One of the reasons I love dining in Alberta is because of the wine that’s available here. Did you know that there are more wines available in Alberta than in any other province in Canada? It’s true. We have access to over 20,000 labels and many are among the world’s best.
The reason? In the 1980s a few Calgary business people pioneered the privatization of wine, beer and liquor sales in Alberta. We started with a few wine merchants but now have many private wine and liquor boutiques. Most provinces still have government run liquor control boards. Usually, Calgary’s wine merchants tour the world to visit vintners in their natural habitats but sometimes the best pay a visit to Calgary.
Every other year Italy’s best winemakers come to Calgary for The Great Italian Wine Encounter. This event has raised millions of dollars for a particular kind of cancer and autoimmune diseases treatment known as Apheresis. I’ve had the good fortune to attend the event a few times and tomorrow, I’m going to meet, for the fourth time (pinch me), Italy’s Women of Wine.
The Women of Wine luncheon is hosted by Vendemmia International Wines Inc. owner Carlo Bellusci and his sister-in-law Franca Bellusci. Franca owns Merlo Vinoteca and Mercato West with her family. The Belluscis started The Great Italian Wine Encounter a dozen years ago and have quietly worked behind the scenes with The Calgary Health Trust to – as their patriarch Ernesto Bellusci used to say – “leave the world a better place than they found it”.
The event doesn’t get or seek a lot of press. It’s the friendships of this family that bring Italy’s best to Calgary and it’s the loyalty and friendships the family has earned with their wine buying patrons that sell out the biennial gala, luncheon and wine pairing dinner.
After Carlo Bellusci gives a brief thank you speech he turns the event over to host Matt Kramer and leaves Kramer to fend for himself as the only man in a room of 150 women. The group of women come from many backgrounds but gather to learn about the lives and stories of several Italian women winemakers. They pair stories and food with the equally eloquent wines the group produces.
Kramer is a respected columnist for Wine Spectator and author of seven books on wine including Making Sense of Italian Wine: Discovering Italy’s Greatest Wines and Best Values. I think he’s thrilled to come to Calgary because he has access to his 15 favourite Italian winemakers in one place. His admiration for the Women of Wine is sincere as shown by the questions he uses to draw them forth and help them share what their journey has been.
Though I enjoy Kramer, my favourite presentation at the last event was when Fattori die Barbi’s export manager Raffaella Guidi Federzoni posed a serious of questions about numbers to Francesca Planeta of Planeta Wines in Sicily to help illustrate what the life of an female Italian winemaker is really like. Here’s how that went as follows:
RF: When was Planeta founded? FP: 1995
RF: How old were you? FP: 28
RF: How many hectares do you have and how many wines to you make? FP: 370 hectares and 6 wines
RF: Why wine? Use numbers. FP: in 1614 Mount Etna erupted leaving great soil for winemaking.
RF: How many children? FP: 2
RF: How many trips abroad each year to market your wine? FP: I’m away 180 days/year.
RF: How many countries? FP: 70
RF: How many employees do you have? FP: 130
RF: How many glasses of wine do you drink daily? FP: 2 or 3, well, okay – 4 actually.
RF: How many bottles of your wine sold per year? FP: 2 million
RF: How many visits to your winery each year? FP: 10,000
RF: How many times have you wished you were a man? FP: NEVER!
Luisa Rocca of Bruno Rocca, Silvia Franco of Nino Franco Prosecco, Anna and Valentina Abbona of Marchesi di Barolo, , Angela Maculan of Maculan Wines and Marinella Camerani of Corte Sant’Alda shared their stories as well.
Okanagan Food and Wine Writer’s Workshop founder Jennifer Cockrall-King, Domus magazine’s luxury wine and spirits columnist Shelley Boettcher and I were dedicated to the task of taking notes and drinking (I mean tasting) what was placed before us. (Note to self: why have I not booked a room at The Palliser Hotel for a post luncheon nap? Ah well, a cab will be on order for tomorrow – that is certain.)
In 2014, I also had the pleasure of attending a wine pairing dinner featuring the wines of Petrolo’s Luca San Just, Fontodi’s Giovanni Manetti and Roberto Voerzio’s eponymous ones with beef prepared by a man considered the world’s most ethical butcher – Dario Cecchini of Macelleria Con Cucina in Panzano, Chianti. Two years ago our economy was much stronger – comparatively robust in fact.
I suspect this year that The Great Italian Wine Encounter will be a little more subdued – at least on the surface. But, knowing Calgary, the event will continue to live up to its philanthropic purpose. Even when things aren’t so easy here, people find a way to help others and leave the world a better place. Mr. Ernesto Bellusci would be proud of his family.
Tasting wine, enjoying food and marrying those two things to each other doesn’t have to be a posh affair. It can be modest in fact but, one thing is for sure; to Italy’s winemakers and their Women of Wine in particular, there is no work life balance to achieve. Their work is their life and even with challenges, it’s the only life they can imagine. This is how they savour it all.