The modern state-of-the-art Roccanivo distillery owned by the Berta family at Casalotto di Mombaruzzo opened in the grape harvest of 2002, a historic vintage for this family/business and for the economic development of the Asti wine sector. Other important dates for the company/family are 1947 (construction of the first distillery in Nizza Monferrato), the 1930’s (opening of a Berta pharmacy in Milan), and July 11, 1866 (Francesco Berta’s birth in Casalotto di Mombaruzzo).More
The modern state-of-the-art Roccanivo distillery owned by the Berta family at Casalotto di Mombaruzzo opened in the grape harvest of 2002, a historic vintage for this family/business and for the economic development of the Asti wine sector. Other important dates for the company/family are 1947 (construction of the first distillery in Nizza Monferrato), the 1930’s (opening of a Berta pharmacy in Milan), and July 11, 1866 (Francesco Berta’s birth in Casalotto di Mombaruzzo). At the time this boy was born, in a country known for its numerous vineyards, his destiny set in the world of wine, there existed a world entirely different from today’s. Rome was not yet the capital of Italy; the Expedition of the Thousand Soldiers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi had just concluded; Victor Emmanuel II still reigned, famous for his love for food and wine as well as for the campaign of Italian unification. As in all peasant families, Francesco Berta worked since childhood in the vineyards and cellars, and at a young age had a unique foresight, always on the lookout for opportunities to sell his wine and find new customers. As soon as he became of age, at 22, Francesco married Erminia Barbero; his son Giovanni was born in 1889; and 16 years later, another son, Michele, was born. According to rural customs of the time it was not traditional to divide property, it was up to the first-born Giovanni to continue the work of his father, while the second-born child was destined to follow a different line of work; for Michele, the family proposed a career as a pharmacist.
FRANCESCO’S INTUITIONS BECOME REALITY
Thanks to this opening in Milan, a paragon for those times, the Berta family Roccanivo distillery at Casalotto di Mombaruzzo sought to expand its business towards the cities of Genoa, Turin, Brescia, Bergamo and others, creating respectable circuits between producers and consumers, consolidating the culture of wine for a century, not only through a dependable relationship among individuals but also thanks to the valuable mediation of expert and competent shopkeepers Francesco Berta’s intuition had given the family a secure and modern perspective, which in the meantime was reinforced with the birth of his grandchildren: Francesco, Teresina, Erminia, Maria and Paolo. Their positive contribution allowed the Berta family to easily overcome the terrible crisis following the First World War, which severely damaged the wine economy. Led by a mayor called Vigna - a fitting name, as it means ‘vineyard’ -, the national battle began right in Asti, against the metropolitan wine tariff, a tax hated by farmers and consumers alike, which soured the relationship between the country and the city; entrusted to private companies, it was plagued by blackmail and extortion, and worse still, this tax was collected before the product was delivered. Paolo, the youngest of five children, was to inherit the business, and with great sacrifices was able to continue his studies; while the Second World War raged, he graduated as oenologist in Alba in 1947. He continued the agricultural business of his father Giovanni, but expanded it by opening the ‘Distilleria Berta di Berta Paolo’ in Nizza Monferrato on Via San
Nicolao, a historic site where today stands a spirits ageing facility.
Note the concurrence between the opening of the distillery and Paolo’s marriage to Lidia Giovine from Canelli: this is a story founded on the family, which gives the company strength and perspective. The Berta company could never have had such a history, had it not been built solidly, based upon the family unit, on the integration and progressive change-over to the following generations, as well as the contribution of the women of the family. Although the family name is carried by the men, in keeping with the family’s rural tradition, the wives have always played a key role - as usual in the countryside - running the household and allowing their men to take care of the business.
THE STRATEGY OF QUALITY
Paolo developed his aptitude for distillery after his first work experiences as Oenologist for the region’s wine houses; the idea was to produce grappas and liqueurs, seeking for a new added value for the family business wine products. Curiously enough, he first received recognition for his artisanal work from visitors from Germany, Switzerland, USA and Australia, who had come to visit the great sparkling wine factories in neighbouring Canelli, early pioneers in business tourism industry. Step by step the small Nizza Monferrato distillery became internationally renowned for its products packaged in special ceramic and unique crystal bottles.
Paolo and Lidia continued their work in the artisanal part of the business, focusing resolutely on high quality selection: Berta products are clearly to stand out due to their first-class quality. In the meantime, the family grew: in 1956 Gianfranco was born and in 1960 came Enrico. Both studied accounting for commercial and chemical purposes, and they dedicated themselves
ARTISANAL COURAGE VS INDUSTRIAL MIGHT
The Berta family, constantly striving for yet another innovation, arrived at the invention of a new bottle, the Beuta Berta (Berta flask). The normal format found in the analysis laboratories was adopted by the distillery to give an image clearly identifiable with the company’s products. Looking back, it was clearly the right choice, but at that time it was difficult and risky, because it meant abandoning future expansion into attractive markets based on modern distribution. The Bertas confidently took this leap in the dark, turning directly and personally to the restaurant sector and small specialised shops. A choice that today is easy to consider mature and progressive, but which at the time represented the acceptance, above all, of difficult and
complex work without any guarantee of success.
It was the eighties and the Berta family divided the duties: Gianfranco was put in charge of production, Enrico of marketing, while Lidia continued to make the beautiful bottles, while Paolo continued, undaunted, to conserve a few exceptional batches of grappa, from barrel to barrel, from cask to cask. It is an age-old story, the story of a family, always making long-term choices in the interests of future growth and success for their descendants.
CREATING A NEW MARKET FROM SCRATCH
Years of intense work, years of research applied to traditional production techniques as well as years dedicated to expertly creating a new market where each of the participants and protagonists get to know each other. Next to the anonymous and cold market created by mass distribution industry, a chain evolved made up of supportive and friendly people brought together by the great grappa, distilled strong and pleasing. Although this grappa is made following ancient traditions, they gave it a modern twist, rich in aromas, softness and balsamic sensations on the palate.
These were the years when customers, invited by Enrico, began to visit the Nizza Monferrato distillery, strengthening bonds that put people before mere economic self-interest. Enrico and Gianfranco personally met thousands of restaurant and wine shop owners; every day brought someone new who had heard of the distillery by word of mouth.
In these years the current Berta Distillerie srl was born, after a period under the name of Distilleria Berta dei figli di Berta Paolo & C. Snc, which was founded in 1990 when Paolo and Lidia officially went into retirement, but never abandoned their own creation. Three years earlier, Simonetta Ghignone had married Gianfranco, adding to the workforce of the family business, taking over responsibility for the administration. In 1989 Annacarla was born and in 1995, Giulia, the daughters of Enrico and Elisabetta Malfatto. Thus, the role of women in the Berta family/business was confirmed: the future of these grappas is increasingly feminine, not just because more women are developing a taste for this type of product, but because they own the industry.
Great years of intense work and continued growth, as exhibited by the distillery at Nizza Monferrato, which expanded and specialized including a new discontinuous bain-marie distillation system using boilers.
An original technique was also devised for preserving vinaccia (grape pomace left after wine has been pressed): thanks to special hermetic containers, the grape pomaces are kept fresh and damp for the time necessary to be used in distillation for the entire duration of the prolonged work season. Meanwhile the number of wineries continued to grow, from numerous regions of Italy, all wishing the distillery owned by these young Piedmont lads, capable of interpreting modern taste, the one to distil their grape pomace. In addition the number of foreign markets also increased, with more than 60 countries currently importing Berta grappa.
It all started one night in July 1997, drinking Barbera wine in the Berta family tavern. As always at that time of the year, the men and women talked of their hopes for a ‘great harvest’, encouraged by the exceptional anticipated maturation , which could be seen in the vines; not a proper dinner, but a ribota or informal get-together, eating bread, salami and robiole cheese, with all products, of course, coming from the Asti region. Someone pointed out, with amused pride, the happy paradox of the Asti resident used to nonchalantly combining the century-old tradition of taverns with the Italian supremacy of first-class restaurants. Guido Alciati had recently left, a man who had always believed in his country, with a love and rigour that put him among the great Italian restaurateurs.
“To love our land, that is the point”, someone had said, and someone else added: “To love our history, our art and our culture”, and then also… “To love our countryside, our castles and farmsteads” “To love our cuisine, which changes with the seasons, faithful to nature’s cycle”, “To love our hills, the ‘breasts of Monferrato’ of Pavese reminiscence, with their vines” “To love the land of Asti and to do anything for it”. This is the dream of Hastae. The Roman name for the ancient city of Asti, universally recognised as a place symbolising wine, was chosen to designate this association, and became the symbol for a project bringing together six families of ancient wine tradition united to promote the image of Barbera d’Asti, the territory and its origin.
Belonging to the group: Berta, Braida, Michele Chiarlo, Coppo and two Alba houses, Vietti, and Prunotto, part of the Antinori group of Florence.
Quorum is a symbol of mutual commitment, a wine and a grappa obtained by contributing with the best Barbera wines that each of the families has produced in its own vineyards.
Grappa is the natural end of the production process. A project that has been able to stir the interest of the market and has enabled the six companies to materialize their love for their territory, its culture and art, donating part of the profits to social-cultural investments of great importance and prestige.
THE TAVERN OF FRIENDS OPENS
In 1994, the old company, now over a hundred years old, further expanded, opening the tavern, a house for friends, where you can find, in cozy atmosphere, not only Berta grappa but also the wines of the Berta family friends. The guest list of visitors and grappa lovers extended to include many friends from the world of entertainment and sports, as well as artists, writers, elite restaurateurs, and he great Italian winemaking families. Paolo always said that there would be great demand for outstanding grappa, patiently aged in small precious wooden barrels. Thus, in 1994, the first selection of Reserve wines is ready, and the Berta family, feeling somehow frightened, presented this novelty to the market, a market of connoisseurs who immediately declared it a triumphant success. Roccanivo, the grappa from precious Barbera grape pomace aged eight years, anticipated a new style of grappa, strongly bearing the Berta mark, serving as a model for those to come, and consolidating its dominance year after year. Next came Bric del Gaian, from Muscat grape pomace, also aged for eight years in small barrels; and then the Tre soli tre, from Nebbiolo da Barolo grape pomace aged for eight years in barrels, and then later the Riserva del Fondatore Paolo Berta, with a twenty-year ageing process, and finally, Magia, distilled from grapes aged for ten years. The round, heavy, protective bottles, with their elegant gold script, kept in dark walnut wooden cases.
THE DISTILLERIES OF CASALOTTO DI MOMBARUZZO
In 2002, on the eve of the harvest, the moment when the Berta family’s address took back the place-name of Roccanivo (Casalotto di Mombaruzzo). A large structure, that decided to expand further, built with a careful sense of ist relation to the vine hills, where it peacefully sits, with a façade of a simple house, displaying the family name on the frieze. It is a house belonging as much to grappa as to the Berta family, open and comfortable, decorated with the coats of arms of all the surrounding regions, where wine is produced with artisanal mastery and stateof-the-art electronic systems.
In a warm and cozy atmosphere, the steam-powered stills work slowly and rigorously, to transform the damp and aromatic grape pomace into something strong, but at the same time soft and subtle.
Visitors are sheltered by an antique wooden roof and breathtaking, striking views of the hilly landscape. The Berta Distilleries have become not only an obligatory stop on any itinerary dedicated to food and wine lovers flocking to these hills, but also continue to be the destination for so many friends from the world of entertainment and sports, artists, elite restaurateurs, and the great Italian winemaking families; all brought together by ‘that unmistakable aroma of freshly pressed grapes’.
THE TASTING ROOMS
The Berta house honours the ancient and valuable culture of hospitality, in keeping with the spirit of union and collaboration with all who work in the area. Elegant, refined, nostalgic, the grappas of today, the final result of a culture that evolved from a solid tradition, but is driven by the pursuit of the qualification of good food and grappa.
Thus the Berta family opened its tasting room to offer the widest possible array of products typical of the region. At Casalotto di Mombaruzzo the very best food and grappas are on display and there are many delicacies from the hills of Asti: the Mombaruzzo amaretti of the Berta and Moriondo Carlo.
Distillation is the exacting art of extracting and concentrating what is found in the raw material, the vinaccia or grape pomace. The quality of a good grappa depends mainly on the character of the grape pomace itself, which must be completely fresh and unspoilt. To guarantee optimal grape pomace conservation not only while stored, but also when transported, the Berta family has introduced an innovative system of collecting pomace in special 200-kg plastic food containers. The grape pomace coming from every Italian region is maintained fresh and damp thanks to this special conservation method. Indeed, in a hermetic container a natural fermentation process is created, during which sugar transforms into alcohol, generating carbon dioxide.
The oxygen contained inside the containers is discharged through a small air valve on the cover; the lack of oxygen prevents grape pomace from coming into contact with the microorganisms in the air and water that might cause deterioration. It is not surprising, then, that visitors to the Berta Distilleries during the autumn, winter or even spring months, can see, touch and savour the freshness and unsurpassed quality of the grape pomace conserved using this system. Another particular feature of this type of storage is the traceability of the product, guaranteed by a system that indicates the origin and type of the grape pomace, essential information for a transparent relationship between producers and consumers.
Upon arrving at the distillery, the grape pomace may be fermented, semi-fermented or virgin.
Fermented grape skin is kept in contact with the must, until the latter has become wine. It is ready for distillation immediately after racking, because the sugars in the grape have been completely transformed into alcohol. It is normally obtained by means of vinification of black grapes.
Virgin grape pomace is separated from the must immediately after pressing, before fermentation. The sugars it contains have not yet been transformed into alcohol; it cannot therefore be distilled immediately after racking. It is necessary to conserve it in the containers described above, so that it ferments. Virgin grape pomace is normally obtained from white grapes.
Semi-fermented grape pomace is only partially fermented with the must. It can be distilled immediately, releasing the part of alcohol that has still not been transformed, or it can be conserved until the alcohol fermentation process is complete. This type of grape pomace is obtained from either white or black grapes.
Once the fermentation is finished, an entirely artisanal process is begun by the master distiller, with meticulous care. The fermented grape pomace arrives directly to the steampowered stills to fill the baskets contained in each boiler. Once the still is filled, the Master Distiller lets heated water vapor pass through the wet grape skins of the vinaccia and ensures that in this path towards the top it can extract from the pomace the alcohol previously produced during fermentation. The alcoholic vapor thus obtained is sent through the column that will eliminate less concentrated hydro-alcoholic vapors, allowing them to increase the alcohol concentration. This highly concentrated alcoholic vapor will reach the top of a cooler and then pass, once condensed, into a degree control basin: just a slow dripping, requiring the artisan’s total dedication and patience. Thanks to the craftsmanship of the distillers and state-of-the-art control systems, the ‘heart’ is selected, that is the part of the product that distinguishes itself, due to its aroma and softness, from the head and the tail, the initial part (more acid) and the final part (more bitter), respectively, of the distillation process.
The different types of systems facilitate distilling various raw materials other than grape pomace; it is therefore also possible to extract fine liqueurs from wine and directly from the grape. The Berta family’s choice is clear: quality before quantity. To produce fewer liters, in order to satisfy a more exclusive and demanding clientele, lovers of the bouquet of aromas and scents that only Berta grappa, for decades, has proven to possess. Thus a new concept of drinking grappa is born - not just a simple drink with digestive properties, or a by-product of peasant origin with an aggressive, unsophisticated taste, but a great distillate to be savoured and contemplated, distinct but at the same time subtle in its thousand nuances.
The grape pomace at the end of the distillation process. To protect the surrounding environment, it is collected by specialised companies which obtain a grape seed oil and produce a fuel by drying and compacting the skins.
THE FINING CELLARS
Once made, the acquavite rests in stainless steel containers, but when it shows organoleptic characteristics, it is put in barrels of diverse essences to begin its long and patient path to maturation.
The time spent in wooden casks is key to making a fundamental distinction between refined grappa and aged grappa. Indeed, fining covers a time period which can last between three months and a maximum of twelve months. All that remains barreled for a period longer than a year can be defined as aged.
In 2005, in order to respond positively to a continually growing market and only after a series of studies aimed at creating a modern structure equipped with technology to protect the surrounding environment, the final touches were set for a first wine maturating facility covering over 1800 square metres. Entirely underground and isolated in order to avoid natural temperature variations, the structure was designed with a natural ventilation system that provides air recirculation without the aid of air conditioners. It therefore has several advantages over traditional cellars, in that problems such as mould and excessive humidity are solved.
Inside the cellar are thousands of barriques and tonneaux made in Tronçais d’Allier, a valuable French oak, ideal for ageing great distillates. The medium toast gives the product an amber colour, a heady scent of vanilla and tobacco, accompanied by an unmistakable fruit-rich aroma.
Lovers of fine drinks cannot help but be captivated by this fascinating subterranean world where the Berta Reserve wines age for years, simply waiting for the right moment to be bottled, according to the wisdom of the artisan.
Thus, time elapses, between the lighted vaults and the facing bricks, Monprà, Giulia and Piasì the basis aged grappe. Villa prato and Nizzae (Barbera on Asti Nizza), Acqua Vitae a 20 years old Brandy. Roccanivo, Bric del Gaian and Tre Soli Tre, grappas aged eight years, Magia, grape distillate aged eleven years and Riserva del Fondatore Paolo Berta, grappa aged twenty years; Casalotto, brandy aged twenty-five years and Elisi, grappa aged ten years. Monte Acuto and Mito delle Ore, Grappa and grape distillate of Nebbiolo and Arneis aged five and three years.
In 2008 the building was enlarged with a new cellar of about 400 square metres dedicated to fining. Also, in the course of that year, thirty ten thousand liters vats were purchased, made of Slavonic oak, a wood particularly suitable for ageing spirits in large barrels. A choice that can only further improve the quality of the refined grappa. In 2012 the building was enlarged again with a new space of about other 400 square meters dedicated to the aging of Grappe in Tonneaux.Less