Food & dining


When dad has a winery, you get to make wine

Lia Tolaini-Banville was a girl when she first visited Italy with her Italian-born father. A nurturing cousin in Tuscany, where she spent summers, shaped her path, eventually inspiring Tolaini-Banville, now 50, to produce a delightful sangiovese red wine.

Her father, Pier Luigi Tolaini, was born in Lucca, Tuscany. He immigrated to Canada as a young man, built a thriving transportation company, raised a family, and returned to Italy to establish the winery that bears his name. His daughter is in charge of marketing, but that is just one of the many hats she wears. She also makes wine.

She eased into the wine-making end of the business. After running a wine shop in Winnipeg, Canada, with her sister, Tina Jones, in 2004 Tolaini-Banville became head of Banville & Jones Wine Merchants (recently renamed Banville Wine Merchants), which imports Tolaini and other Italian wines. That same year, Tolaini winery had a surplus of grapes. It seemed a shame to sell them to someone else, so Tolaini-Banville took that fruit and launched her own label, Donna Laura, named for her late cousin Laura (the young girl called her “aunt”). “Aunt Laura was like a mother to me,” she says. The older woman taught the girl how to cook and instilled in her a love of Italian culture.


Growing up west of Winnipeg, Tolaini-Banville says that she was introduced to wine early. “When we were kids, we always had wine on the table,” she says. “It was wine or water. No milk, OJ, or Coca-Cola.”

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Recently at Shubie’s in Marblehead, a Donna Laura wine called “Ali,” made with sangiovese grapes, caught our attention. Ali, which means “wings” in Italian, is named for Tolaini-Banville’s daughter Alicia, whose likeness as cupid graces the label. Offering a palate of bright red fruit, food-friendly acidity, and generous but approachable tannins, this pour (which retails for about $10) is surprisingly sophisticated. It tastes like a more expensive quaff.

She credits her dad with helping to produce a high-quality red at such a reasonable price. “I’m lucky to have a father with a state-of-the-art winery,” Tolaini-Banville says, recounting how she works closely with his team of agronomists and enologists. Some of the grapes come from Tolaini vineyards in the Chianti Classico region; the rest are grown near there. “Sangiovese is not an easy grape to grow,” says Tolaini-Banville of the native Italian red varietal. “There is vintage variation from year to year. It needs more TLC in the vineyard.”

That care is evident from the first sip, and reflects the strong bond between father and daughter, and the generous Tuscan woman who taught her.

Donna Laura “Ali” Sangiovese Toscana IGT 2012 is available at Shubie’s, Marblehead, 781-631-0149; and Harvest Co-op, Cambridge, 617-661-1580, and Jamaica Plain, 617-524-1667.

Ellen Bhang can be reached at