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Juliette Colbert: charity and Barolo

 

International Women’s Day is the perfect occasion to share the Noble Story of the exceptional noblewoman that spent her life dedicated in service of others, and between her numerous good deeds, invented the most celebrated Italian red wine: his majesty, Barolo.

Reading time: 3.5 minutes
Wine pairing: Barolo DOCG Duchessa Lia: intense red, garnet reflections, amazes with floral and fruity notes, revealing a balanced complexity and enveloping taste.

This is the story of Juliette Colbert, born in the Vandée area of Loire, and became more Piedmontese than the Piedmontese. She was raised amongst the glimmering gold of palaces, but as an adult was poor in substance and rich in spirit as she decided to donate most of her possessions to charity. This is a story of a women of the Risorgimento, who dedicated her life to her community and territory, paying particular attention to the needs of the poor, with honour and pride.

A great-granddaughter of the infamous Jean-Baptise, minister to King Louis XIV and born into a noble family, Juliette spent her childhood shuttling between Paris and other friendlier kingdoms in the wake of the French Revolution. She lost her mother at the tender age of 7 and saw many of her wealthy relatives lose their heads to the guillotine during The Terror. However, when Napoleon took over the French state as the Emperor, she was gladly welcomed into his court on the basis of pedigree. It was here that she met her husband, Count Carlo Tancredi Falletti di Barolo. They married in 1806 and relocated to Turin after Napoleon’s fall where they were welcomed by the Savoy Family. Not long after moving to Turin, the couple moved into to Carlo’s ancestral seat at the Palazzo Falletti Barolo. The palace is located on the “Via della Orfana” (Orphan’s Street), which is an eerie coincidence in light of the couple’s dedication to serving the poorest and weakest members of society.

Along with her husband, Juliette settled into her true vocation of piety and charity. They become leaders of charitable works in the community, guided by their unshakeable Christian faith and a shared sense of social justice that would astonish even the most progressive minds of today’s political climate. “When justice runs its course, let charity begin,” Juliette once noted in her journal; words, that for the couple, became foundational. Palazzo Barolo was opened to the city’s poor, homeless and sick. Juliette herself was often found serving hot soup meals and other refreshments, rarely relegating the work to the couple’s staff, but rather chose to lead by example.

One of Juliette’s most famous charity cases was the imprisoned Italian poet, dramatist and writer, Silvio Pellico. After his release from the infamous Spielburg prison, Juliette, who passionately campaigned for prison reform, housed Silvio and eventually hired him as her personal secretary. During their time together, Silvio become quite famous in Europe for his writings about his time in prison and his active role in Italian unification.

A WOMAN FOR THE WOMEN 

Juliette was keenly aware of her own privilege as a noblewoman and had an acute need to share her own fortune with those often overlooked by society. During her time, the culture was strongly patriarchal and even the richest of women were not immune to the indifference placed on their gender. Juliette saw herself as a person able to champion the cause of the most marginalized women: those considered criminals. She engaged in daily visits to the “forced women,” as prostitutes were called, thieves and perceived murderers that had been sent to the stocks and forgotten about. She would assist them in securing material needs such as bedding, clothing and personal hygiene products, as well as guide them in their spiritual healing by teaching them to read, write and pray. This dedication led her to creating one of the first prison reform projects, which was presented to the government in 1821. The rulers of the time chose to appoint her as the Superintendent of Prisons, to the shock and scandal of many powerful men in Turin’s upper crust.

Women were always in her thoughts and actions. Palazzo Barolo established the first kindergarten where working women could leave their young children in the care of Juliette and her staff. She created and funded institutions charged with the care of abandoned children, prostitutes and disabled girls and was a large supporter of educating women. Eventually, she opened a school for the daughters of laborers where they could learn important professional skills such as weaving and embroidery. After she passed away in 1864, under the direction of her will, the entire fortune of Palazzo Barolo was used to fund the Opera Pia Barolo, an organization that continues to exist today, and upholds the political and social commitments forged by Juliette 150 years ago.

Palazzo Barolo a Torino

Palazzo Barolo a Torino

THE INVENTOR OF BAROLO

The countess’s love for her community extended beyond her devotion to the poor. She was also deeply passionate about the Piedmontese territory and countryside. As her husband was the last descendant of the noble Falletti di Barolo family line, the Castello di Barolo and its surrounding vineyards in Barolo were part of the couple’s estate. Along with fellow nobleman and wine lover, Count Camillo Benso of Cavour who had vineyards surrounding his castle in nearby Grizane Cavour, Juliette took on the project of “ennobling” the local wine. At the time, a wine called “Nebiulin” was made from the region’s Nebbiolo grapes. It was sweet and sparkling, crudely made as a peasant wine and rarely aged in a way to benefit the wine. From her time in the French court, Juliette was a great connoisseur of refined French wines and entrusted her project with a young enologist, Paolo Francesco Staglieno[1]. He forever changed how Nebbiolo was processed by turning it into a dry, perfumed wine that was aged according to French standards (temperature-controlled fermentation and small barrels). The success of his style was so great that Count Camillo Benso invested heavily in converting his cellars into the right environment.

However, Barolo as it came to know as “Barolo” happened thanks to a rare marketing opportunity. It had long been rumored amongst Piedmont’s noble society that Juliette and her husband were producing a new style of wine, but it was not available on the market or even outside the confines of their dining rooms and kitchens. In 1943, King Carlo Alberto asked Juliette to try “this wine that everyone keeps talking about.” Of course, she could not deny the wishes of the king, and so she sent him a case of six bottles. He loved it so much that he asked for more, so the couple gifted him 325 barrels, each holding 500 litres of Barolo, for each day of the year minus the forty days of Lent.

It was with this act that Barolo became the “king of wine, the wine of kings".


Il Castello dei Marchesi Falletti a Barolo

 


[1] Finora il nome di Juliette Colbert era stato associato all’enologo francese Louis Oudard, ma recenti studi hanno ridimensionato l’importanza di quest’ultimo nella vinificazione del nascente Barolo. Per questo argomento si veda il libro Louis Oudart e I vini nobili del Piemonte – Storia di un enologo francese” di Anna Riccardi Candiani, edito da Sloe Food editore nel 2012.

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