This is a 4-part series on women winemakers who are making waves in Italy not only for producing award-winning wines in a traditionally male-dominated field, but also for their visionary efforts in sustainable viticulture and investment in the cultural heritage of their territories. Let’s raise our glasses and toast to their continued success!
Meet Chiara Boschis of E. Pira & Figli
One cannot discuss women winemakers in Italy without mentioning Chiara Boschis, the first woman to own and run a winery in Piemonte’s Langhe region. This lauded territory is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to some of Italy’s most famous red wines, including Barolo and Barbaresco, making Chiara a living legend who has inspired and paved the way for a new generation of women winemakers in Italy and beyond.
Born into wine—her ancestors founded the Giacomo Borgogno Winery in 1761—Chiara grew up immersed in wine production and helping out with the harvest each year. But as a woman, she was not expected to pursue a career in agriculture. Furthermore, legal and cultural traditions of the time saw the baton pass from father to son, which meant Chiara’s brothers would become responsible for the family winery.
That all changed in 1981 when Chiara, who was studying business and economics in Turin, heard that the historic E. Pira & Figli winery, owned by family friends, was for sale. She had her sights set on returning to the world of wine and convinced her parents to take out a mortgage to buy the winery and manage production until she finished her studies.
By the end of the 1980s, Chiara was back in the Langhe and had become part of a group of rebellious young winemakers responsible for modernizing Barolo through experimentation with green harvesting techniques, shorter fermentations, and the use of French barriques. Chiara produced her first vintage in 1990, a Barolo Riserva Cannubi, which won the prestigious Tre Bicchieri prize by Gambero Rosso. A superstar was born.
In Chiara’s constant quest to make great wine that speaks of place, her wine has seen a decrease in the use of French barrique over the years in favor of a return to large casks which are more traditional of the region. This is, in part, due to the influence of her brother Giorgio, who has joined Chiara at E. Pira & Figli since the sale of their family’s winery in 2008. Together they harvest the region’s native grapes—Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto—in some of the top crus of the region and use native yeasts as well. The Boschis wines are never fined or filtered, to further ensure that the true nature of the grapes and terroir are expressed in each bottle.
This natural approach holds true in the vineyards, too. Chiara always farmed without herbicides and pesticides, but in 2010 she decided to apply for organic certification, which she received in 2014. Admirably, Chiara also spearheaded the organic conversion of the Cannubi cru (a designated vineyard), which is carved out between 26 growers, including herself. The diplomacy, patience and tenacity she showed in convincing all but one vineyard owner to convert to organic viticulture was no small feat. But, that is Chiara: what is seemingly impossible, she manages to overcome.
And Chiara’s passion for her territory does not stop with wine. About ten years ago, she joined forces with friends and family to breathe new life into the abandoned Piemontese hamlet of Valliera which was historically famous for the production of Castelmagno, an aged, semi-hard blue cheese made from the milk of Alpine cows.
Together, the group purchased ten homes surrounded by pasture land, built barns and a dairy, and began producing Castelmagno cheese under their own label, Des Martin. For Chiara, this project was not an economic venture, but rather a way to give hope to Piemonte’s isolated mountain communities and celebrate their important work. Des Martin also has an agriturismo where you can experience the magic of the Western Alps.
A visit to the Boschis-E. Pira & Figli winery almost always includes a tasting of this rare and prestigious DOP cheese, and Chiara’s structured wines pair splendidly with the Castelmagno: Barolo (from different crus: Cannubi, Mosconi and Via Nuova), Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba and Langhe Nebbiolo. Taste the harmony for yourself!
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