Aldo and Clementina were both born in 1929, although half a world away from each other. Clementina was born in the hills of Piemonte, Italy, the first of nine children. Aldo was born six months later in the hills of Napa, the first and only child of immigrants from the region just south of Piemonte–Liguria.
Clementina’s life on the farm included tending to her siblings, vineyards, silkworms, cows and goats, and outdoor bread ovens; mending clothes, shucking chestnuts, and making sure the traveling olive oil salesman didn’t cheat her family by adding water to the 5 gallon jug!
Aldo’s life on the ranch also included tending vineyards, but his other duties were raising walnuts, olives and prunes, chickens, pigeons and rabbits; repairing barns and tractors; hunting mushrooms, and making vinegar and wine. Zinfandel, to be precise.
As was typical for Italian peasants growing up between the World Wars, Clementina finished school at 5th grade. Despite her personal aspirations to become a teacher, she then worked full-time on the family ranch. As a young teenager she lived through World War II. She has vivid memories of soldiers arriving at the farm and requisitioning whatever they needed in way of food and lodging. At one point, they even came to conscript all eligible men on the ranch. Fortunately, her family got a heads up and thus were able to hide her father in a cellar until the soldiers passed through. Despite the many hardships and the very physically demanding work, Clementina speaks with great fondness of the agrarian life and the joy of a large family–which is a good thing, because she would soon marry Aldo!
While Aldo’s agrarian life was every bit as physically taxing, it looked very different for him. At the age of 13, Aldo’s father died in an explosion at the local rock quarry where he worked at a second job outside the ranch. Aldo and his mom, Cristina, now had to make a living on the ranch by themselves, without the added income of the quarry job. Even still, Aldo continued his education and graduated with a high school diploma, the first in his family. One can only imagine the keen intelligence and sheer force of will that enabled them not only to survive, but thrive!
In 1953 Aldo and his mother traveled to Italy to visit family, and within three weeks of meeting the pretty girl who attended one of the dinners thrown for these American cousins, Aldo asked for Clementina’s hand in marriage. Three weeks later they were married!
After a very brief honeymoon in Venice, Aldo returned to Napa and waited six months for his bride’s visa to come through so she could begin her new life in America with him. There was no easy life awaiting Clementina. She had to work every bit as hard as Aldo and his mom. But he had chosen well, for she was up to the task, and together they grew their ranch through blood, sweat and tears, and raised four children who also know how to work, and work some more. The children also learned their Catholic faith from their parents, a devotion to which has sustained them through thick and thin, including the loss of their brother John in 1984.
Like his father before him, Aldo worked a full-time day job to supplement the ranch income. For 31 years Aldo worked for the City of Napa in the Public Works Department, then worked the ranch late into the evenings and nights, early in the mornings, and all weekend long. And like her mother-in-law, Cristina, before her, Clementina managed the daily demands of ranch and child-rearing with a shrewd business savvy and compassionate discipline–and some darn tasty cooking!
In 1991 their son Bob hatched the hair-brained idea of starting their own wine label. After decades of making a little wine for personal consumption and then selling the rest of their grapes–often at a loss–to the local co-op winery, Aldo jumped at the chance to fulfill his dream of bringing his love for Zinfandel to the wider community.
Newly “retired”, Aldo and Clementina worked tirelessly to grow Robert Biale Vineyards into the thriving wine company it is today. While they both continued to derive great pleasure from their continued, though diminishing, work on the ranch, the growing demands of the social side of the wine business delighted them more and more. Meeting the people who enjoyed their wines at tastings, dinners, or winery-sponsored cruises was most edifying to Aldo and Clementina.
On December 12, 2009, Aldo passed from this world. It was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas, who appeared to a mere peasant farmer with her message of hope for the world. A fitting day for our faith-filled farmer who loved to dream big.
Despite her loss, Clementina continued to delight in winery activities. You could generally find her “holding court” in the tasting room on Sunday afternoons when she checked in on the sales of her handmade aprons and totes and chatted with the visitors.
On April 5th, 2017, four days before her 88th birthday, Clementina also passed from this world. As her eulogy claimed: her legacy was that of the example of courageous womanhood lived in humility.
The family and the winery that Aldo and Clementina worked so hard for both continue to thrive, a testament to their artful turn as patriarch and matriarch. May they rest in peace.