Uncorked: Family roots run deep at Italy’s Pio Cesare

Everyone wanted to know if Federica Rosy Boffa was ready.

After her father, Pio Boffa, unexpectedly died due to complications from COVID-19 in April, it was Federica who would become the fifth-generation Boffa to run the family estate. The winery might as well be in her DNA. Her great-great grandfather Cesare Pio started the winery in 1881, and her father pushed it to new heights with his ambitious vision.

In a Zoom tasting, she showed her moxie as she deftly pivoted from wine tasting notes to details about their farthest flung vineyards. For good measure, she’d spin old yarns about her father’s intentions with new projects.

Yes, Federica, 23, is a live wire. She’s got the personality, the knowledge and the passion to propel Pio Cesare to new heights.

“This is my first tasting since my father passed away,” said Federica via Zoom. “We know it’s not the same, but we will do our best to introduce our history, explain our tradition, and talk about the 140-year anniversary. We have decided to continue with our project even though my father isn’t here. That’s what he would have wanted.”

The family roots run deep. Federica lives above the winery with her mother, and each generation has taken turns adding something new to the winery or cellar. In the 1970s, her father and grandfather decided to take the unprecedented step to become wine growers.

All producers in the Piedmont or Langhe bought grapes and made them into wine. But to further take control of the process and manage the vineyards with practices they thought would make the best wines possible, they had to own land.

“Pio [the founder] was a local businessman who started to make wine just for friends,” Federica said. “He had a passion for nebbiolo in the region. Before COVID, we traveled the world to promote and introduce everyone to our family.

“He had passport No. 55 in Italy,” she said. “He understood the importance of importing Barolo and Barbaresco all around the world. Pio … was an exporter who made his way all around Europe at first, since at the time there was no air travel.”

Years later, when Pio Boffa traveled to the U.S. and met with California’s trailblazing winemaker Robert Mondavi in the 1970s, he fell for chardonnay. It wasn’t a varietal native to Italy, but he envisioned it standing alongside the red wines of the region. In 1981, he convinced his father to replant a vineyard to chardonnay.

Today, the Pio Cesare Piodilei Chardonnay 2017 ($45) is a wine that has taken just 40 years to seem like a natural fit. There was a little oak spice on the nose with flavors of lemon curd, toasty marshmallow and wet mossy rock.

From steep vineyards, of which Federica said, “It’s not an easy place to grow grapes,” came Pio Cesare Barolo di Serralunga d’Alba 2017 ($120). A wine that showcased nebbiolo’s diversity with its bigger fruit flavors of cherry and plum. There were pine needle accents, and the wine really wanted to go full throttle into hedonistic ripe territory, but dialed itself down with an acidic beam in the mid-palate.

Because they blend warmer site with “fresher regions,” Federica said when Pio Cesare wines are young, they are easy to enjoy.

“Within the same village, there can be big changes,” Federica said. “From the north, there’s a particular character, and as you move south, you experience masculine power and structure. That’s from the soil and this vintage. It shows we are open to experimenting with new things, yet keeping the same style. We have decided to produce something different as we used a single commune or village, but made a blend. There are four vineyards within the same village. A compromise between the blend and cru.”

As an ode to their extensive history, the Pio Cesare Barolo 2017 ($82) celebrated the history of the winery with 1881-2021 on the wine capsule, and it broke from tradition as it didn’t have “regular” written on the bottle.

Because Pio Cesare has a goal of being exceptional, and this wine was – with fresh, snappy fruit on the nose, raspberry and cherry with easy drinking tannins that were light and integrated – the word “regular” had to go. It’s a wine that was super easy to drink and enjoy.

Federica has walked in her father’s footsteps her whole life. She has big shoes to fill, but will carve a new path forward while being loyal to the brand her family has developed.

“My most important task is to preserve our identity and legacy that we’ve built through 140 years,” Federica said. “The reason why we’ve survived is we have been loyal to our style and our own way of doing things. We don’t follow fashions which can change. We remain faithful to the style of our family.”

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.