The wine world lost another friend, taken from us too soon. Pio Boffa, head of Pio Cesare winery in Alba, Piedmont, died Saturday, April 17, from COVID-19. He was just 66. Pio was a kind, generous man who devoted himself to his family and wines.
I knew Pio from Wine Spectator's events, including the New York Wine Experience. I visited him in November 2007 on my first trip to Piedmont, three years before I began covering the region for Wine Spectator. He proudly showed me his estate vineyards, primarily in Serralunga d’Alba. He had strong relationships with other growers too; some came from families that had been selling grapes to Pio Cesare, founded in 1881 by Pio’s great-grandfather, for more than 100 years.
After a quick visit to his prized Barbaresco site in Treiso, Il Bricco, we ended up at the cellars in Alba, a vast maze of underground rooms comprising several city blocks. I still get lost every time I visit the winery. We tasted a number of wines and, typical of Pio’s hospitality, we enjoyed a casual lunch in his home.
Since that first visit, I got to know Pio well. We usually met each year, either in Alba or in New York, to taste the new vintages and discuss any new developments at Pio Cesare. He enlisted the advice of the late Bordeaux consultant Denis Dubourdieu, mainly to improve his white wines, but also to have an outsider’s objective opinion of Pio Cesare’s wines, always looking for ways to improve.
I enjoyed many dinners with Pio over the years, sometimes in his home, at a good local Langa restaurant, or at restaurants here in New York. He loved good food, but most of all he loved Burgundy, and when in New York he would ask me to make a reservation where we could enjoy a good bottle.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of moderating seminars with Pio too. He was one of the producers of Wine Spectator’s Top 10 tasting panel at the New York Wine Experience in 2009 after the Pio Cesare Barolo 2004 (94 points, $62 on release) earned the No. 6 spot in our Top 10 of 2008. We presented two seminars together at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Miami, and in 2012, I attended a charity dinner honoring Pio at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
I vividly recall our last visit, on April 13, 2017. We walked the Mosconi vineyard in Monforte d’Alba, an acquisition Pio made in 2014. He told me it was very expensive, but it was his gift to himself for his 60th birthday. Afterward, we tasted the 2015 and 2016 vintages at the winery before having dinner at La Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso. His daughter Federica, still a student, joined us, and I recall how proud Pio was that she would be joining the family business in the future.
Last week, I had an email from Pio’s friend Davide Rosso, proprietor of Giovanni Rosso in Serralunga, informing me that Pio was hospitalized with COVID. I spoke with Federica and we were all hoping for the best. This year, Pio Cesare celebrates its 140th anniversary, without the man who guided it for more than 40 years, traveling the globe to promote his family’s wines. His work will be continued by his daughter and his nephew, Cesare Benvenuto, who had worked alongside Pio for the past 20 years.
Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti winery was another friend of Pio's. “We are all devastated about Pio. It’s such a tragedy because of COVID, it’s still hard to believe it,” he shared via email. “Pio was a good man, behind his tough aspect—we always teased him because of his similarity to Al Pacino—he was generous and a very upright person. We will miss him! His legacy will strongly be carried by his daughter and nephew.”
It’s a huge loss for Piedmont and the wine community. Pio will be remembered for his devotion to his family and its historic winery.
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