Villa Russiz Was Born Out of Love, and Continues to Celebrate 150 Years Later

Elvine Ritter de Zàhony

In 1868, a couple married and a legacy was born. In atypical fashion among nobility, Elvine Ritter de Zàhony, a Protestant and native of Vienna, married Count Theodor de la Tour, a member of an ancient noble French Catholic family. They were from different countries and practiced different faiths, but their love outlived the obstacles of the era. Elvine’s father gave the pair a large estate in Russiz, on the slopes of the Collio district near Gorizia. It was Theodor, an agriculturist who was ahead of his time, who saw the potential for the land, and introduced French varietals into the then-Austrian (soon to become Italian) landscape. Experimenting with growing premium grapes required expertise and a little luck: Theodor would sneak vine cuttings, a forbidden export, obtained during his travels to visit family and smuggled in flower bouquets he brought back to his wife.

The estate and the wines garnered huge success, famously served by the royal families of Europe as well as the court of Tsars. Besides the stately villa, the estate was furnished with a school, church, and spinning mill. When Theodor passed away in 1894, Countess Elvine ordered a mausoleum to be built on top of a hill overlooking the property. Theodor’s body stayed there until after the first World War, when he was re-interred next to his wife on the grounds of the patrician villa of Treffen, in Carinthia. Elvine died during the war, and the estate was converted into a temporary military hospital behind Italian lines. Countess Adele Cerruti worked as a nurse during this time and helped to rebuild the estate back to its former glory after the war.

Theodor de la Tour

While one love story may be the basis for the winery’s beginnings, it was another story of affection that helped it rise to notoriety. During her storied lifetime, Elvine established an evangelical school for disadvantaged children, boys as well as girls—which was revolutionary for that time. Soon after, the school would expand to include a nursery, evening school, music school, and reading room. Countess Adele, after Elvine’s passing, was inspired to continue her charity and social work, which was in large part the reason for the reconstruction of the estate. She ran an orphanage on the estate until her death in 1945, and her estate continued to help disadvantaged youths for many decades. In 2009, Villa Russiz officially became an non-profit and in 2012, “Casa Elvine” was opened. The organization houses, supports, and educates local youth, funded in part by the winery.

Today, the continued love story is that of the love for fine wine. With Giovanni Genio at the helm since 2011, the winery continues to flourish and innovate thanks to his expertise and deep understanding of what wine drinkers enjoy most. Striking a chord between elegance and balance, Genio created Les Enfants in 2010, featuring a fresh blend of ripe fruit notes that has since become a standout in the Villa Russiz line.

Photo by Brian Samuels

“It’s impossible to be a part of Villa Russiz and not be reminded of Theodor and Elvine’s devotion not only to each other, but to the estate,” says Genio. “Maintaining this historic property is its own pleasure, and producing truly special wine that reflects Theodor’s legacy has been a highlight of my career.”

Villa Russiz is a living example of what can be achieved when love paves the way, and giving back to the community is just part of doing business. Cheers to another 150.

Samantha Leal, August 30, 2018
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August 30, 2018

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