Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Winery visit with Chiara Boschis at E. Pira e Figli (Barolo, Piemonte)

The grape-filled, grape-stained hands on the cover of Suzanne Hoffman's Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte are the hands of Chiara Boschis, Proprietress of the Barolo estate E. Piri e Figli.

In Chapter Two of the book, Suzanne paints a vivid and captivating picture of the events leading up to Chiara taking the reins of the estate in 1990 and her many stellar accomplishments since then. That story is presented in a condensed form on Suzanne's blog and a link is presented here.

I have always been enthralled by Chiara's wines but had not visited her estate previously. After listening to her presentation on her Cannubi wine at Antonio Galloni's La Festa del Barolo earlier this year, I decided that that was a shortcoming that had to be addressed. When I began putting our mid-May Piemonte trip together, Chiara was the first person I reached out to in order to arrange a visit.

After breakfast at Palas Cerequio, we made our way down from La Morra to Barolo. We approached the cantina and rang the bell, whereupon the door was opened by a smiling Chiara who hugged and kissed us all while, at the same time, maintaining an animated conversation on the phone. Upon her completion of the call she welcomed us once again and began to tell us about the winery and the wines.

According to Chiara, this cellar has been here since the 1700s and was originally built by a Serbian family. She mentioned that Phylloxera and Oidium had killed the vineyards, prompting a big out-migration from the area,. Her generation, she said, was the first to go to University and get a degree.

Today E. Pira e Figli farms approximately 8 hectatres in the Barolo-zone communes of Barolo, Monforte d' Alba, and Serralunga d'Alba to produce a stable of six wines. The sources of the fruit for those wines are detailed in the chart below.

Chiara's parents (Franco and Ida) were the proprietors of the Borgogno estate so, after the purchase of E. Figli e Pira, her brothers were splitting their time between the two estates. Chiara, after earning a degree in Economics and working at PWC in Turin, joined her brothers full-time at E. Pira e Figli in the mid-1980s and the took over management in 1990. It was during this period that she began collaborating with a number of winemakers of her generation to pioneer the vineyard and winemaking practices which inform her current winemaking style.

Chiara's was the first Cannubi estate to convert to organic farming, gaining its certification in 2014 (according to Labor of Love). But she was not content with practicing this only in her vineyard (plus, if you are spray-free, but your neighbor is not, there can be spillover effects). She became an evangelist on Cannubi such that today fully 99% of the producers on the hill are organic.

Chiara is a proponent of biodiversity in the vineyard and has implemented initiatives that showcase her commitment. For example, she has placed 300 bird nests in the vineyard as well as homes for bats and owls. She refers to this as her bugs-prevention system.

In addition to the living-soil practices of organic farming, and the pest-control characteristics of biodiversity, Chiara has an active-measures program for the provision of high-quality fruit to the cellar door. Vines are pruned in the winter (a maximum of 9 buds/plant) and green harvesting (to concentrate the vine's energy into a smaller number of bunches) remains a mainstay of her vineyard management program.

All work in the vineyard, including harvesting, is done manually. At harvest there is a strict selection in the vineyard with grapes not making the cut dropped in the field to contribute to soil regeneration.

After harvesting, the grapes are crushed/destemmed prior to being placed into stainless steel tanks for fermentation (Chiara prefers stainless steel because of the ease of cleaning). Each cru is vinified separately. Maceration is shortened with the cap being managed by punchdowns. The grapes are then lightly pressed and racked over to barriques for malolactic fermentation.

Chiara and Ron

Chiara produces two cru barolos (Cannubi and Mosconi), one blended Barolo (Via Nuova; used to be a cru but, when this named vineyard was incorporated into the Terlo MGA, Chiara trademarked the name and, as of 2014, made a blended Barolo with fruit sourced as shown in the earlier chart), a Barbera, a Dolcetto, and a Langhe Rosso. Chiara has dialed back on the use of new oak with the Barolos spending 2 years in oak, of which 30% is new, and the Barbera and Langhe Nebbiolo spending 1 year each in oak. The Dolcetto sees no oak.

We tasted examples of all of the above wines. The Dolcetto, according to Chiara, is normally on the table as a "farmer wine." The 2016 edition was characterized by red berries and striking acidity. The Barbera Superiore 2015 exhibited dark cherries, spice and vibrant acidity. The Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 was elegant with not too much concentration, chewy tannins, and saliva-inducing acidity. A lengthy finish. This wine was lovely. The Barolo Via Nuova 2012 had a beautiful nose with slight florality and tar on the nose. Tar carries through to palate along with spice. Elegant. Cherry, plum, tar and herbs are the hallmarks of the 2012 Barolo Cannubi along with a waxiness and massive tannin structure. This wine will last for a while. The 2012 Barolo Mosconi showed tar, roses, and a savoriness on the nose. Sweet fruit on the palate. Powerful.

This was a wonderful experience for Ron, Bev, Parlo, and me. The opportunity to listen to one of the change agents in the world of Barolo wine was a treat in and of itself. To taste the fruits of her labor in her cantina was icing on the cake.  Thank you Chiara.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Great review, thanks for sharing Mr Edwards. Sadly never tasted any of their wines, not available in Africa.
    Would also be curious to hear your views on their older vintages..

  2. Thanks for your kind words. WineWatch identifies the 1994 - 2001 vintages of the Cannubi as some of this estate's best wines.