Women in Wine
Mariuccia Borio (Cascina Castlèt)
Catherine Stratton (Due Terre)
While we make an effort to stock as many female owned, made, imported, or distributed wineries in our shop as possible, the gender disparity in the wine industry is so wide that we will likely never have a 50/50 split on our shelves. With more ‘mom & pop’ owned wineries popping up and daughters inheriting their family properties (something that used to be extremely rare), the pendulum has started to swing. But there is still a long way to go before we can say this is not an issue. Every March, we spotlight a few talented women of the wine world in our wine club and at the pickup party. Last year for our inaugural March club, we focused on French winemakers. This year we have selected Italy. One little shop won’t be able to right the ship, but we can do our best to shine a light in the right direction.
Last year’s writeup has a lot of information on the subject, including statistics, scandals, progress, and inspiration. Give it a read if you’re interested in the background and weren’t a member then (or just need a refresher). This year we follow a similar format. One selection is a winery run by a woman who has inherited the Piemontese winery from her family. The other is an American businesswoman who has partnered with a local winemaker in Sicily to bring wines to the US. Two sides of the business bearing equal importance. At the pickup party, we will focus on some of the top women winemakers in Italy as a whole, from North to South, East to West.
As always, we hope this month's club inspires you to be a more conscious consumer and go the extra step to consider who is behind the label. What are their principles? How is their business practice? Do they treat their people well? Are they adding to the collective good?
Due Terre, Catarratto, Monte Bonifato, Terre Siciliane 2021
Catherine Stratton is an American woman (living in Portland!) who, like many of us, loves Italy. She has spent years traveling back and forth to the country, learning Italian, living there for a brief period, traveling from end to end, and - of course - drinking wine. During her tenure in Sicily, she made friends with a local winemaker named Vito Lauria. From this friendship, they struck a business partnership. Vito would use his connections in Sicily to source quality organic Grapes and Catherine would use her experience in the wine business and connections stateside to import and sell the wine. Each harvest, Catherine travels to Sicily where together they make critical wine making decisions and craft the wines together.
The beautiful label art is done by Catherine’s friend Chiara Buccheri (aka Chiccabu). Each wine has a different marionette, taking inspiration from Orlando Furioso and other plays in the Opera dei Pupi. Puppet theater is one of the earliest forms of entertainment in Europe, dating back to medieval times. In Sicily, the theater uses wooden marionettes on metal strings rather than hand puppets. While this art form is not yet extinct, it is slowly disappearing. Consequently, UNESCO has taken steps to preserve the Sicilian Puppet Theatre as part of humanity’s “oral and intangible heritage”.
Of the lineup of wines we tasted, this white was our favorite. 100% Catarratto Bianco Lucido, a biotype of Catarratto that is more expressive and complex than regular Catarratto. It is grown certified Organic on the slopes of Monte Bonifato, a 500m tall mountain in Northwestern Sicily, halfway between Palermo and Marsala. The grapes are harvested in mid-September, pressed and fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel for two weeks before being aged for four months in concrete tanks. The wine has typical Catarratto notes - green almond, white peach, yellow pineapple, lemon, and sea salt. The acid is very much the driving sensation of the palate, but the fleshy body and lingering finish round the wine out well. It pairs excellently with Season 2 of White Lotus and a bowl of Frutti di Mare and Linguine.
Cascina Castlèt, ‘Litina’ Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont 2017
Mariuccia Borio was 23 when she inherited Cascina Castlèt. She was an only child, who had left her small town of Costigliole d'Asti and moved ‘halfway across the world’ to the big city of Turin (62 mins away). There, she worked in a family owned bottle shop and gained a view of wine from a merchant’s perspective. When her father passed away in 1970, she inherited the 5 hectares of land and the winery. The land had been in her family for generations and now she was finally the steward.
Immediately, Mariuccia knew that she would not make Barbera - or anything else - into a bulk wine, but rather bottle it in glass. This was not common practice at the time (that was reserved for the finer, Nebbiolo-based Barolo or Barbaresco). She also hired professional help in the form of a viticulturist and oenologist. Over time, she slowly grew the vineyard and winery, planting more vineyards and increasing production. Today, Mariuccia’s holdings are roughly 30 hectares (75 acres) in Costigliole d’Asti.
This bottling is a special, 50th Anniversary edition, celebrating the fiftieth year of the estate in 2020 (which is when they bottled this 2017 vintage). While Cascina Castlèt definitely makes more lauded, expensive wines, Mariuccia chose to give the humble Barbera grape the honor of wearing the 50th Anniversary label. Her reasoning is that this grape is at the core of the winery's ideals. It was the first wine she made, completing her first vintage alone in the cellar under the old house. It is also one of the only vineyards that was brought into the family by way of a woman. Mariuccia’s Great Aunt Litina married into the family and brought this vineyard with her in the form of a dowry. Aunt Litina knew the value of the land and its ability to produce Barbera year after year, so the vineyard was kept and cherished as a piece of the family. This wine is made in her honor.
Litina is 100% Barbera from roughly 30 year old vines, harvested in October and fermented for a minimum of 10 days. It then sees eight months of aging in medium sized oak casks, with an additional year in the bottle. The resulting wine is rich and round, with dark berry fruits, woodland earth, vanilla, and spice. Typically, Barbera d’Asti is lighter and more playful than its Alba counterparts, but this wine certainly bucks the trend. It is a full-bodied, persistent wine, but still has a smooth finish and balanced acidity. This is paired well with savory, meaty dishes and rich pastas. It can be aged an additional 2-3 years, but I don’t think it necessarily needs it either.
Catherine and Vito in the vineyards.
Monte Bonifato, vineyards, and the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Mariuccia Borio in her winery.
Costigliole d’Asti in the midground with vineyards in the foreground.