The Ladies of Barolo
Vittoria Alessandria & Daniela Veglio
“I wake up every morning and I am happy,” said Vittoria Alessandria, the 23-year-old daughter of Gianfranco Alessandria, her eyes wide and ablaze with sprite passion for the days and years to come. “It’s not work for me,” she added. “It’s my occupation.” Unable to commit at the age of 13 to a winemaker’s path, Vittoria began working with her father at the age of 18 when she was fresh out of school but without a degree in oenology. “We are a small family business,” she said, “so there is always something to do. Day-by-day, it became something I had to do because it’s my life. I can’t imagine myself another way. I grew up in the vineyard.” Working hand-in-hand with her father, Vittoria spoke with great pride of his work in the vineyards and cellar. “I still don’t know if I am able to do what my father does, but this is my world. This is my future.”
Seated on the couch besides Vittoria, was Daniela Veglio, who is married to Mauro Veglio. She pointed her chin in Vittoria’s direction, smiled and scoffed. “She is too modest. Anything she says about herself is more. She knows the vineyard. She knows how to make wine.” And much like a mother and daughter with a deep friendship and mutual respect, the banter between the Ladies of Barolo went on like this. “When she’s not there, her father says great things,” Daniela added and laughed.
With her younger sister enrolled in oenology school, it’s actually Vittoria who is following her father’s path. From a family that’d owned 4ha since 1940, Gianfranco took over the vines in 1986 when his father passed. “It became impossible to do another work,” he said, when visiting New York last year. “I wanted to work and learn with my father. I felt inside I could learn everything from my father. You can do this only if you have the passion.” Also unable to commit to the family business at such a young age, Gianfranco, like Vittoria, didn’t study oenology. In that same year, he began practicing organic in the vineyards, while modernizing the winery, before releasing his first vintage of Barolo in 1990. And along with his cousin Mauro Veglio, Gianfranco also worked alongside Elio Altare, who is their neighbor. Currently, the father/daughter team farm 7ha, 5.5ha of which are owned, while the remainder is rented. “We work one full year to make the wine in the bottle,” he said. “I want to carry on the tradition that my grandparents started.”
With negociants dominating production in the mid-twentieth century, it was Mauro, Gianfranco and Elio who shifted the focus of their family’s estates to Cru production. These days Barolo DOCG yields just over 11 million bottles, with approximately 60,000 bottles from Mauro Veglio, and 35,000 bottles from Gianfranco Alessandria. And while there are about 1830ha of registered vineyards in Barolo with 670 growers, many of these farmers do not yield enough to make their own wines, as there are only 335 producers who bottle.
Daniela & Mauro Veglio hosting guests
When Mauro and Daniela married in 1987, Daniela who was working in a bank and paying off the mortgage on the couple’s inherited property, while Mauro was making 2,000 bottles annually. “Nobody was interested,” she said. “It wasn’t time for garage wines. Wine was [being] sold in big jugs.” Working together on their “common project”, Daniela witnessed a great change in women’s roles in Italy and in Barolo. “Some people might think women couldn’t make it, but we’re very flexible, so if things are going to change, we can change too.” After 15 years at the bank, she quit to join Mauro full-time at the winery. “In the past it was okay to wait a day to take care of an order, but not any more,” she said. “It’s not just men or women. You need both. That’s why a family business works so well. One helps the other. It’s a natural compensation.”
The more we talked, the more Daniela came to speak of her wines as individuals, as persons. “Maybe I need to worry,” she said and laughed, “I treat the wines like children.” In her experience, in wine and in life, “it’s better to find what you like first and make it better. If you play a role, you’re not yourself. There are so many Barolo wines that don’t taste like Nebbiolo. There are so many things that can be added in the cellar, but this makes the wine lose its identity. If a wine has a strong personality, it’ll keep all your life. Young Barolo has tannins, but a young teenager is also aggressive. When you’re young, you’re beautiful, but getting older, there’s something different. With time, you get to appreciate different things with maturity. It’s the same for the wine. If a wine is made natural, it takes its personality from the vineyard. It expresses the terroir all of its life. Take any of our wines,” she said, “Arborina is fruity and elegant, Gattera is spicy and warm, Castelletto is more earthy with more tannins. Just like brothers and sisters, they grow up but they keep their personalities and their differences all through life.”
For more on the wines of Mauro Veglio, click here.
For more on the wines of Gianfranco Alessandria, click here.