A small, uneven fungus that packs such an aromatic punch and is considered globally as a prized, luxury ingredient. Ever wondered how truffles grow and where you can find them? Luxeat recently spent some time exploring the north west of Italy and sat down with a truffle-hunting family with a legacy of four generations behind them, harvesting this rare and unique product.
Wine women from Piedmont in ten questions
Luxeat talks with Silvia Altare from Elio Altare and Chiara Boschis from Pira & Figli about their favourite wines, influences and how they see the future.
Silvia has been fully involved in Elio Altare, her family’s winery since early 2000. She is present at every step from looking after the vineyards from pruning to harvest, to working in the cellar from winemaking to sales, logistics, office work and marketing, she is the pillar of the winery allowing her father to focus on other projects. Chiara Boschis on the other hand is linked to the Pira family by deep friendship and mutual esteem. Following her studies, she became one of the first women producers in Barolo at the end of the 1980s. She has brought renewal to the Pira winery and its production style. The work on the vines, strictly manual, is carried out with extreme care and respect for the environment, following the dictates of organic cultivation. Luxeat has the privilege of asking 10 questions to these Italian winemakers.
How would you describe your wine in a few words?
Silvia: At first my wine makes me think of some very serious words like passion, legacy, commitment, family and hard work. However, wine is also fun, so when I think of my wine I think of nice moments, dinners, good times and sharing. Wine creates memories and pictures in my mind that stay with me.
Chiara: In a glass you get a condensation of culture, passion, history, human relations, the environment, landscapes, beauty, art, flowers, soil, sky, hair and love.
Who and what influenced you the most?
Silvia: I’m a very curious taster. I’m an adventurous buyer and traveller and an eager reader of wine books, because I think we never stop learning. The moment you think you have arrived or that you are the best is the moment you will start failing. Through my wine working life I have met/worked with some really interesting characters, from more to less famous, to name a few: Manfred and Elaine Krankl from Sine Qua Non winery (California) have taught me to be different, Russel and Becky Hone from Le Serbet distribution (Burgundy) have taught me that passion will always take you a long way, and simply some friends/wine collectors from around the world have taught me that you need to be open minded and still respectful of the past.
Chiara: The Barolo Boys revolution, with its extraordinary characters who became friends over the years.
What is it like to be a woman winemaker? And what are the biggest challenges?
Silvia: The first challenge always comes from the family, being a woman in this industry in Barolo is not easy. For sure it’s easier now than 20-30 years ago, but the pressure from being “the daughter of” will always haunt me. This is why I always feel that my generation doesn’t have to be the generation of the revolution but instead the generation of evolution. It is just as hard to maintain something as it is to build something.
Chiara: In the nineties, there were only a very few women winemakers and it was really hard for me to compete in a male dominated world. I worked so hard… but things have changed and today fortunately it’s better for women winemakers.
How does the terroir and the microclimate reflect in your wine?
Silvia: We try to be as respectful as possible of all the vineyards and lands. Every winemaker has their own way of interpreting their unique way of doing this. The terroir is technically part of the process.
Chiara: It is everything! Soil defines the character and climate decides the level of quality! For me, as I am an organic farmer and respect the environment, like a maniac. Wines are the mirror of the terroir and I am proud of showing this in my wines.
What is your favourite vintage and why?
Silvia: I’m a fan of good wine in general, I don’t necessarily hang on to the big famous vintages. If you taste through the vintages you can find lovely wines. For example I love the lightness and freshness of 2018. 1998 is a big hit now but wasn’t when it was released and I love it.
Chiara: It is always the latest one, I am still excited as a kid with a new toy to see what I can do with a new vintage and of course I like older vintages like 1997/1996 or 2010 and 2016.
How has climate change impacted your approach?
Silvia: We are still working on it, we are adapting to every vintage which seems to give us something different. It’s important now to always be on your toes and open minded.
Chiara: We all had to adopt new strategies to protect the vines, (which demonstrate incredible resilience) agronomic work like soft pruning, soft green harvest, management of the canopy….and so on, but also treatments with essential oils, as corroborant, or powder of rock as sun protector
What is the hardest and most challenging thing about your job?
Silvia: Harvest time and bottling time, there is always a lot of stress around those two periods, you have to be lucky in a lot of ways but still work hard.
What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
Silvia: Seeing people happy drinking my wine, and not just a bottle of Barolo, but also a bottle of Dolcetto or Barbera, you can also find pleasure in our entry-level wines.
Chiara: The gratitude and passion of my customers.
What is your perfect meal paired with your wine?
Silvia: I love barbera and bollito misto (traditional Piemontese meat stew)
Chiara: I love good food but my best pairing is with good company! A simple piece of Castelmagno cheese would be enough if I can share my wines with friends.
What is your favourite wine by other producers?
Silvia: I go through periods and never really drink the same wines all the time. It is very easy to say Burgundy, which I obviously love like Lafon, Lafarge, Mugnier, Pierre Yves, Colin Morey, A. Jobard, but recently I have started drinking more Bordeaux. On Saturday night we had a stellar 2000 Ducru Beaucaillou with BBQ.
Locally, I’m a fan of the wines of Chiara Boschis (Barolo) and Pira (Serralunga).
Chiara: My first love is Barolo declined in many different expression according to soil and the hand of the producers, but I like Barbaresco too.