Bera, Vittorio e Figli
- Asti, Piedmont, Italy
In 1964, Vittorio Bera e Figli was the first family vineyard to start bottling and marketing its own Moscato d’Asti in Canelli, the most famous Moscato village in the Monferrato zone of Piemonte. But the estate’s history goes all the way back to 1785, when Giovanni Battista Bera purchased land from the Knights of Malta and when the area was already noted for its vineyards.
Today, Bera organically farms around ten hectares of vines, six of which are planted to Moscato averaging about 40 years old. Viewed in the context of the history of the sweet sparkling wine of the region, the work of Bera is clearly extraordinary. The sweet sparkling wine known as Asti Spumante originated respectably in the 19th century but exploded into a commercial juggernaut after World War II. Its industrial production was underpinned by poor farming and fruit quality, with mechanization at every turn of its making and intensive marketing in every corner of the globe--yet still it achieved DOCG status in 1993. Moscato d’Asti arose quietly alongside, as a sweeter, less alcoholic, lower-pressure version of Asti Spumante. And it too garnered DOCG classification and developed a dubious reputation. From the start, the Bera family set out to do things differently.
A number of factors distinguish the Bera approach. For starters, the focus has always been on Moscato d’Asti—and they grow only the finest variety of it, Muscat à Petits Grains. The vineyard is stunning, on a steep, south-southeast-exposed hill below the winery, featuring calcareous soils and a warm but windy environment that helps keep the fruit healthy and able to ripen well while maintaining a fine acidity. Quite rare is the fact that the vineyard was always farmed without chemicals and with an emphasis on biodiversity; today it is certified organic. An incredible variety of grasses, legumes, herbs and wildflowers grow between the rows, and the soils are worked several times per year. Yields are kept quite low and harvest is by hand into small bins.
Bera distinguishes its approach to Moscato in the cellar as well. The fruit from the limestone terroir is brought in very ripe, as opposed to the very early harvest (based purely on sugar with a lack of regard for complexity of flavor) that typifies production throughout the zone. On top of that late harvest, fermentation is spontaneous and slow, without temperature control; the wine is never sterile-filtered; and sulfur use is modest. Unusually, the wine is kept on its lees for months, in a chilled state of “sleep”, and then “awakened” to finish fermenting to about 5.5% before bottling. Nothing about this process is typical of Moscato d’Asti. Consequently, Bera’s wine is not typical either--it is vinous, creamy, textured, rich and layered with an underlying saline character—not things we associate with the category of Moscato d'Asti.
Bera’s still white and red wines are farmed in the same meticulous and natural way as the Moscato. All are spontaneously fermented in tank as well. The reds are made reductively, aged in tank, never in wood, on their lees for 18-24 months with no racking and no sulfur. They are bottled without filtration and with a tiny amount of sulfur. The dry white field blend is made similarly. White and reds often show a prickle of CO2 when the bottles are first opened, no surprise given their lack of exposure to oxygen in the first part of their lives.
Papa Vittorio has retired though can still be found in cellar and vineyard—mainly Bera is being carried forward by his children, Alessandra and Gianluigi. Gianluigi tends the vines and makes the wines, as Alessandra runs the business and travels to share Bera wines with the world. Working closely together, the siblings are nurturing and updating the artisanal family tradition.