I began my journey to write “A Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte” when I discovered riveting stories about the courageous women of Piemonte. The first stories I heard were about Beatrice Rizzolio, grandmother of Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose. The courageous, brilliant woman is memorialized as a “savior” at Yad Vashem. Her designation as one of the Righteous Among the Nations came in 1975 in Rome for recognition of her courage in saving Jews during the Nazi occupation of Piemonte after the Italian armistice with the Allies on September 8, 1943.
Much is known about the courageous acts of women who fought as women partisans against the Nazis and fascisti. But what of the simple farmers who risked their lives and possessions to give aid and succor to the partisans? Little is known about them except for the stories families tell to each other and, occasionally, to an outsider like me.
One story of a courageous couple – Leone and Cornelia (Elia) Cigliuti – came to me through their granddaughter Claudia Cigliuti. The winemaking Cigliuti family has lived for centuries on the Bricco di Neive.
The Cigliuti family’s west-facing vineyards on the Bricco di Neive
The bucolic vineyard-carpeted hill was once a hotspot of Autonomi partisan activity during the Nazi occupation between September 1943 and the end of the war in May 1945.
Sympathetic to the partisans, many farming families provided the partisans with shelter and food. This placed them in grave danger. Retribution for adding partisans was swift and brutal. But the courageous Piemontese defied the occupiers and women like Elia Cigliuti were important civilian soldiers through their resistance.
One could say Elia owed her life to chickens. One day when Elia was outside her house, she saw a group of men walking up the road next to the family’s home. Knowing Fascist soldiers were nearby and thinking the men were partisans, she waved her arms and began to shout, “Go away! Go away!” Sadly, they were not partisans.
The Fascists ran to her, threatening her life as they demanded to know who she was trying to warn. With guns aimed at her and her life in the balance, the quick-thinking Elia pointed to the chickens in the vineyard. “I was shooing away the chickens so they wouldn’t eat the grapes!” she insisted. It wasn’t an easy sell.
Eventually, Elia convinced the gun-wielding soldiers the chickens were to blame for her shouting and nothing more. Truth is, chickens are just fine in vineyards and are considered valuable “vineyard workers” since they aerate the soil, eat insects and leave behind nitrogen rich “fertilizer.” Thanks, however, to the Cigliutis’ chickens that were in the right place at the right time, and to a lack of viticultural knowledge amongst the menacing fascists, Elia lived.
No doubt stories like this abound. Unfortunately, they will fade from history unless shared. Hopefully, more wine families of the Langhe and Roero where partisan activity was fierce will commit to paper the stories of their ancestors’ aid for the cause of liberty.
The bucolic Serraboella vineyard was the scene of fierce battles between partisans and fascists between 1943 – 1945.
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Suzanne's blog post was originally published on her own site Wine Families of the World and is republished on Wine Pass with her permission.
After over two decades in Switzerland, my husband Dani and I returned to America, settling in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. But my heart was still in the vineyards of Piemonte, Italy and Valais, Switzerland. In 2012, I turned a page in my life story, giving up my life as an attorney. In my newest – and happiest – chapter of my life, I revel in capturing the human stories of food, wine and travel as an entrepreneurial writer. Wine families are my passion. It’s their stories of triumph and heartbreak that often span centuries I want most to tell to entice readers to meet them, travel their regions and enjoy their bewitching wines.