Castiglione Falletto, December 8th 1958
The reasons that led Arnaldo Rivera to envisage a cooperative winery in Barolo are associated with his profound understanding of the particular characteristics of the area and its people, combined with great foresight and a desire for social justice.
In a speech during the celebrations in 1983 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Terre del Barolo winery, Arnaldo Rivera strongly relaunched his vision that «a social entity that acts democratically by distributing its profits in proportion to the involvement of its members can be a winning idea, breaking down the preconception that men are destined to be armed one against the other in the name of personal privilege and egoism».
Rivera was a man of wine on the front line: he took on roles and responsibilities in various bodies, including President of the Consorzio del Barolo e Barbaresco (1980-1983), a position in which he was succeeded by Renato Ratti.
His greatest achievement, however, was the creation of Terre del Barolo, overcoming problems and hostility in a masterpiece of rural solidarity pursued with determination in the firm belief that it was an essential means to ending the subordination of the weakest and defending their human dignity.
With many growers overcoming their initial wariness and suspicion to join the cooperative, Rivera – who had no children himself – was to take on indirect responsibility for five hundred families and the safeguarding of their household budgets.
He began by visiting the outlying districts, and speaking to the parish priests and village process servers. In the mid-1950s, cooperation was a very hard subject to broach. It represented a challenge, especially in the Alba area. For various reasons, the old winegrowers’ cooperatives which had operated at the beginning of the century in almost all the villages in the Langa had disappeared, and the market for Barolo was stagnant, with very little being exported.
In the meantime though, Italy was getting its industrial rebuilding process off the ground. A few more years, and the economic miracle would have come to pass. But memories of the terrible twenties and the many tragic bankruptcies linked to the local rural and winegrowing sector remained fresh.
The buying and selling of grapes used to take place mainly in Alba, in piazza Savona (now Piazza Michele Ferrero), which was resentfully known at the time as “the market of the dead”. No protection was enjoyed here by the smallholder farmers, and in particular by their fruit of a year of hard toil. Their fate was in the hands of brokers and traders. Speculators with no scruples and in the pay of big industrial groups. As Rivera’s producer friend Gigi Rosso recalls “the grapes would be traded in an absurd style reminiscent of the middle ages, with the farmers having no contractual power”; and this was corroborated in a keynote lecture by Bruno Giacosa: “Like the many growers who took their grapes there, I do not have good memories of the grape market in Alba, because the brokers always waited until the last minute before buying, so the vignerons were forced to sell at any price to avoid risking going home with a full cartload.”
Key was also to be the choice of the winery’s location in the lower part of the municipality of Castiglione Falletto. Not out of any parochial self-interest, but because here in the valley happens to be the meeting point for roads from the villages of the cooperative’s members. These are the villages of Castiglione Falletto, Barolo, Grinzane Cavour, Serralunga d’Alba, Diano d’Alba, Monforte d’Alba, La Morra, Verduno, Novello and Roddi, all part of the Barolo wine growing area, which is why the choice for the name fell on “Terre del Barolo”, or Lands of Barolo wine.
Today it is hard to comprehend the state of mind and feelings of the founder members, who in that year and at that particular time, beset by huge difficulties yet instilled with hope, managed to lay the foundations and reap the first rewards.
The strength of Rivera’s personality, character and interpersonal skills was brought to the fore, and in just a few years, 22 members become almost 500.
Terre del Barolo had become a major player in the area, capable of mitigating the impact of the depopulation of this part of Piedmont in favour of the new industrialized urban centres springing up throughout the north of Italy, and laying the foundations for the worldwide success that Barolo and the Langhe have now enjoyed for several decades.
Time has proved Rivera right.