the flatland between mountains and hills, the Alps bordering France and Italy appeared, drenched in the rose-colored light of the setting sun.  Monte Viso, the triangular peak that is the highest in the Cottian Alps, soars above its neighbors.  A solitary soldier, seen from miles away.


The remainder of the long drive was fairly easy, even the rush hour traffic of the frequently maddening tangenziale circling Torino to the west.  The Asti Est (east) exit that used to be a transition from the relative ease of the autostrade to the confusing maze of construction zones and then onto the Asti-Alba road, lined with prostitutes and slowed by gawking truck drivers.  But now, with the autostrade completed between Asti and Alba, the once 30 minute drive is reduced to a quick 10 or 15, depending on how brave one is push the speed limit.  Something Italians generally have no problem with doing!

Arriving in Treiso and finding the Argiturismo Il Bricco beyond the church, high on the bricco (hill), was easy.  So many times before I had driven through the square.  Nothing had changed in the past 14 years except for appearance of the restaurant and bar Profumo di Vino, the successful brainchild of Mexican chef, Guillermo (Memo) Field.

Chef-Restaurateur Memo Field Cloudy Day View of Agriturismo Il Bricco

 Plates of local cheeses and tender, tasty salami with a basket of feather light grissini helped down my throat by the family’s Barbera d’Alba was all I needed.  The 28-hour journey was over, but the adventure was just beginning.

"Snack" at Agriturismo Il Bricco


It will take me a few days to catch up on my writing, but I will.  So much to process after 9 interviews!