Women Winemakers in Piemonte

Le donne produttori del vino di Piemonte

It’s no secret that I’m infatuated with Piemonte. But with every infatuation comes the inevitable realization that the thing one loves is not perfect. This leads to a perpetual misunderstanding or an issue that seemingly can never be resolved. If one wants to maintain an enduring and peaceful love, one must learn to truly accept this thing that is not understood. And perhaps if one is lucky, even become intrigued by it.

With my love of Piemonte, my one misunderstanding is women’s role in Piemontese society. Out in the hills of the Langa, Asti, and nearby regions, society is rooted in tradition. There are a lot of good reasons for this as these areas were fairly poor farming communities until just the last 30-40 years. The family unit was and is still valued and respected above most all else. Piemonte has a tumultuous political history as well and the family unit had to be maintained to develop a sense of identity when the outside world was in flux. For me this is an interesting subject since what I come from is not in any sense, traditional. But I feel neither qualified, nor is this the space, to give an analysis of Piemontese society (and women) over the course of the last half century during the global embrace of Barolo and Barbaresco.

Here my subject is women and how I see them fitting into the winemaking scene of Piemonte today. After visiting 50+ wineries in Piemonte over the last six years (and 20+ in other Italian regions), I never discovered one woman in charge of running a winery. Even if I met a woman who had inherited her estate and winery from her father, I saw that her husband was the winemaker and called the shots. I’ve seen women only acting in supporting roles to men in wineries. But they never seem to be the ones making the wine!

Honestly this really pissed me off once I got to thinking about it. What is up with the women of Piemonte? Do none of them question their role in society? Do none of them want to make wine? Did some of them want to but were kept out of the wine world because it was supposed to be for men only? But I quickly realized that my point of view is mine: it is a liberal, feminist, Californian-American one and I come from a broken up family. Not one Piemontese woman grew up learning the same value system I did. They must have their reasons for doing the things they do and it’s not my place to judge. Judging them just makes me more separate from them and that’s no way to understand and love something or someone.

Instead I have learned to take an open-minded approach; I observe and learn and respect people for who they are. I’ve found this to be most rewarding. I don’t know if I will ever truly understand them, but I certainly remain intrigued.

So this year I decided to find out if there are any women who make wine in Piemonte. I knew there had to be some — somewhere! I found three women winemakers in different corners of the Langa and went to visit. I spoke to them about their own histories, experiences, and winemaking philosophies in hopes of learning something new about the women of Piemonte. These are the women I found.

[—Note—as of August 2014, I know I could really do a new version of this article. Since 2011, I have discovered many Piemontese females in prominent roles in their wine industry. I may revisit this subject again, but in the meantime, winefamilies.com is a great resource for related content. A good recent article is the one on Ca’ del Baio.]

Anna Maria Abbona of Anna Maria Abbona, Dogliani (Farigliano)

da martedì, 4 ottobre 2011

Anna Maria Abbona is a woman who has mastered the feminine art of being both warm and friendly while maintaining focus and determination. I saw and respected this in her immediately. Anna Maria’s great grandfather was a grape cultivator and had the dream to own his own land. Her grandfather realized the dream and planted the Maioli vineyard in 1936. Her father furthered the dream by remaining loyal to his family’s land, purchasing more land as he could. Anna Maria faced an important decision in 1989 when her father told her he was planning to uproot some old vineyards. She decided to preserve the historical vineyards and she and her husband moved back to her land and dedicated themselves to building it up again. Their goal has always been to produce the best quality wine possible from their important location.

Anna Maria told me that in a male-dominated profession it was difficult to gain respect in the first few years. But with her tenacious personality and loyalty to her father’s tradition, she succeeded in gaining respect and making a place in the market for her wines. Along with growing the estate from 3.5 hectares to more than 11 today with a production of 60,000 bottles, Anna Maria has raised two sons. The accomplishment of both of these feats, especially when done together, simply amazes me.

All wines are vinified in stainless steel tanks, and with exception of those noted below, all wines are aged in stainless as well before bottling. The vineyards have relatively high altitudes of about 500m asl (+/-), with the exception of the Barbera located at 400m and San Bernardo, which reaches the highest point at 550m. These are all high in comparison to Barolo vineyards, which are usually 300-350m. Maceration times are relatively short to medium: the simpler reds go 4-8 days, while the more complex wines have maceration times of about 8-12 days.

Netta 2010. Langhe Bianco DOC. Nascetta 100%. Tons of tropical fruit, Granny Smith apple, with jasmine and other white flowers. On the palate it has both a pronounced minerality and spicy character. Refreshing! ★★☆

L’Alman 2010. Langhe Bianco DOC. Riesling Renano 100%. Smoky on the nose with hay, Pippin apple, and a discernible minerality — no petrol, which I am happy about. Fresh with a balanced acidity. The name L’Alman is dialect for “the German,” stemming from the French term for Germany, L’Allemagne, since the Riesling grape comes from Germany. ★

Rosà 2010. Vino Rosato. Nebbiolo 100%. On the nose smoky but in the mouth, full with cinnamon candy and pronounced red fruits: cranberry and strawberry. ★★

Barbera d’Alba 2010. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Barbera 100%. Cinnamon, vanilla, strawberry, cocoa powder, and fresh acidity.

Langhe Dolcetto 2008. Langhe Dolcetto DOC. Dolcetto 100%. Pleasant bouquet with cherry jam; light and fresh. (4-5 days maceration.)

Sori dij But 2010. Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC. Dolcetto 100%. Floral with spoonfuls of strawberry jam. Inherent acidity and tannins (unoaked Dolcetto can communicate its essence and terroir), finishes with pleasant notes of cedar. Made from up to 45 year old vines since 1989. ★

Maioli 2009. Dogliani DOCG. Dolcetto 100%. A complexity of terroir is realized here: the vines are almost 70 years old and the wine ages in steel for 14 months. On the nose one finds an intensity of smoke, syrup, and blueberries. While rich and soft, this is an ageable wine (the bottle I tasted had been opened two days prior and was still very good). ★★

San Bernardo 2007. Dogliani DOCG. Dolcetto 100%. On the nose lots of cherry, cedar, moss, and cola evolving into an interesting palate full in texture with cinnamon and almond. The long and refined finish balances equally richness, tannins, and acidity. This is Anna Maria’s only Dolcetto aged in wood: 25HL barrels (botti) for 18 months. ★★

Cadò 2007. Langhe Rosso DOC. Barbera 90%, Dolcetto 10%. A complex wine giving off earthy tones of moss and forest, along with warm ripe fruit and sweet oak. While it is rich and soft, the spice and freshness lift it up in an intriguing way. Aged in 25HL botti (2/3) and 500L botti (1/3) for 18 months. The name Cadò is dialect for “present,” stemming from the French word for present, cadeau. ★

Langhe Nebbiolo 2008. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. Nebbiolo 100%. Very floral with some cherry and sun-dried tomato scents. Definitely pronounced tannins with a dark color is quite dark. The vines were planted between 1998-2000 and the wine is aged in 25HL botti (2/3) and 500L botti (1/3) for 18 months.

Marina Marcarino of Punset, Barbaresco (Neive)

da martedì, 8 novembre 2011

Named for its location at the top of the hill in the San Cristoforo cru, the winery of Punset produces organic wines from 20 hectares located throughout San Cristoforo and Basarin cru extending down the hill from the winery in Neive. The name Punset is an ancient word in dialect meaning “bella collina o punta” or “beautiful hill or point,” describing the view of the top of the hill from afar, which protrudes up above the autumnal fog. It is a beautiful locale indeed, even on one of those cold and misty days (like the one on which I arrived) so common for the Langa in November.

While owned by her family since the 1960′s, Marina Marcarino took over control in the 1980′s instilling her curious and exuberant energy to the potential of her land.

Her goal, and a feat from which she feels personally fulfilled, is to produce wines with a certain pleasantness — a harmonious balance of structure, tannins, and aromas. She believes this can only be obtained by the purest of farming methods. Marina Marcarino began converting all of the vineyards to organic in 1982 and by 1990 obtained certification from Ecocert Italia. The cultivation makes use of biodynamic principles as well but is not officially certified. The wines of Punset display freshness, tons of floral qualities, and tight and velvety tannins with a true potential for aging.

Barbera d’Alba 2010. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Barbera 100%. A fresh bouquet mingling dark fruit with minerality and black pepper; full-bodied and spicy. Aged only in cement. Reminds me of other wines fermented/aged only in cement: Syrah or Pinotage from South Africa, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and many from southern Rhone. ★★

Barbaresco Riserva 2006. Barbaresco DOCG. Nebbiolo 100%. Dusty roses and violets; an exceptionally feminine and elegant, but firm wine. It is fresh and clean with bright tannins. Enjoyable now but I see a long future ahead of it. Aged in botti grande for 36 months. ★★

Barbareso Campo Quadro 2003. Barbaresco DOCG. Nebbiolo 100%. Harvested from 1 hectare of vines on her property with a southern exposition. Maceration occurs with a submerged cap; the wine ages in French oak barrels 15-24 months depending on the vintage. This wine can be drunk within a few years of release or aged. Sweet essences integrate campfire smoke and ripe cherry. Flavors of strawbery emerge on the palate, along with herbs, roses, and violets. A beautiful wine, even if from a warm vintage — exhibiting elegance through fresh and velvety tannins. ★★★

Maria Teresa Mascarello of Bartolo Mascarello, Barolo

da venerdì, 11 novembre 2011

This meeting was the least intimate and personal of the three, which was at first disappointing but I realized in the end that I actually felt reassured. Maria Teresa has kept the winery quite successful since the death of her father in 2005 and their cult following remains loyal. The production is small (28,000 bottles per year) and the land owned is not extensive (5 hectares) but her tasting room remains busy and there is a staff of people arranging visits. I am happy and content to see a woman running such a successful show.

I spoke to Maria Teresa at the end of the visit and she expressed her joy in staying at the winery, seeing visitors, working in the vienyards, and just remaining close by her work. She’s not one for travelling or going on marketing trips. I find this to be the case with most winemakers in Piemonte — men or women. They are dedicated to their history, tradition, land, and work. They see no reason to leave and quite frankly, if I were a winemaker there, I wouldn’t either. The world comes to you when you live in the Langa.

Maria Teresa continues her father’s traditional approach with some of the wines fermented in concrete, just as is done at Punset. But they also use stainless steel. Aging occurs only in 25, 40, and 50 HL large oak botti.

Dolcetto d’Alba 2010. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. Dolcetto 100%. The Dolcetto comes from two cru vineyards in Barolo: Monrobiolo and Ruè, both in the commune of Barolo with Monrobiolo close to Bussia (bordering Monforte d’Alba) and Ruè just north of the road from the Barolo village to Novello. Aged in 40HL botti and bottled in July of the year following harvest. Bright magenta color and a nose of cologne, perfume, and cherry jam frame the intense and spicy flavors with a furthering of cologne and cherry. Unctuous but clean. ★★

Langhe Freisa 2009. Langhe Freisa DOC. Freisa 100%. Freisa is a genetic relative of Nebbiolo and is more common in Asti than the Langa. It is a wine Bartolo Mascarello made for many years but this one comes from a newly-planted vineyard (6 years ago). With a clear purple-pink color, fragrances of ripe red berries, prunes, and spiced rum emerge. But the palate is not so interesting: a glycerin texture reminds me of some California Pinot noirs that are just fruity and smooth and don’t offer anything to contemplate.

Barbera d’Alba San Lorenzo 2009. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Barbera 100%. The Barbera grapes are sourced from the San Lorenzo cru of Barolo and aged in 40HL botti. The color is deep purple and the aromas are rich: a big dose of autumnal spices like anise and scents of fresh wild blackberries. Earthy and complex with a healthy acidity, I think this wine needs time to realize its potential. ★

Barolo 2007. Barolo DOCG. Nebbiolo 100%. The winery’s philosophy of making the Barolo is to blend grapes from 4 of their cru vineyards: San LorenzoRuèCannubi (all 3 in Barolo) andRocche dell’Annunziata (in La Morra). It is done the same every year, the Barolo is aged in large botti, and follows a traditional method of production, as do all the wines. The color is light and pink, like the flesh of a watermelon. The wine is tight and needs many years, even given it is from the easier and more approachable vintage of 2007. Flavors and aromas include raisins, oak, earth, juniper berries, and lots of perfume.

I would have thought women winemakers in Piemonte would be the ones taking a more modern approach but all of these women maintain a deep respect for tradition. You could argue that Anna Maria Abbona is somewhat modern using fairly short maceration times, or she and Marina Marcarino of Punset are modern in their use of French oak barrels but the use of this oak is not extensive and their other practices outweigh these, making them, in my opinion, conservers of tradition. What I see as more important to Anna Maria is her conservation of the characteristics of Dolcetto through dilligent and thoughtful winemaking practices involving steel or large botti where appropriate. (I would be disappointed if there were a new trend to heavily oak Dolcetto in Piemonte, as is the case with California Dolcetto.) The same is true for Marcarino and her deliberate choices oriented towards the goal of conserving the expression of the land with minimal interference in the winery.

I thought I might have also found a woman who came from the city or another region, invested in land there, and started her own thing. But in all cases these women inherited their estates from their fathers. This is how it’s done in Piemonte regardless of being a man or woman. It is a place protected by tradition and in fact the price of land is so exorbitant now that it would be exceedingly difficult to blaze in and start anew. Everyone there knows they’re sitting on a gold mine and the land is what made them who they are. They take pride in making their land and thus their vines, the best they can be because they are their land. Men and women winemakers are alike on this subject.

They are motivated, passionate, focused, bold, and sometimes even seem quite selfish. I’ve learned this about the men, and at last now I see women winemakers have the same qualities. But to me these qualities are paramount in a profession where success depends upon a ton of diverse factors: being able to be both a creative artist and precise scientist, a farmer and a socialite, staying organized and keeping a clean winery, balancing multiple ongoing projects all year, reacting decisively to weather patterns and global market trends, taking in visitors or finding a productive way to handle them, respecting your family’s tradtition while making new and intelligent choices … the list goes on … A minor stray off the path could mean a major misfortune down the line. When you’ve got a whole family counting on you, that’s a lot of stress. But the potential for prosperity and personal fulfillment keeps a winemaker intimately dedicated to her or his trade.

This statement by Marina Marcarino summarizes well the mentality of a winemaker.

“Mine is an absolutely personal choice, at moments difficult and disarming, almost so much to make me tell my husbandthat a lover would be less cumbersome and expensive. In these moments the only thing that helps me is a walk in the vineyards and a look at the hills surrounding us.”

“La mia è una scelta assolutamente personale, a momenti difficile e disarmante, tanto da far dire a mio marito che un amante sarebbe meno ingombrante e meno costoso: in quei momenti l’unica cosa che mi aiuta una passeggiata nei vigneti ed uno sguardo alle colline che ci circondano.” – Marina Marcarino

Whether it’s a woman or man winemaker, the loyalty to her or his craft as the same. While I wasn’t born into a family of Piemontese winemakers, I certainly understand being personally dedicated to what you love and I relate to finding inner peace by walking among the vines.

Thank you to Anna Maria Abbona, Marina Marcarino, and Maria Teresa Mascarello for taking the time to show me a small part of who you are.

5 thoughts on “Women Winemakers in Piemonte

  1. Ciao cara Marcella, Just saw your update. You’re too kind. Thanks for the mention. This is a lovely post. We have a good deal in common about one of your experiences in Barolo…….😈

  2. Marcella, I love your comment about your discovery of Piemonte and Italy. No better journey to be on in your life. The Piemontese are beautiful people and I am envious of their culture that values family over everything.

    Buona Pasqua!

  3. Although I enjoyed your biographical and oenological sketches of three of the Langhe’s women winemakers, I could not disagree more with your frustration over the women of Piemonte not taking control of the wineries when possible. You left out two women in Barolo – Chiara Boschis and Livia Fontana – and failed to mention how Ornella Correggia stepped in to run her family’s winery after the untimely and tragic death of her husband Matteo. Milena Vajra is one not to be missed either. Yes, husband Aldo is the winemaker and son Giuseppe and daughter Francesca are already working alongside their father after completing their oenological educations. Son Isadore isn’t far behind. But make no mistake, Milena is Aldo’s equal, his partner, his soulmate at G.D. Vajra. It is truly a family affair where decisions are made together.

    In Treiso, two of Giulio Grasso’s daughters, Paola and Valentina, completed the enological school in Alba and third daughter, Federica, left her interesting job at Ferrero to join the family business. Paola, who entered the family business washing glasses at VinItaly when she was eight, is already someone known to American Piemonte-philes.

    Against all odds, Giovanna Rizzolio is making lovely wines at her winery in Tre Stelle, Cascina delle Rose.

    The incoming generation of winemakers and winery bosses in Barbaresco will have a definite feminine presence. Note – I don’t believe women earn their stripes only through becoming winemakers. Case in point, Gaia Gaja.

    I could go on.

    Yes, history has not been kind to women in Piemonte when it comes to winemaking. But the future is bright and changes are underway. Thank you for shining light on le donne di Piemonte. But don’t despair. There are lots of subjects out there to profile on your excellent blog.

    1. Suzanne, you are absolutely right and I agree with you. After writing this I discovered other women wine makers, namely Chiara Boschis, and thought, “I need to do another article!” (But lack of time has made it so far not possible.) I also definitely appreciate you pointing out Ornella Correggia, and Milena Vajra, two women I adore and respect very much. I do see how it is changing now with so many girls of the younger generation going to school to be wine makers, and lots of daughters taking over prominent roles (Elisa Scavino, Barbara Sandrone). It is so great to see. Their area has changed a lot in a short period of time. My discovery of Piedmont and Italy is a process. It will be a life-long journey. Thanks again and I’ll look into some of the other powerful women you suggested next time!

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