The Producers is a new series highlighting the incredible work done by those responsible for the food and drink that ends up on our tables, whether it's at home or in the world's finest restaurants. While chefs get most of the accolades, it is often the producers who remain unsung heroes of our food system. Here we shine a spotlight upon them and their produce.
Barolo, Italy. In a wine region historically dominated by men, the odds were stacked against Carlotta Rinaldi ever running her family winery. It had long been the case that much of the hard work in the vineyards of Piedmont was done by women, while the actual winemaking decisions were reserved for the men. But although Rinaldi might have aspired to follow in the footsteps of Juliette Colbert - the French noblewoman who was instrumental in bringing the wine of Barolo to the Italian royal court - she had other ideas.
“At times it felt like a burden, just too much. I went away, I had other experiences,” says Rinaldi, who for some years resisted the pull of the small-but-historic Rinaldi label in Barolo, opting instead to travel in Australia and New Zealand.
“There was a conflict about it, a resistance to it. A huge passion on one side, and realising how beautiful the region is and that you grow roots here. But at the same time thinking that you need a little bit of space and creating your own history too.”
Her calling proved too strong to deny. “Eventually I felt like the roots underneath my feet were bringing me back to Piemonte. So since I studied it, I’ve been involved full-time since 2015.”
Carlota and her sister Marta are the first women in six generations to take over and run the family vineyard producing world-renowned Barolo. Together, they are continuing an important tradition, while bringing a new and transformative sensibility to the land, the region and their wine.
“My sister was more committed to the idea and came to work with my dad straight after her studies,” she says. Once Carlotta Rinaldi decided to join her sister in the operation, it was a natural process of integrating and finding the right balance between roles. Together, the two take care of everything, including maintenance of the vineyard, pruning, harvest and vinification.
Carlotta tells of how, when she is out pruning the vines (an important job because it sets up the vine for the next two years), many of the older generations are surprised to see a woman being so hands-on. Indeed, it is a relatively new phenomenon in this region, to see women take the lead in producing some of the world's best wine. However, Carlotta is practicing a new pruning system, one adapted from French pruning methods. It involves a more sensitive and intuitive approach to each vine, 'listening' to the plant and its energy flow. It's an example of a new sensibility in the process.
The Rinaldi label is one with a great history. Carlotta’s grandfather, Giovanni Battista Rinaldi, was instrumental in working to have the appellation of the Barolo recognised as truly world-leading throughout the '60s and the '70s. That passion passed on to Carlotta’s father, Giuseppe Rinaldi, who was “a very strong character, a very particular personality,” according to Rinaldi.
“He was very, very passionate about the history of Barolo and the wine, and at the same time he had decided initially to not be involved in the family business. He was a vet for about 25 years before taking over.”
Like her father before her, Carlotta Rinaldi’s journey as a wine producer has not been straightforward. But along with her sister, they're taking the label in a new direction, though it’s more evolution than revolution.
“Naturally, we created our own paths,” says Carlotta. “And it worked out because we are very different, especially in the need of sharing and conversation and insecurities too. I am more insecure, Marta is more decisive. It took some work to find the right way, to sometimes not expect too much or even to not share everything, or feel that we need to share everything. It’s a work in progress.”
Marta on the left and Carlotta on the right, working in the vineyards.
Carlotta and Marta Rinaldi exemplify the changing attitudes to gender roles in winemaking, and despite Carlotta’s initial reluctance to embrace her destiny, perhaps it was inevitable?
“Growing up here, our life as children was always linked to wine,” says Carlotta. “We’ve always had a lot of clients who had a strong passion for wine, but did completely different things. There was always this kind of fil rouge of wine running through everything. It can be overwhelming at times."
Wine is one of those products that reflects all the experiences, the soil, the terroirs and the character of those who make it. Is there a difference in the wine’s character since the sisters took over?
“I feel like there is an influence in the wine, that’s what the clients tell us. That the wines have been changing since we have been involved. But that’s not our intention. For us, both me and my sister, we are very lucky because we are sensitive to this and we agree. Every vintage, every year, we’re trying to interpret our vines and our soils.”
“There is no intention to use technology or to influence the wines too much… we don’t want to bring the wines somewhere… We make the wines in the same way as my grandfather and father, so what is changing is so much related to climate change and seasonal changes, and of course different choices we are making in the vineyard. For example, our ambition to push sustainability in everything we do, but as far as making the wines there is not much intention of imparting a certain idea or character. It is an expression of our soils, an expression of Nebbiolo. We want Nebbiolo to be Nebbiolo.”
“My dad was a pretty intense character, a big personality, so perhaps his wines were a bit more austere, with a lot of tannins. You had to wait a long time to drink them… that kind of makes sense. As for us our clients, they tell us our wines are a little more refined or elegant.”
The climate emergency demands that we recalibrate our relationship with the land, and that of course means involving more women in agriculture and wine production. Perhaps that accounts for the recent change in demographics in the Barolo, with more women being born to wine-producing families and fewer men. That includes Marta’s newborn daughter, Luce, the latest in a new line of ladies of Barolo.
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