April 21: Two weeks of hospitalisation due to Covid, could not save the life of 66-year old Pio Boffa, 4th Generation Managing Director of the 140- year old winery Pio Cesare, founded by his maternal great-grandfather in Alba, and he died on 17 April, leaving behind his wife and daughter Federica Boffa who has the onerous task of protecting the Legacy left behind by his father, writes Subhash Arora who had the privilege of meeting him on several occasions in India, Italy and other countries
As if he had premonition- or the fear due to lung complication, Pio Boffa was petrified of getting Covid and had been training her 23-year old daughter Federica Boffa for the last one year. She will take charge of the business assisted by his nephew Cesare Benvenuto who would hold fort during the 200 days a year he would be traveling around the globe on business.
Boffa had worked for 40 years in the family business, taking the Piemontese acclaimed Negociant to a top-of-the-class Estate Winery in 2014) known well and popular with discerning Connoisseurs even in India. I had met him around 2004-5 when he visited with an Italian delegation of top producers to India. Sovereign Impex was quick to take the reins of import into India. When the company stopped doing business, it was taken over by Prestige Wines and Spirits Pvt Ltd. During this period, I had the pleasure of meeting Boffa on several occasions and his passion and love for tradition was infectious.
Also Read : Passing By: Benvenuto to Cesare Benvenuto of Pio Cesare of Piedmont
Paying Homage to Pio, Sumit Sehgal, Director of Prestige Wines that has been importing Pio Cesare wines for over a decade, reminisces, ‘I will always remember Pio for his dedication towards Pio Cesare, Barolo and Barbaresco. He is the only I know who can travel for just one dinner with his wines to India and return the same night after the dinner. Amazing commitment! His knowledge and passion was incredible. Huge respect for him. He is like us Indians – a little argument and then love at the same time. Strong but honest character!’ He fondly remembered an exclusive dinner of older vintages from his private cellar in India a couple of years ago to show the ageing potential of Pio Cesare. Barolo and Barbaresco from the 1970’s.
Also Read : Passing By: Pio Boffa from Piemontese Pio Cesare
I remember tasting and recommending an ‘affordable’ Pio Cesare Barolo 2004 in delWine. My comments in 2008 were, ’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’. I always rued that his wines were not available at the DDF so one could pick up 2-3 bottles returning from a foreign trip.
Known for top class Barolos and Barbarescos, his was the only winery outside the region classified to produce them in specific communes and Alba was not listed. As Boffa explained, ‘when Pio was founded in 1881, the wineries were located outside the villages like Barolo and Barbaresco unlike today, because the mode of transportation was railways and the railheads were in big cities and Alba was very central and well-known for making Barolos. Most of the wineries have moved out near the vineyards but Pio Cesare decided to stay in Alba and is perhaps the only winery in the city known more for white truffles and Ferrer Roche factory. During one visit to his winery, he showed me a very thick wall adjoining the winery, that was the outer boundary of the city.
Also Read : Passing By: Pio Boffa of Pio Cesare in Piedmont
Traditionalist with modern eyes
Pio was a traditionalist who walked the path of modernisation carefully. Like the older producers of Barolo, he believed in the typicity of Barolo. 'Why should we make a Barolo like Bordeaux or a Burgundy wine? We must stick to our own characteristic style,’ he used to say. He also conceded that the Piemontese did not hide their stubborn character. ‘We all think we are prima donnas. It is difficult for us to come to a common agreement on any issue, including wine making technique,' he often said.
Also Read : Piemonte Premium Food-Wine Feast at Hyatt Delhi
He told me once, 'We have to make wines which can be drunk younger; 7-10 years before opening. Unfortunately, it becomes a negative factor for us since a good Barolo needs aging in the barrel. It is difficult to drink a 3-4-year-old Barolo. He used Allier's medium toasted French barrels for his Barolos and preferred them to be drunk after 5 years though they would age for 20 years or even more.
Also Read : Interview: Pio Boffa of Pio Cesare
But he was also appreciative of the new wave of younger Barolo producers like the Barolo Boys who ‘created a lot of buzz with their younger drinking modern styled wine that resulted in a lot of extra sales and they are not critical of the traditional style,’ he said.
Boffa on Indian wine market
He was fascinated by the Indian wine market and used to visit us regularly –sometimes for just one dinner as Sumit Sehgal pointed out. Once, he was on his way to Korea and arrived in Delhi from Mumbai and came directly from the airport to have an exclusive lunch with me at Hotel Leela Chanakyapuri since I could not attend the evening wine dinner due to an earlier commitment.
Also Read : We Recommend: Pio Cesare Barolo 2004
Out of the 35000 cases of wine including 15000 cases of Barolo, 70% of his wines are exported. The family had started exporting Barolo to the UK in the fifties. 'Marketing efforts in India today are the same as they were for us 30 years ago in other countries,' he told delWine. He saw an incredible explosion in the demand including high quality wines.
Pio Boffa was a shining star of Barolo- a bridge between the old and the new- with zest and passion for travel and restrained but continuous expansion into newer areas like single vineyard wines, crus and even wines like vermouth and Barolo Chinato, infused with herbs-not as much for profits but to keep the traditions alive.
delWine offers its condolences to his wife Nicoletta, daughter Federica and nephew Cesare Benvenuto and pray that Pio Boffa’s Soul Rests in Peace-finally.
If you Like this article please click on the Like button