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The Real Woman behind the Wine of Kings

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

Most people would call this a Love Story, which it really is, but I am looking at the outcome of the long, lasting consequences for wine lovers, hopefully creating a forever after.

A chance meeting in Paris while she was at the court of the new emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte; as a lady-in-waiting to the Empress lead to the marriage of Juliette Colbert de Maulevrier to Carlo Tancredi Falletti, a chamberlain, who happened to also be the Marquis of Barolo. The marriage was celebrated in Paris August of 1806 with both Napoleon and his Empress present. The duo remained until the fall of Napoleon in 1814, then they quickly relocated to Turin. The couple lived there, but would return to Paris from time to time since Juliette's relatives lived in France. Though very much in love the couple remained childless, thus they devoted much to their time and resources to the poor in Turin and the Barolo region, where they had another castle.

They had vast holdings in and around their homes and therefore, Juliette took up the day to day management while her husband was elected to town council in 1823 and took up more civic duties. The two where exemplary philanthropists by reforming prison conditions, starting schools and founding both the Sisters of Saint Anne and Daughters of Jesus the Good Shepard. Juliette was actually named “Venerated” by Pope Francis in 2015.

The Marquise lost her husband in 1838 and devoted more time to the wines by using her intuition to improve the harvest rituals, fermentation, and building underground cellars for better temperature control. Also by bringing in a consulting French winemaker, M. Louis Oudart who advised using updated French wine-making techniques and suggested creating a wine that would last and compete with French Bourgogne and Bordeaux style wines. The fact was she herself had heritage of wine making traditions in her family, from Reims to the Loire Valley and was comfortable in this sphere. Since living in Piedmont for over 24 years, she knew that the territory for Nebbiolo was the perfect variety for the protected Langhe’s undulating hills, rich in minerals thus giving the opportunity to make long lasting powerful wines.

Her reputation grew from guests at her home who drank her wine and the fact that she knew it was economically important to promote her wines. The story goes that one day in Turin, the King of Savoy a friend, Carlo Alberto, asked her jokingly why she had not yet offered him a taste of her famous wine, of which he had heard so much spoken of was being produced, in the environs of the Castle of Barolo, her vacation residence of Barolo. “A few days later, writes historian Domenico Massè in Il Paese di Barolo, the city of Turin was witness to an extraordinary spectacle: The streets of the capital were full of the Marquise’s ox-drawn carts, heading in the direction of the royal palace and carrying barrels of wine — 325 of them, to be precise, one for every day of the year, minus 40 for the days of Lent.”

Thus the success of the "King of Wines and the Wine of Kings," as Barolo has become to be known, was assured and made its way around European courts. By being famous and much appreciated people, the Barolo wine took advantage of image.

Juliette was interested in giving a future and a stable prestige to the quality of her wine. Since the line of the Falletti family would come to an end when she died, she wanted the entire patrimony, including the cellars to leave a lasting legacy through her charitable foundation: Opera Pia Barolo. In 1864 when Juliette died, the Foundation took over administering the huge fortune and carried out the various good works and activities she had wanted – as it does even today in the Agenzia della Tenuta Opera Pia Barolo overlooking the Castello Falletti di Barolo.

There is more goodwill to the story, a love story of wine. This story was meant to cross path with the story of another family in Barolo: the Abbona family who had its own wine cellars next to the Castle of Marquis Falletti. In 1895, Pietro Abbona began working in the family’s wine cellars in Barolo. Thanks to his strong dedication to the work, skill and tenacity in 1929 Pietro Abbona was eventually able to acquire the Agenzia Tenuta Opera Pia Barolo: the ancient cellars of vinification and refinement of the Marchesi di Barolo estate.

It has been written: “Of the personages connected with the name Barolo, some may be considered of historic importance, real and true pioneers -- first place goes to Pietro Abbona, undisputed patriarch of Barolo…who, as an unquestionable standard-bearer, made the wine of his region known throughout the world. It was from his winery that Barolo made many historic steps.”

Marchesi di Barolo remains a family business: Anna and Ernesto Abbona, already the 5th generation, continues the work that began more than two centuries ago producing high quality wines meant to enrich, year after year, the history of this important cellar where modernity and tradition meet and where a great heritage of vineyards and knowledge has been passed down from parents to their children. Today as I write this, two beautiful ladies are at the helm are Anna and Valentina Abbona!

Anna Abbona and Valentina Abbona, Owners.

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