Barolo's Barale Sisters Respect the Past and Look to the Future

Eleonora and her sister, Gloria, represent the fifth generation to take the reins at Barale Fratelli, a Piedmontese winery whose history in the Barolo region runs 150+-years deep. The fact that they are not fratelli at all, but sorelle (sisters), is as important as the fact that they are still making exceptional, traditionally styled Barolo. They uniquely represent the new generation in Barolo: proud women holding leadership roles in what was once a very male-dominated context, but with ties to the past and great respect for tradition. If they are indeed the future of Barolo, then there’s a beautiful symbiosis of past and present in store.

The sisters inherited their winemaking style from their father, Sergio, who inherited it from his. Aside from implementing more modern technology, their wine is made in the same way. They use large oak vats for fermentation and botti for aging, eschewing barriques because they do not want to extract foreign tannins. The natural tannins of the grape are softer and sweeter than what you get from oak. They employ temperature control during fermentation and use only indigenous yeast from their own vineyards. The wine takes the tannins, aroma, and complexity from the skins. They do a gentle shower over the cap of the skins instead of a pumpover, not wanting to break the skins. These steps lead to a very elegant and complex wine–the house style for the Barali can be summed up by finesse. “My father taught me this way,” Eleonora says. “He learned from his father to respect the grape. The grape will teach you how it wants to be produced.”

This connection to tradition is important to Eleonora, who also does not plan to change the name to reflect the sorelle of the current generation. They are part of the house’s lineage, one that started when her great-grandfather, Carlo Barale, married Margherita Rinaldi, and then left the family winery to their sons, Battista, Giuseppe, and Francesco. Yet women are increasingly becoming a presence in Barolo’s wine production. Eleonora says, “Female power is changing everywhere. There is an evolution of the work. I’m excited to work because nowadays women are able to do something that belonged to men in the past. A lot of cellars now are managed by women in a very good way. It’s exciting to continue something that started 150 years ago, and I try to do it in my best way. It’s what I like in this job.”

She has seen the region change in her lifetime. “To be honest it’s not the same here, it was a poorer region, lots of people were leaving to go to more industrial places, but now more and more young people are staying here. There are more young families. They are investing more energy in new technology, with a new vision. More young people have a green point of view.” Eleonora encouraged her father to to get certified organic. “It was a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork, but it’s important to us. We are making wines that are more healthy, but also made with respect. What is important here is the land, we have to respect it.” Their land comprises calcareous marl, a lime-rich, clay-based soil. The Langhe hills were once part of the sea bed, and you can still find fossils in the hills. A certain sense of salinity and minerality is translated into the glass. Nebbiolo loves it here. And, thanks to the work of this generation, the vineyards and vines will be healthier for the next.

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The next generation could potentially be her two children, a four year old and a two month old, though she makes no predictions or demands of them for their future. In fact, when she was a child, winemaking was not her dream job. “I wanted to be a scientist, a business person. But I put my feet on the terra, and my destiny was in the wine. I’m the oldest daughter. I’m the ambassador. It’s very special. For me it was a great opportunity.”

When I asked her about the future of Barale, she said it lies in partnerships–not in more volume, not in conquering the world, but in continuing to make small lots of high-quality wines, then finding the right partners who care about good, artisanal Barolo. “You can’t make Barolo for everybody. The region is small and you can only make so much. In the 90s people wanted to sell Barolo everywhere: more oak, in a more international style, but it’s important to keep the tradition of Barolo, respecting the grape.” This sense of respect is defining throughout her work, and it’s clear when you have a glass of her wine in your hand.

- Kate Soto