A Labor of Love for Piemonte
- Written by Suzanne Hoffman
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- Published in Wine Families
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Many people experience a moment in their lives when they say to themselves, “I should write a book.” Sanity overtakes most of them. In my case, it did not.
Fearing I would soon forget all the special stories Piemontese wine families shared with me since my first trip to the famed northwest Italian wine region 13 years earlier, I began an odyssey in late 2012. The goal of this quest? To commit to paper the stories and images of the wine family women of Piemonte and the transformation of their lives I witnessed. What started out as a seemingly straightforward, even simple, task, evolved into a long journey that has taken me back to Piemonte for interviews and research four times over the past two and a half years.
View of Diano d’Alba from Agriturismo Arcobaleno provides wonderful creative inspiration for writers.
In March 2013, I conducted 40 hours of interviews over 10 days in the Langhe and Roero wine regions of Piemonte. I started and finished with two women who crashed through the region’s centuries-old glass ceiling. Livia Fontana, one of the Barolo denomination’s first women winery proprietors, was my first subject. The tenth and last interview of that trip was Chiara Boschis of E. Pira e Figli, the first woman winemaker in the town of Barolo. In between, I interviewed dynamic women from Matteo Correggia, Cà del Baio, G. D. Vajra and Gaja, to name a few. I thought that was enough. I thought wrong.
Langhe ladies Paola Grasso, Chiara Boschis, Elisa Scavino, Marta Rinaldi and Silvia Altare (left to right) with Maurilio Chiapetto at La Cantinetta in Barolo
Back at my desk in Cordillera a week and 5,333 miles later, I experienced a crisis. It wasn’t enough. As I read my journal and listened to the hours of recorded interviews, I discovered gaping holes in my research. Each question answered spawned more questions. Each person I interviewed suggested I interview at least one other. Another trip was needed.
In June, I travelled again to Piemonte. It was only a five day pit stop between Valais, Switzerland and Tuscany, but I believed five days was enough time to complete my research. It wasn’t.
Two Mays followed, each with over four weeks of interviews and experiences on the ground in Piemonte to fill the pages of my book.
Plaque at Memorial to the Deported at Borgo San Dalmazzo near Cuneo. Courageous Piemontese such as Beatrice Rizzolio, grandmother of Cascina delle Rose’s Giovanna Rizzolio and inspiration for “A Labor of Love", risked their lives to save Jews during World War II.
The Cigliuti family’s Serraboella vineyard on Bricco di Neive was the scene of fierce fighting between partisans and fascists during the Nazi occupation of World War II
Many wonderful experiences dominated this year’s trip, but the most notable was the transhumanza, the centuries old tradition of walking the cows to their summer pastures in the mountains. I completed the final interview at Paola Scavino in Barolo hours before leaving for Castelmagno, a commune in the Cottian Alps along the French-Italian border famous for its luscious cheese. It was fitting that this would be my final stop on this odyssey. I discovered Castelmagno in October 2008. But it was Chiara Boschis, the woman whose inspiration and guidance I’ve relied upon for success, who taught me about the region’s cultural and historic treasures.
Clotilde Valente was a Roero visionary whose early 20th century
vineyard acquisitions set the stage for the success of Monchiero-Carbone in Canale
In June 2013, Chiara took my husband Dani and me to Rifugio Valliera. The occupants of the high alpine hamlet abandoned it in the 1950s, trading the harsh mountain conditions for perceived riches in the cities. In 2007, Des Martin, an “ethical project” consortium to which Chiara belongs, bought half of Valliera. Partnering with another consortium, they began the hamlet’s renaissance. Des Martin’s cheese production began in 2011. On June 14, 2015, the day after their prized cows took up their summer residence in the alpeggio above Valliera, Agriturisimo Des Martin opened.
Dynamic Barolo winemaker Chiara Boschis at the Monastery
of S. Magno in her beloved commune of Castelmagno.
After returning to Colorado, I returned to what I feared would be a tortuous process of writing, but the words flowed. No doubt, I left behind many fascinating stories, but finally the tales of 23 Piemontese wine families came to life in my nascent book in time for mid-2016 publication.
The future has never been brighter for women vintners in Piemonte, as Paola Grasso
of Ca’ del Baio, here with her youngest daughter, Anna Deltetto, can attest.
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.