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Delhi Wine Club
Pio Boffa of Pio Cesare in Piedmont

Posted: Friday, 07 December 2012 15:45

Passing By: Pio Boffa of Pio Cesare in Piedmont

December 07: Pio Boffa, owner of the Alba-based winery Pio Cesare, was in India for a couple of days last week when Subhash Arora met him over lunch at the Hotel Leela in Delhi to touch base and exchange views since his visit in February this year when he had inaugurated a Michelin starred Chef’s Menu paired with Pio Cesare wines in La Piazza at Hotel Hyatt Regency

If you believe you are a rich man, been there, done that and are looking for an excellent value wine in a restaurant, that you can drink now, in 2014 or even in 2024, here is the wine for you. After it earned the 6th spot in Wine Spectator Top 100 recently, the interest in this wine has been growing at a feverish pace globally’. This is how we described the Pio Cesare Barolo 2004 while recommending it in November 2008 in delWine.

At that time, it was being imported by Sovereign Impex which has more or less exited wine business for the last couple of years. The import has now been taken over by Prestige Wines and Spirits in which Torres is a significant partner;  Pio Cesare is already being imported by Torres China and Torres Sweden.

Pio Boffa is often confused  as Pio Cesare. He does not mind. After all he is the great grandson of Pio Cesare who founded the company in 1881 and is a fine old timer Barolo and Barbaresco producer. He is a regular visitor to India and has a tremendous faith in the Indian market in the long run. In fact, this has been his second visit within this year, even though only for a couple of days only-a day each in Delhi and Mumbai.

I have been running into Pio Boffa at various forums in Italy, France and India during the last decade. He was on his way to Korea as he arrived from Mumbai and came directly from the airport to have an exclusive lunch with me at Leela, Chanakyapuri; due to a bad back I would not be able to attend the dinner planned in the evening with the members of the Delhi Wine Club at Hotel Trident in Gurgaon and I was keen not to lose the opportunity of seeing again this respected Piemontese producer.

Traditional Modernists

Pio is a traditionalist who treads the path of modernisation very carefully. Like other older producers of Barolo, he believes in the typicity of Barolo. 'Why should we make a Barolo like Bordeaux ora Burgundy wine?' 'We must stick to our own characteristic style, he adds. However, he is very appreciative of the new wave of younger Barolo producers-the new Barolo Boys who have joined the Barolo producing family during the last 15 years. They created a lot of buzz with their younger drinking modern styled wine that resulted in a lot of extra sales,’ he says matter-of-factly, adding ‘they were not critical about the traditional style and simply catered to a new market and created a new market as well.

With the world opting for younger wines, Barolo has also been affected. 'We have to make wines which can be drunk younger rather than wait for 7-10 years before we can open the bottle', he admits. 'Unfortunately it becomes a negative factor for Barolos as you cannot make good Barolo that you can drink young-it needs aging in the barrel. It is difficult to drink a 3-4 year Barolo'. Boffa uses Allier's medium toasted French barrels for his Barolos and would prefer his Barolos to be drunk after 5 years though they would age for 15-20 years or even more.

Barolo needs distribution

Barolo needs to have distribution. How can we convince hotels and independent restaurants to have larger wines of our region. Some hotels here wonder why they should have more than 2 Barolos. Some of the other wines may sit on the shelves. But we have to convince them that the customer demands choice. As long as they don’t offer a wider selection of wines to the consumer-they will not move.’ When told that Barolo was a known Brand denoting fine wines so that people wanted Barolo but cheap, he said, ‘What is more important is that the people talk about our region and appellation. Those drinking cheap Barolos would want to shift to better quality Barolo like ours gradually. The producer also has to perform a combination of different functions- keep on pushing, promoting and asking. Distributor has   to be at the back of F& B, try to have them rotate wine, add more to the list.’  With the heavy registration costs and the excise laws not permitting unsold bottles it may not be the easiest thing but with the excise performing hit and trial jugglery, things may move in that direction, particularly if and when the customs duties come down after the slow moving FTA is signed with EU.

‘We have to be here more often. We have to convince people that wine is not alcohol and it goes with food. Italian wine has variety and goes best with food and has character for very broad palate,’ says Boffa who compares the situation in India today with Australia in the 80s when he started travelling there. Earlier the USA was in the same boat in the late 60s and early 70s. He is not discouraged by the current scenario and says the marketing efforts required are same here as in those countries 30 years ago.

 Recession Blues

‘Recession has made it a challenging market, some fears around the world of recession and prices. Top and unique wines like Barolo, Barbaresco and top Burgundy  wines don’t suffer so much as they have  different personality than the masses’, he says, adding however , ’Italian market in particular and  European market in general  is suffering . Last 10 months have seen crisis in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy though Italy is not perceived as bad as it has been till now.  Italy is in a turbulent financial market. Rumours of bankruptcy were there. Lot of small and medium companies closed down. Economic and financial restrictions have reduced the willingness to spend,’ he says analyzing the current scenario.
US is their biggest market. ‘It is still the best and biggest market. Wine has become very important there –both domestic and import. With the help from the growing domestic market, imported wine sales are getting better. Capacity to spend is increasing there,’ he feels.

How is Pio Cesare affected in terms of prices and market share in the US because of the global meltdown?  ‘It wasn’t too severe; our sales did not fall drastically. We didn’t lose market share –we have been stable. We did not decrease or increase our prices- We increased the prices slightly this year because of promotions. One must understand that market shares cannot be increased by price reductions. We have our own level, we are neither cheap nor very expense. We have been retailing our Barolo in the USA for $ 65-68 for the last 10 years. 

Pio- the Globetrotter

Pio Boffa loves to travel throughout the globe: last time when he came to India in February this year, he was going to the US from Delhi; this time he was going to South Korea where he has appointed a new distributor. ‘I would like to travel less frequently. We travel so much that we have become more of globetrotters than winemakers,’ he admits. Well, we are sure. Pio Boffa would be back or perhaps his nephew Cesare might show up!?

Subhash Arora

 For related earlier articles, please visit


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