A note on Italian winery designations: azienda, cascina, fattoria, podere, et cetera

This post originally went live on May 5. Please continue to send me your suggestions, queries, corrections by leaving comments below. Most recently added: ca’, cantina, casa, vignaiolo (May 18).

Yesterday, while I was attending a tasting with one of the leading wine professionals in the country, Texan Master Sommelier Guy Stout (above, at Vinitaly), he asked about the meaning and origin of the term podere. Guy is a true mensch, a wonderful character, and a beloved figure in the Texas and U.S. wine scene. He has mentored a generation (literally) of wine professionals studying for their Master Sommelier exams. Getting to taste with him is always a pleasure and an enlightening experience. A lot of people ask me to explain the meanings and origins of Italian winery designations. So I decided to write a hand-list of terms used commonly in the names of wineries in Italy. I hope it will be helpful to Master Sommelier candidate and anyone who shares my passion for Italian wine. I’ve included etymologies (studies of their origins) because believe that the etymon (origin) helps to shed light on the meanings of the designations. This post is dedicated fondly to Guy. (Photos by Alfonso Cevola, his friend and colleague.)

azienda, landed property, estate, domestic work, from the Spanish hacienda, from the Latin facienda meaning things to be done from facere, to do.

The term azienda means business and is used to denote a company or firm in Italian. An azienda agricola is a farming business; an azienda vinicola is a winery (a wine business).

ca’, see entry for casa.

cantina, literally cellar or cool place to store perishable goods and by extension tavern, probably from the Italian canto meaning angle or corner from the Greek kampthos, bend or angle.

The word cantina has a wide variety of applications in Italy (often used for restaurants and food stores, as well as wineries) and can be found across Italy to denote wine cellar.

casa, literally, a building, house, or habitation, from the Latin casa, a small house, cottage, hut, cabin, shed.

The term casa is used throughout Italy as a winery designation and is often abbreviated as ca’, as in Ca’ del Bosco (it’s important to note that it’s often erroneously abbreviated as Cà [using the accent grave diacritic], when in fact the inverted comma [‘] denotes the elision of the final two letters, often derived from a dialectal locution). A casa vinicola (pronounced KAH-sah vee-NEE-koh-lah) is a winery/négociant.

cascina, farm house or other structure used to house livestock or farm tools, from the late Latin capsia meaning case or receptacle.

It can also denote a structure used to store cheese and other dairy products. The term is used primarily northern Italy and especially in Piedmont to denote a farmhouse or winery or dairy farm.

fattoria, farm, from the Latin factore, literally maker, from facere meaning to do.

You find usage of fattoria generally in Tuscany where it can denote a winery or a farm, keeping in mind that most wine-producing estates in Tuscany also grow olives and other crops.

Guy Stout

podere, country estate with farm house (according to the Zingarelli dictionary), akin to the Italian potere, meaning can or to have the ability to do, from the late Latin, potere, from the Latin possum, meaning to be able, have power.

The term is used today primarily in Tuscany where it denotes, literally, a seat of [agricultural] power, hence the late Latin origin of the word, potere, literally power or possession (who also share kinship with the Latin etymon). According to the Cortelazzo etymological dictionary, the word first appears in the Middle Ages in northern Italy.

poggio, hill, from the Latin podium, meaning an elevated place, a height.

As Virgil wrote famously, Bacchus amat colles, Bacchus loves hills. The usage of poggio in Tuscany is documented dating back to the thirteenth century and the term appears in Dante. There are many related words like poggiolo, poggiuolo, and in the case of one of my favorite wineries, poggione. Guy and I were tasting yesterday with the nice folks from Banfi: Poggio alle Mura and Poggio all’Oro (the hill at the village walls and the gold hill, respectively) were among the wines in the flight.

ronco, literally a growing site on a hill used for farming, from the Latin runco, meaning to weed out, root up; to weed, clear of weeds, akin to the Friulian dialectal term ronc.

To my knowledge, ronco is used exclusively in Friuli. Akin to the Italian roncola or pruning hook, it probably comes from the past participle of the Friulian runcar (to clear of weeds, runcà, in other words, a site cleared for planting.

tenuta, a [land] holding or property, past participle of the Italian tenere, from the Latin teneo, meaning to hold, have, or keep.

Tenuta is a term that you see applied across northern and central Italy. Its relation to the pre-industrial age, when land ownership denoted nobility, is clear.

vignaiolo (plural vignaioli), vine tender or grape grower, derived from the Italian vigna, meaning vine, from the Latin vinea, vineyard, from the Latin vinum, wine.

Pronounced VEEN-y’eye-OH-loh (plural VEEN-y’eye-OH-lee), vignaiolo is used to denote a winery that uses estate-grown fruit in the production of its wines.

I hope this post is helpful to wine professionals and laypersons alike! If I forgot a term and/or if you have other terms you’d like me to write about and explain, please leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

38 thoughts on “A note on Italian winery designations: azienda, cascina, fattoria, podere, et cetera

  1. Very useful indeed.

    I think I read somewhere that ronco refers specifically to a hill with a sort of flat summit (suitable for raising crops, including grapes). Did you find any allusion to that?

  2. Nice work, Jeremy. Always appreciate the etymological background in addition to the practical usage details.

    Since you’ve included “poggio,” I wonder if it wouldn’t be appropriate to add “bric(co)” and “sori” to the list, too.

  3. first off, thanks everyone for stopping by and the kind words of support. I hope people will continue to leave suggestions and additions and corrections etc.

    @Strappo every reference I’ve found so far points to “cleared land” or “tilled land.” At the same rate, we know (as per Thor’s observation) that ronco refers to a hill. I’ll keep digging.

    @McDuff I think a post on vineyard designations should be next… great idea… will definitely get to work on that.

    @Thor as per McDuff, ronco in the case of that Barbera is a vineyard designation and not a winery designation. To my knowledge, there’s no winery outside of Friuli that uses the term in its estate name. But again, I’ll keep digging.

    This is most definitely a work in fieri and my hope is that together we can turn it into a great stand-alone piece.

    Thanks again ya’ll! :-)

  4. Very very interesting reading about it in english..
    it can will be useful! well done Jeremy!

  5. Hi, great post. It cleared up the differences between an azienda, podere, tenuta and fattoria for me.
    Just to add that “poggio” (in Tuscany) refers not to a hill itself but to the man-made terraces on the slopes of hills, the purpose of these terrace being to be able to cultivate plants (olives, vines, even vegetables sometimes) on the flat part. A ‘poggione’ is litteraly a big terrace; a ‘poggino’ or ‘poggetto’ a little one. Could it be related to ‘appoggiare’ (to support)?

  6. “Bricco” (or “Bric” for short) mean the top of the hill, normally where the best grapes grow, as in “Bricco Asili” being the best part of Asili. The more poetic definition that I have heard is “the place where the snow melts first”.

    I think Sori means the same as “Bricco” but is less commonly used.

  7. Just a small focus on the difference between Azienda Agricola and Azienda Vinicola.

    The first one is, as said, a Farming “Estate” more than “Business”… When they make wine, they exclusively (or at least mainly) work with their own grapes. They refer to the sector of AGRICOLTURE.
    In their labels, you can read: ESTATE BOTTLED AT… (in Italian: IMBOTTIGLIATO ALL’ORIGINE DA…).

    An Azienda “Vinicola” is basically a transformer of grapes into wine. They could even possess no land at all. An Azienda Vinicola is a Company that is buying at least 51% of the grapes they are transforming into wine. Supermarket wines ar usually from a Vinicola. Thay refer to the sector of INDUSTRY.
    In their labels you will ONLY read: BOTTLED BY… (In Italian: IMBOTTIGLIATO DA…).

    PLEASE…. buy wisely!
    Gabba Gabba Hey!

  8. Ronco has been explained to me as a hillside vineyard. The literal explanations are great but Fred’s definitions for Az.Agricola and Az.Vinicola are what I understand those terms to mean. I know Sorì to be Piedmontese dialect for an ideal (usually south-facing hillside). Great post – love Guy!

  9. Bravo Jeremy,
    Thank you for the clarifications. It is a dificult task to explain the many nuances of Italian culture. Good job Salute…. Guy.

  10. A little more on Azienda Agricola and Azienda Vinicola. I don’t know if this is only in Piedmont or in all of Italy, but there is some tax advantage to being a Azienda Agricola instead of Azienda Vinicola. This was the reason I was given for why Giacosa has separated into 2 wineries: “Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa” which makes wines only from estate vineyards and “Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa” which makes wines using grapes purchased from other growers. This happened about 1996 or so.

  11. Poggio- one of my favorite Italian words. I first learned the term with cycling. In March, during Milan-San Remo (Aka “La Primavera”) the race is often determined on one of the last climbs named the Poggio (http://www.milansanremo.co.uk/Poggio/Poggio_Ascent.htm) .
    It’s also the name of one of my favorite restaurants in the Bay area.

    You put poggio on the bottle, 99% chance I’m trying it.

  12. Thanks 2B! I always wondered about the little nuances in winery names. I will hand this out to my server staff tomorrow!

  13. Great posts and interesting thread. I think that sori comment is hysterical.

    What about another post explaining the differences between say dolce, amabile, etc as they relate to wine and food. Love to see your food knowledge terminology shared with the rest of us…Or faraone, pollo, pollastro, pollastrello. You get the gist. Thanks.

  14. Hi Jeremy, well done!
    Just one thing about ‘CASCINA’
    It means both the whole estate (farmhouse+other buildings+fields+vineyard+more…)and the working buildings (not the farmer’s house)
    in the second case, not only diary and cheese but, much more frequently, straw, corn, wood an so on..
    When wine is also produced, it will never will be stored in a Cascina, but always in a CANTINA

  15. Thanks Jeremy for the great research!

    Let me write about something familiar: “BAGLIO”
    It is a traditional building in the Sicilian architecture, usually surrounded by high walls and always with an inside courtyard. The building can include a farmhouse, usually the farmer’s house, a warehouse to store produces and other buildings to transform and keep food (olive oil and/or wine).
    From the latin “ballium”, or the arabic “bahah”, both meaning courtyard.

  16. Pingback: Vinhos de Maio, Lançamento: 26 de Maio de 2012 – Toscana « Passeando no Canadá

  17. Pingback: Italian Winery Designations Project: masseria #TermOfTheDay | Do Bianchi

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