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Vittorio Bera e Figli was the first family vineyard to start bottling and marketing its own Moscato d’Asti in Canelli, Piemonte’s most famous Moscato growing zone. The estate’s history is venerable, going back to 1785 when Giovanni Battista Bera purchased land from the Knights of Malta, when the area was already noted for its vineyards. It is worth noting, to understand the significance of Bera’s work, the less venerable nature of Moscato’s modern reputation.
The sweet, sparkling version called Asti Spumante was allegedly invented in 1870 as a bottle-fermented or méthode champenoise wine. But as its popularity spread after World War II, the production became a commercially driven one, relying on poor fruit, tank fermentation, various additives and mechanical means to generate vast quantities to be marketed worldwide. Asti Spumante was nonetheless granted DOCG status by the Italian government in 1993.
Moscato d’Asti had arisen quietly alongside its older “sibling” Asti Spumante: a sweet wine as well, but one with less alcohol (5.5% maximum), more sugar, and lower pressure, thus of a more fizzy than truly bubbly nature (created by stopping the first fermentation in tank earlier in the process). It quickly became a commercial product as well, also blessed with DOCG classification. But growing and making quality Moscato wines rather than vast quantities of it was Bera’s mission from its beginning as a modern wine estate.
Bera bottled its first Moscato d’Asti in 1964 from estate vines in Sant’Antonio di Canelli, the ancient heart of Moscato country. A few factors distinguish their approach. For starters, while they do now grow Barbera, Dolcetto and a little bit of other white grapes, the focus has always been on Moscato d’Asti—and they grow only the finest variety of it, Muscat à Petits Grains. Second, the vineyards are quite steep and have always been farmed organically, without chemicals and with an emphasis on maintaining biodiversity; today the estate is certified organic. Grasses, legumes, herbs and wildflowers grow without being seeded between the rows. 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 is brought in at a very ripe level. Fermentation is spontaneous and without temperature control; the wine is not stabilized or filtered; and sulfur use is very low. None of the above, in vineyard or in winery, is typical of Moscato d’Asti. Consequently, Bera’s wine is not typical either! It is actually vinous, not a quality associated with Moscato d’Asti. There is a striking richness of flavor and texture, layers of complexity that allow it to age well even. This is a welcome surprise from a category that at its best—even from reputable, usually-red-focused winegrowers--is usually just a light, pleasing, gulper of a one-note wine.
Today Bera farms 10 hectares of vines, 6 of those in Moscato which average 40 years old. On the hill below their house, the main Moscato vineyard has south-southeast exposition on steep slopes ranging from 50 to 70% incline. The soils are calcareous, having originated as ancient ocean beds. The microclimate is warm and windy, with moderate temperatures, humidity and rainfall; summer hail is frequent but rarely violent. Cover crops grow wild between the vines and the soils are actively worked.
A note on Bera reds and still white: they are farmed in the same meticulous, low-yielding, natural way as the Moscato and all are naturally fermented. The Barbera and the Dolcetto are made reductively, in tank only (with a preference for concrete over steel), never in wood, kept on their lees for 18-24 months with no racking. They are bottled without filtration and with a tiny amount of sulfur. The dry white—a field blend of Arneis, Cortese, Sauvignon Blanc and Vermentino—goes through a long, slow fermentation and is aged on its lees in tank as well.
Papa Vittorio still lives in the family home overlooking the Moscato vineyard and keeps a hand in the vines and wines, but the Bera business is mainly tended by his two grown children. Alessandra oversees the farming and world travel and Gianluigi makes the wines. Working closely together, the brother-sister duo carries on the family tradition of artisanal wines, grown and made in small quantities as naturally as possible.