[article courtesy of Paul Balke - visit website]
Who visits the scenic Langhe hills in Piemonte and enjoys a dinner in one of it´s fine restaurants drinking some sips of Barolo or Barbaresco DOCG will not realize that this disctrict was one of Italy´s poorest until 1970. For many centuries Langhe was a rural region where people had a hard existence working in the woods, having some cows and pigs and some agriculture around the house. Now all that has changed, Langhe is famous, part is even protected as UNESCO heritage, but this rapid change took hardly one generation. Bera family is emblematic for this quiet revolution. Here in this wonderful corner of the Langhe, dotted with vineyards of Nebbiolo, Moscato and Barbera and so many hazelnut trees their winery is situated just east of Barbaresco. ´When we were young, Valter Bera tells, we were used to meet our friends in the stable between the cows because there it was warm´. It was a cycle of self-sufficiency: everybody produced his domestic wine, meat and corn. The leftovers were sold and in exchange other goods were bought, a rural economy, common in Europe before the industrial revolution. Piemontese prefer calf´s meat and there is a good local market for it: the possession of cows was a live-saver. When there was a bill to pay, some calfs were sold. Most producers in Barolo around 1970 were working in the same way: they cultivated some corn, maiz, potatoes, calfs and vineyards.
Patterns of agriculture changed, concurrents built bigger stables, meat became cheaper and the wine revolution in Italy started: it was convenient to sell the cows and turn the stable into a wine cellar. Most farmers in the Langhe closed their stables in the period between 1970 and 1980. Bera started to bottle his own wine in 1969, as one of the first in Langa. Bera is a typical Piemontese family, with their roots firmly in their own soil. And even if Valter, Umberto and Riccardo, sometimes travel, they remain very attached to their home. Piemontese don´t like travel, they prefer to stay at home and regard the world from their own safe place.
In 1988 Veronelli discovered bottles of Bera Dolcetto in Luciano Pavarotti´s cellars which brought invitations from Pavarotti and Sofia Loren (her son choose Bera´s Moscato for his marriage) and even more international attention. Bera is a modest man and that´s why it is astonishing when he tells with much emotion about his adventures with wine personalities like Giacomo Bologna, an old friend. It was Bologna who convinced him to change his style of Barbera.
There is a saying ´moscatista si nasce, rossista si diventa´ (you are born as Moscato producer, but producer of reds you have to become) but Bera´s wine history started in 1970 in the opposite way with reds produced by Valter´s father: Barbera and Dolcetto. Grapes were sold to the merchants in Alba, apart from a tiny part used to make a domestic wine. In that period a property of 8 hectares was considered big.
The other revolution in Piemonte´s countryside was Moscato: around 1975 big companies started to ask local farmers to plant Moscato: paying 600 lire for a kilo. The price of Moscato is also a good indication of market fluctuations but when the price went down to 550 lire in 1983 many companies went broke. In that period Dolcetto was the moneymaker, not Nebbiolo. In 1976 it was mainly big, industrial, companies selling Asti spumante across the world. The first family companies producing Asti were Giorgio Carnevale and Dogliotti and soon after them also Bera started to produce both versions: Asti Spumante (7-9 % alc.vol.) and the sweeter Moscato d´Asti (ca 5% alc.vol.).
The news is that Bera purchased some hectares in Barbaresco DOCG and now proudly shows his cru´s Basarin and Rabajà. Riccardo tells how this has become an important wine and is sold to many foreign customers. Nebbiolo had been for long in the family: Valter shows a bottle of Nebbiolo d´Alba from 1972: it was still quite drinkable.
Valter Bera always had important institutional roles in the consorzios of Asti and Barolo and was long time president of the Enoteca Regionale di Mango and he was the first president of the Association of Mayors of the Communes producing Moscato (the 52 communes in Piemonte produce Asti DOCG) but now he is 100% dedicated to the company.
The wines are each of high quality and show great skills of winemaking. Bera´s Moscato d´Asti is always considered one of the best. Bera´s Asti Spumanti DOCG is a fine example, delicate fresh perfumes with lemon, vanilla and a very elegant taste. Very impressive are also the reds, especially the Barbaresco cru´s. Rabajà is full of character and body, but will show refined flavours with age. A happy family in Piemonte´s Langhe region, preserving traditions and producing great wines.
Dolcetto d´Alba DOC 2015: fresh and easy style, nice fruit, expressive, intended to drink young.
Barbera d´Alba DOC superiore 2011: intense perfume with mature fruit and a complex taste which shows presence of high acidity and length, blackberries, mentol – wonderful wine with some aging potential.
Barbaresco DOCG 2011: nice, typical Nebbiolo-refined fruit, some balsamic note, balance, good structure and length.
Barbaresco Rabajà DOCG 2011: Wonderful and really great wine. Refined nose with some fine mature fruit and mentol; The taste is overwhelming with freshness and many sensations, red fruit, mentol, some balsamic, and strong tannins – the wine needs more time. Great length. This is great winemaking.
[Photo: vineyards in the Langhe near Neviglie. The Langhe region is now world famous, but was one of Italy´s poorest regions until 1970.]