The New Female Faces Leading The Future Of Two Great Wine Estates

Food & Drink

Two famous northern Italian wine estates have recently taken on new faces that represent their well-respected wines and important legacy: Laura Felluga, granddaughter of Livio Felluga, the founder of the winery estate Livio Felluga in Friuli, and Frederica Rosy Boffa, great-great granddaughter of Cesare Pio, the founder of the winery estate Pio Cesare in Piedmont (Piemonte). Both young women bring a fresh approach when talking about each of their family’s extraordinary backgrounds.

The Determination of Two Men

Although Laura Felluga is the third generation of the Livio Felluga estate, she is also a sixth generation wine producer as her family has been growing wine grapes and making wine before Livio Felluga was established. But before the “modern Italian wine” revolution that her grandfather was a part of in the 60s and 70s, most of the time the wine being made in Italy was more basic, bulk wine that was consumed by the locals in the area.

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In his mid 20s, while Livio was making and selling wines in another area, not Friuli, he was drafted to fight in Africa during the Second World War, was captured and became a prisoner of war – picking potatoes in Scotland. He not only lost eight years of his life but when he returned he found that his land had been taken away and he lost everything. But he was determined to make great wine in the Northeast of Italy and he went to Rosazzo, a little vineyard area in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Friuli was first planted with vines by the Romans thousands of years ago during the Roman Empire and the specific area of Rosazzo in Colli Orientali, Friuli, had monks who built an abbey with a cellar to make wines.

Laura said that her grandfather, Livio, went around asking for loans after the war to buy some land in Rosazzo, as he was sure it could make high quality white wine, but people thought he was crazy as Italy was not only in an economic depression and the safest thing was to flee to the cities to get a factory job but the idea of a high quality white wine was ludicrous at the time. Livio bottled and labeled his own wines under the Livio Felluga name in 1956 (a very uncommon feat back then as most sold wine in bulk) helping to spearhead single varietal white wines such as their Pinot Grigio which is still the benchmark for high quality Pinot Grigio that is the antithesis of the simple, easy drinking Pinot Grigio that became popular in the 1980s – it has depth and concentration and most importantly a strong sense of place. Livo Felluga would introduce their “Terre Alte” white blend in the 80s and it became their flagship wine opening the door for serious white wine in Italy.

Frederica Rosy Boffa’s grandfather also had to make difficult choices after World War II. Despite her great-great grandfather and namesake of the Pio Cesare winery being the founder, Cesare Pio, it was her grandfather Giuseppe Boffa, a well-known engineer from Alba who managed a large company in Milan, who brought the wine to the world after he married Cesare Pio’s granddaughter Rosy Pio. The war brought many difficult decisions as there was so much uncertainly and danger but Giuseppe Boffa knew that the only way for Pio Cesare to survive was for him to leave everything else behind and move to the countryside of Alba to learn the way of the family’s winemaking and vineyards. But he knew he needed to introduce the outside world to their incredible Barolo and Barbaresco wines so he made the commitment to not only oversee the vineyards and winery with Rosy’s father, but spend all his downtime traveling the world introducing these wines to wine retailers and restaurants around the globe.

Giuseppe Boffa’s youngest child, Pio Boffa, would be the one who was chosen to take the reigns of carrying on the legacy of Pio Cesare at a very young age and now his daughter Frederica joins the family business full-time at 23 year old. But Frederica notes that although she is young, she has been by her father’s side learning about the winemaking and their vineyards since as far back as she can remember. She has also traveled the world many times with her parents knowing the importance that there is no such thing as time off for a small, high quality wine producer; when there is a break between vineyard and cellar work then there needs to be travel for sales work with an intense schedule being kept to show the family wines directly from the family.

Fresh Faces Unveil the Soul of Friuli and Barolo

When it comes to what these two ladies will bring to the future of their family estates, Laura Felluga notes that she comes from a line of male introverts who were very focused on the vineyards and winemaking but were not able to go out into the world with big personalities to introduce their wines to a wider audience. In the times of the coronavirus, having 60% of their wine sales in Italy has caused issues and she hopes that her evident charming enthusiasm will help bring their wines to more places and people around the globe. Laura just happens to have spent the beginning of her work life around the world working in the wine industry in China, France and New Zealand with lots of experience in the U.S. and recently joined the family business full-time at 30 years old. But she says that she takes great comfort from thinking about the history of her grandfather, especially after WWII, to help her to keep faith, “my grandfather’s history still inspires me today.”

Frederica Rosy Boffa reiterated that her grandfather didn’t want to share too much personal information as it wasn’t thought to be appropriate during the time. Since their name is so well-known among Barolo lovers, sometimes it gets missed that it is not a brand name but a family name and that they are still a small family business that oversees every aspect themselves. Frederica explained that her family lives at the Pio Cesare winery and she was raised in that house with her father, mother and grandmother Rosy. It is their lives and many do not know that they are wine growers as well as wine producers with most of the vineyards that they have used over the years being owned by them. In 2014 they stopped buying some grapes from Barbera grape growers and have been 100% estate grown ever since that time. “My task is to convey the real soul of Pio Cesare as a producer and grower,” Frederica passionately exclaimed.

For these two female future leaders, there has never been any doubt that their fathers wanted them to take charge and neither has experienced in the world around them a lack of opportunities for women as they see many running companies as well as taking key roles in various industries. But perhaps that is what makes it so remarkable as it is no longer an issue among a younger generation and they are taking the weight of their obligations and responsibilities as seriously as their fathers. They are not only expected to be as capable as past generations but to be better, as not only do they both need to stay true to their family’s historical place in the wine world but they also need to show the world the “real soul” of the people behind the names.

The labels for the Livio Felluga wines show an ancient map of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and how it was always a land that bordered various cultures. Laura announced that they would be starting a new project to renovate the Rosazzo abbey and the ancient cellars of the monks and make their two top white wines there: Terre Alte and Abbazia di Rosazzo. It will be a place where they will be able to welcome a few guests in their remote area of the world.

2017 Livio Felluga, Friuli Colli Orientali DOC, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy: 100% Pinot Grigio. Livio Felluga was at the forefront of making the delimitated area of Friuli Colli Orientali one of the places most respected for quality Pinot Grigio. Laura said that what gives their Pinot Grigio more concentration and complexity is “precision viticulture” in the vineyards as each section is hand harvested at different times to get ideal ripeness that balances freshness and richness, focusing on sense of place. Smoky minerality with white flowers and a creamy body with lemon custard and peach cobbler flavors.

2017 Livio Felluga, “Terre Alte”, Rosazzo DOCG, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy: White blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon. The first “generational fight” was over this wine because the grape blend did not adhere to the appellation laws and it would have to be classified as ordinary table wine a.k.a. Vino da Tavola which Laura’s grandfather was against but her uncle convinced him to bottle it anyways. This “Terre Alte,” which means high lands, became a big success and it comes from their oldest plots in the Rosazzo hillside area. Rosazzo eventually became the first DOCG for white wine in Friuli including the aforementioned white grape varieties and Laura said that there are only around five to seven wines made from the Rosazzo delimited DOCG area and Livio Felluga makes two of them. Salted almonds with honeysuckle notes on the nose and apricot tart with rich, lush flavors of crème brûlée with hints of dried wild flowers on the long and flavorful finish.

The crest located on the top-left section of Pio Cesare’s wine labels notate that they are one of the original wineries located in the old town center of Alba, and the only remaining, and so they are the only ones allowed to use the crest on their label. Frederica explained, “It is a sign of the great bond we have with our terroir and our great city.” She further noted that traces of a wall built by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago around the old town center still exist and that a main portion can be found at the Pio Cesare winery.  

 2017 Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba DOC, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Barbera. The red Piedmont grape variety Barbera is considered to be one of the top to pair with food for everyday occasions as it is high in acidity and has a low amount of perceptible tannin and so its pairing capabilities are endless. Dark fruit such as black cherry with upheaved earth with hints of spice and mouthwatering acidity.

2016 Pio Cesare Barolo DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo. The Nebbiolo red grape variety is world renowned and helped make the Barolo and Barbaresco delimited wine areas some of the most famous for top quality red wines, although it is a finicky grape to grow and hence only few areas of the world can grow it successfully. This is called their “classic” Barolo and Frederica joked that you shouldn’t called it “regular Barolo” or her father will kill you. And sure enough, on the bottom of the label it says “Please, Don’t Call It Regular”. The “classic” indicates that it is blended in the way that was started by the founder, Cesare Pio, and continues today blending the family’s various Barolo vineyards by filling up the fermenters with the same proportion of grapes from each of the vineyards and fermenting them together, instead of the more common practice of blending that occurs after the wine is made. Even though single vineyard Barolo has gained notoriety lately, and Pio Cesare does make bottlings of single vineyards, they do not want to lose touch with what was always considered to be the ultimate expression of Barolo.

The 2016 Barolo wines generally have an overall harmony and lovely balance so early in life and this Pio Cesare 2016 bottling displays this vintage beautifully with complex notes of cigar box and tar that had pretty hints of rose petal and ripe black and red fruit that had an incredible backbone of pure minerality with well-integrated tannins (shocking as it is a baby) with a superb length of expressive aromas. Stunning wine!

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