Virginia Ferrero was born the 15th of June 1865 in Turin, the daughter of Giacomo Ferrero and Teresa Gabutti, both from Serralunga d’Alba. The Ferrero family was quite well to do, and despite being resident in Turin, they found time to take care of their land and vineyards in the town of the birth place.
We can well imagine how important the first grape harvests were for Virginia Ferrero and the subsequent wine productions. We don’t’ have much documents about her: the definitive history of Barolo has yet to be written but unfortunately few records exist about that historic period.
A manager of a bygone age
One thing is certain: people in the Barolo area, the old farmers of Serralunga and the families who produce Barolo still remember Virginia Ferrero, known as Tota Virginia. She was admired and respected as woman doing a man’s job, and was not short of courage and determination. She was a manager of a bygone age, a symbol of female emancipation in a predominantly male world, such as the wine business.
In fact at the end of the Nineteenth Century she had already settled in Serralunga to follow the wine production in person, without the help of her brother Francesco, known as Cichin, who was a free spirit and lover of good life - the exact opposite of Virginia who was strong-willed and hard working. When her brother’s wife died, Tota Virginia took in his five children, caring for them and providing them with an education and an enjoyable childhood, if compared with the standard of life of the farmers at the beginning of last Century.
These possibilities were a result of Virginia’s ability to increase the production and marketing of her wine. This was a period of continuous growth, from the point of view both of property holding and production levels. Year after year, Tota Virginia gained various farm buildings and over 40 “giornate piemontesi” (in Piedmont a “giornata” is a unit of measurement roughly equivalent to 3810 square meters) of vineyard; at the same time her wine cellar bought grapes from the Vineyards of the same area and produced almost 6000 kegs of wine roughly equivalent to 3000 hectolitres.
The long queue of carts full of grapes passing in front of the Cantina Ferrero in the grape harvest period is a ineffaceable memory for the older residents of the town. Standing in the door of the wine cellar, in the hamlet of Vaudana, just in front of the little Church of San Rocco, Tota Virginia cast a critical eye on the grapes of each grower, a real test. Because bringing your grapes to Tota Virginia was just like sitting an exam; the night before, in the courtyards and under the arcades, the growers would carefully clean their grapes, bunch by bunch, to avoid public humiliation.
The wines produced
The wines produced were many and varied, ranging from Barolo to Barbera, from Dolcetto to Bonarda, Favorita and Brachetto and, even if in that period it was sold mainly in demijohns or kegs, there was also an impressive list of products sold in bottles.
From the Twenties to the Forties Virginia Ferrero’s wine farm reached its maximum growth, and she, despite her age, retained her stern character and was in a healthy financial position, so much so that, if the rumour is true, she took over Fontanafredda after the bankruptcy. She dealt personally with her customers and travelled by her carriage to Switzerland, crossing the Alps on the bad roads of the period, to nearby France, to restaurants in Nice Montecarlo, to Genoa, Turin and Milan.
In fact, one of her main features was the capacity to facilitate human relationships, with her affable nature and communicative gifts. She was also well-known in Alba: she could be seen arriving in her carriage every Saturday, market day; a quick chat with the wine growers in Piazza Savona, a trip to the bank to deposit a thick wad of banknotes that had been safely hidden in her bosom until that moment , and – finished off – with lunch at the Hotel Savona where she would discuss business with her fellow producers.
She followed the wine cellar processes in person for the Baudana family and she dealt with their mail and accounts, and she even had the time to chat with whoever passed in front of the wine cellar. In fact, she believed that quick-wittedness calls for curiosity, and she had both; she was a real source of information about Langhe region, updated on every holdings buying and selling, on prices, on technical-farming problems and, last but not least, on family matters.