The road to success in the wine industry begins with a dream that must be pursued with unwavering passion and determination. If one is fortunate, they inspire a team of passionate people to not only succeed, but leave a lasting legacy. Pierluigi Tolaini accomplished both.
In a little over 20 years, he built an established and respected estate in central Tuscany that is positioned to excel for decades. Luigi Tolaini left that legacy to his daughter Lia when he passed away earlier this week.
I was fortunate enough to have met “Louie” a few times. He personified the character of a true gentleman in many ways. Always generous with his time, he would be quick to relate a curious and interesting tale. Naturally, I never missed a chance to tease him about his infamous “Polenta Story”; which of course, he’d dismiss with a laugh and wave of his hand. I will let him tell it to you in his own words.
(Replicated with permission from his family)
“I was born in Tuscany, in the province of Lucca. I was born a peasant, with no money, no network, and no diploma. My father had immigrated to Canada as a very young man. He went to Virden, Manitoba with his older brother to work for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Then he came back to Italy to take care of his parents. He went back to the land where he was born, bought the farm where he was born with the money he had saved and with some help from his brother.
He paid the princely sum of 70,000 lira, about $60.00 in today’s money, and that was 1928. He bought 5 acres of land, 1 cow, 20 sheep, a few chickens and a few rabbits. We made wine the same way his father and grandfather had. With our feet! And believe me, there is nothing romantic about making wine with your feet! It is a lot of hard work and sweat.
We were poor, the war was over and poverty was everywhere. Working the farm with one cow and one cart was hard. We did not have any power tools of any kind. We had 6 light bulbs in the house, no heat other than the fireplace, no running water and the bathroom was outside.
I remember my father saying many times, ‘I wish I had stayed in Canada’. He would say that mostly in summer, when the going was really hard. I was 19 and beginning to understand what was ahead for me. With my Father’s memories of Canada, I decided to emigrate.
The day I left Italy for Canada, I had to catch a train at 7 in the morning. The walk from my house to the train was about half an hour. It was June 27th, and the sun rose at 5:30 in the morning. I knew my Father heard me getting up. I knew he was at the window watching me leave, with the hope that I would turn around and wave goodbye. I never did. I knew how difficult it was for him to say goodbye to his only son with a one way ticket going to Canada. This was the longest mile of my life. I thought about turning around, but I kept saying to myself:
I will never, never be poor again. I will never eat polenta again. I will never drink bad wine and someday I will come back and make the best wine in Italy…”
As I sit here writing this, it’s with mixed emotions. I am sad for the people closest to Louie that have lost such a genuinely good piece of their life. Yet I am heartened by the pride and accomplishment Louie must have felt. After founding the largest private trucking company in Canada, he returned to Tuscany at the age of 63 and in 20 years purchased land, planted vines, hired smart people and began crafting wine. Thanks to Luigi, the Tolaini name is a leader in Castelnuovo Berardenga and will forge a legacy for generations to come.
You did it Louie!
Riposa in Pace amico and no polenta in heaven!