Meet the Female Winemaker Behind One of Piedmont Italy’s Best Wineries

Frequent Dream of Italy contributor Susan Van Allen is the author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go. In her book and in the September 2009 issue of Dream of Italy, she writes about women changing the face of Italian winemaking. Here is a profile of one of these innovative women:

Updated 2018

This was my first time back to West of Alba, the town in the Piedmont region that’s famous for its white truffles and is a graceful wide valley of lush vineyards, Le Langhe, where Barolo, the “King of Wines” is produced. It was a woman, Marchesa Giulia Colbert, who made Barolo famous in the 19th century. She wanted something better than the wine that was being produced from the grapes growing around her Piedmont castle. So she called in a French expert to make wine similar to a Bordeaux. She was so happy with the result, she sent cartloads of it to the King of Savoy in Turin. It became a hit there and all over the courts of Europe.

Anna Abbona has been married for 28 years to Ernesto Abbona, whose family has owned Marchesi di Barolo since the early 20th century. She’s a glamorous VIP of the wine world and when I met her she graciously took a break from a meeting with producers to sit with me in the dining room, which she also oversees. By the way, you must make a reservation to have lunch here to enjoy Piemontese specialties such as brasato — veal braised in Barolo. “My husband is home resting from the weekend,” Anna said. “We women are stronger!”

The winery is a grand butter-yellow complex that sits across from the Barolo castle where Marchesa Giulia Colbert once reigned. It originated as the headquarters for the Opera Pia Barolo, a charitable foundation Giulia created to help the town’s needy, which the Abbona family keeps going. On a tour, you get to see the original barrels used in Giulia’s day, and there’s an incredible wine library, with a bottle of Barolo from 1859 as well as shelves that hold vintages from 1938 on up–totaling 35,000 bottles.

Read about more female winemakers and how to visit their vineyards in Piedmont and Tuscany.