Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Labor of Love: The Launch of Suzanne Hoffman's book on Piemontese wine families

The big day had arrived. All of the years of hard work had resulted in a meticulously researched, professionally edited, and beautifully bound manuscript, a product – A Labor of Love – that Suzanne Hoffman could be proud of. And she was. But this was a big day in another sense. She would be launching the book in a formal ceremony with the families, and their families, in attendance. The slightest slip could undo years of work and do significant damage to her credibility; a credibility required to move this project forward and to underpin any future related efforts.

The launch event was held at Ca’del Baio, a Barbaresco estate. The program called for a 4:30 pm Apertivo (that word again) to be followed by a presentation and then refreshments and light fare. The day was overcast to begin with and the skies became increasingly ominous as the day progressed. By the time I arrived at the location, and maneuvered my car into a space on the approach road, it had begun spitting.

I had not visited Ca’del Baio previously and was impressed by the portions of the exterior visible to me as I made my way onto the property.

The settings were in place for the event. A large table was front and center of rows of chairs and benches. On each side of the table, a microphone-topped stand. On the table itself, four copies of the book, with yellow stickies positioned to mark the beginning of each section. Each family was being asked to sign on the page introducing their section and one the four books thus signed would be donated to charity.

Suzanne was flitting around welcoming and organizing everyone that came in. She was hyped. I finally got to meet Elatia Harris, Suzanne’s editor and tireless contributor to the group Writing the Kitchen. I also saw, and refreshed relations with, Francesca Vaira and her Mom and Anna Savino and her husband (Claudio Brizio) and son (Nico).

Francesca and Milena Vaira and Parlo

Parlo, Anna Savino, the author, Claudio Brizo, and Nico

The setup had the panelist table under cover on the patio with rows of chairs/benches spreading outwards from that central spot.  As the weather worsened, the decision was made to arrange the chairs and benches to the side of the table so that they too could take advantage of the protection offered by the patio cover.

And people kept coming. And the music kept playing. And beautiful music it was. A combination of recorded, modern-day-Sinatra-style music interspersed with live saxophone sessions of extremely high quality.
By the way, the Aperitivo never materialized. And it was probably a good thing because the start of the presentation kept getting pushed back (an over-apertivoed audience would probably not have been as sensitive to the finer points of the presentation that was eventually delivered). Eventually Suzanne gave the 5-minute sign; and the session began 10 minutes later.

Seated at the Panelist Table were Suzanne, Maurizo Rosso (author and estate owner), noted winemaker Chiara Boschis (whose hands are featured prominently on the cover of the book), and Pete Hagnauer, a friend from Switzerland who would be doing the Italian-to-English translation of Maurizio’s speech.

Pete Hagnauer, Chiara Boschis, Suzanne Hoffman, and
Maurizio Rosso
Maurizio was the first speaker and provided an excellent framework for Suzanne to work within. He himself had written a book (Mystique of Barolo) -- essentially an oral history of the men of the region –which served Suzanne "as a roadmap for editorial development" and as a "reference resource." He talked about a recent and important phenomenon wherein many wineries are now being run by women. Suzanne’s book, he said, captures this generational change (It was interesting watching the emotions sweep across Suzanne’s features as Maurizio went through various aspects of his speech: laughter; tears; smiling out at the crowd; recognizing and pointing to various individuals; and nodding in agreement as Maurizio mentioned a particular family or story.).

Maurizio said that Suzanne and her husband came from Switzerland expecting physical warmth; but they did not get that here. What they got instead was human warmth in the families that they met. He also went on to point out that Italy is a man’s world but it is the nonna (the Grandmother) who is the driver in the family. Suzanne has found this out, he said, and has covered it in her book. He then formally introduced Suzanne and passed her the microphone.

Suzanne Hoffman
Suzanne’s presentation was in English and Chiaris Boschis did the translation for those requiring same. Suzanne began by thanking, among others, Giovanna’s Grandmother (for inspiration) and the Grosso’s of Ca’del Baio (for their hospitality and inspiration over all the years that this book was gestating). She then did a roll call of the family names and asked the members representing each family to stand and be recognized on hearing their name. At this point we saw the first blip of the emotion that would break through with varying levels of intensity during the course of the presentation.

The roll call was by book chapter (each chapter covering a family)  and, as Suzanne explained, there was no order to the chapters except in two cases: Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rosso and Chiara Boschis. They were the first two chapters due to the outsize roll thy played in the evolution of the book. She also made a point to the audience that many of these families did not know each other and she was hopeful that the book (and this event) would occasion their getting to better know each other. The list of names was like a Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato Hall of Fame: Scavino, Guiseppe Rinaldi, Bartolo Mascarello, …

At the conclusion of the roll call, Suzanne extended thanks to the persons who had contributed to the effort. She thanked the families for their patience and confidence in entrusting their stories to her. These families were definitely a part of the equation; but she also had a team.
She chose to publish the book “Indie”, she said, because she wanted to publish it now. She did not want to lose any more of the contributing family members prior to the book being published. She thanked Pierangelo Vacchetto for the images (She wanted photos that showed people as they were and the images provided accomplished that goal.). She thanked Diane Zaharunec who served as Press Representative when the presses began to roll in Verona. She thanked her Designer (Cindi Yaklich) and Copy Editor (Jody Berman), "both unseen, but present in spirit through their work." She thanked Elatia Harris, her Editor, who had traveled from Boston to be with her on this day. According to Suzanne, Elatia’s “ability to see into families hearts was amazing and a key reason why we have the book we have today.”

She thanked the printer, Verona Libri. She used them because they are good plus she wanted the authenticity of having a book on Piemonte wine families printed in Italy. She thanked her husband and publisher (another break in the voice), without whom she could not have done this. She also acknowledged Jeffrey Chilcott, Cellar master at Marchesi di Gresy who, she said, opened many a cellar door. And finally she thanked Alberto di Gresy for giving her the initial insight into the power of the nonna. “It is no accident that his words are the first words that appear in the book.”
She ended her presentation with a fiery, stirring, emotion-packed close which included an admonition to the families: “You do something for the world. Don’t you forget it.” This line brought the attendees to their feet and the applause was reminiscent of the finish of a great Barolo. No golf claps here. No crickets present.

At the conclusion of her presentation Suzanne took up a position at the table for what would turn out to be a marathon book-signing session. The attendees, meanwhile, repaired to the drink and fare stations.

Michaela at work
If one aspect of the launch event was to bring these families together, that goal was accomplished in spades as families lingered long after the presentation chatting, drinking wine, getting multiple copies of the book signed, and listening to the excellent music.

Maria Teresa Mascarello and the author

I have not yet reviewed the book but, post this event, and seeing the families in the manner that I have, this is a task that I am looking forward to with great anticipation.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Thank you so much, Keith, for sharing this detailed account of the book launch for me. I was certainly in another world that day -- a really wonderful one that was filled with love and positive energy.