When we arrived at the Monsordo Bernandina Estate of Ceretto Wines in Alba we were told by Ulrika Ferlin, their export manager that we were going on a wine trek lead by Federico Ceretto and to wear comfortable, walking shoes.
It was as hot in Alba as it was when I left Chicago, but fortunately the humidity was low and fortunately our trek started out downhill and the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. We did not complete the whole trek on the map, we got to the Piazza Duomo garden and greenhouse and then headed back up the hill, very slowly. I think “wine trekking” is a great idea, it helps balance out all the wonderful food and wine that you experience on a visit and the land is the birthplace of those grapes that make the wine.
Federico gave a passionate talk about the history of his family and their concern for biodiversity and the health of the land.
In the 1930s, Federico’s grandfather Riccardo opened Ceretto Casa Vinicola in Alba. In the 1960s, Bruno and Marcello Cerreto (Riccardo’s sons) known as the “Barolo Brothers” after a trip to Burgundy came back with a passion for the land and the significance of terroir and individual vineyards and the Burgundy motto that “great wines are made from great grapes”. They were impassioned by the beauty of the land, the Langhe.
In 1969, they acquired their first estate-owned vineyard, Bricco Asili in Barbaresco. During the same period they acquired the I Vignanioli di Santo Stefano winery in a joint project with Giancarlo Scavino to grow and make Moscato d’Asti with the intention of producing an artisanal, quality wine compared to the mass market product that was prevalent then. Believing that wine needed to be made where the grapes were grown, in 1982 after years of construction, the Bricco Roche winery in Castiglione Falleto (Barolo commune) was opened. In the 1980’s, after acquiring the Monsordo Bernadina Estate in Alba, it became the headquarters for Ceretto Wines. They introduced a reasonably priced Arneis to the market called Blangé.
In the 1990”s, the children of Bruno and Marcello joined the company, Lisa, Roberta, Alessandro and Federico. From 2000-2010, the Piazza Duomo restaurant was opened in Alba, Chef Enrico Crippa moved from a 1 to a 2 Star Michelin rating. The House of the Artist was built on the Monsordo property in 2010, Piazza Duomo received a 3 star Michelin rating and since 2015 all Ceretto products have been certified organic.
Federico didn’t cover all this history in his talk to us but he covered some of it. He animatedly explained the issues with maintaining an organic and biodynamic property, bees disappearing one year, the commercial hazelnut pressure and their goal to grow organic hazelnut trees. He explained that in the 1990’s the Langhe wine industry was all about machines, there was a wine-making machine boom to buy all the latest technology but he said, since then, some of those machines are now sitting in his warehouse not used. Since the aughts, they have focused on biodiverisity and preserving the land for the next generations, for Ceretto it is all about the land.
At the bottom of the hill, we toured the outdoor garden and incredible greenhouse of ,Ceretto’s 3 star michelin restaurant in Alba, Piazza Duomo.
400 plant species are grown between the vegetable garden and greenhouse including malabar spinach, ground ivy, woodruff, canary nasturtium, sea fennel, common primrose and senise pepper. Chef Crippa has a particular affinity to plants that give a marine note in a dish without having to use fish.
Although I have could have meandered through the greenhouse for hours, we had a mission, to go back up the hill for a wine tasting with Federico and then more wine with restaurant manager and head sommelierof Piazza Duomo, Vincenzo Donatiello, at the Artist’s House.
The land, the land, the land…….
Ceretto Nebbiolo D’Alba 2016 – Stainless steel, old wood, 100% nebbiolo Rose petals, red fruit, earth and spice
Langhe D.O.C. Monsordo Rosso – 2015 – Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah I jokingly called this a “Super Langhe” Federico said he is not a big fan of the word super because it implies so much better which is not necessarily true all the time, he said to call it an “Extra Langhe”. Dark berries, black plums, spices and vanilla. Each grape aged separately 18 months in wooden barrels then blended before bottling.
Bricco Roche Barolo 2007 – This Castiglione Falletto vineyard is the smallest geographic area within the Barolo specification and comprises just over 1 hectare. It is the most prestigious part of what was once called La Serra and is nestled between the Villero and the Rocche (rock face) of Castiglione, which represents the best of the top parts; it can be considered a monopole as the whole parcel is the exclusive property of the Ceretto family. Black cherries, pot pourri, licorice, very long finish
The view from the “Artist’s House” of the Monsordo vineyard was incredible. Federico explained that they sponsor a contemporary artist to live there and create a work influenced by the setting. In the world of Ceretto the love of art, wine, the land, food, people all intersect.
Vincenzo Donatiello took us through wines of his new concept, business, magazine, wine universe he calls Poolwine. which included Ceretto Langhe Arneis, Blangé, and a Ceretto Langhe Monsordo Bianco. If it were Chicago, I think he would have called the business “Boatwine”. But we ended the visit with a very delicious “cocktail” or perhaps “wocktail” made with Ceretto’s Moscato D’Asti as well as the aromatic elements present in Moscato D’Asti sage and lemon. The slight frizziness of the moscato d’asti gave the glass a little boost. Perhaps they need to call this a “Langhe Spritz”
Ceretto Langhe Arneis Blangé 2017 – From the Roero, fruit, minerality and freshness.
Ceretto Langhe Monsordo Bianco 2017 – Made from 100% riesling.
This “cocktail” made of Ceretto Moscato D’Asti, with sage and lemon peel was delicious!!
Well this morning at the Monsordo estate with Federico was only part of our time visiting the Ceretto properties. The mission of my visit to Asti was “Moscato D’Asti” and Ceretto produces a Moscato D’Asti at the precarious, hilltop winery I Vignanioli di Santo Stefano” in Santo Stefano so that is where we headed.
The commune of Santo Stefano Belbo, in the province of Cuneo, is one of the main growing communes and considered part of the Moscato D’Asti triangle together with Canelli, Stevi and Castiglione Tinella. Someone in our group commented that the communes together are more like a polygon but that does not roll off the tongue as easily. The hills are extremely steep and perfect for ripening moscato. Santo Stefano Belbo was the birthplace of Riccardo Ceretto, Federico’s grandfather. It was ,also, the birthplace of the famous Italian poet, Cesare Pavese. Pavese’s university thesis was on Walt Whitman, the American poet who revered the land as well. Pavese is cited on the winery’s website:
“A country means never being alone, knowing that in the people, the plants, the land, there is something of your own that even when you are away is there waiting for you.”
Pavese is referenced in the design of the half-moon logo by the notable Italian designer Bersanetti.
The views from the winery were so beautiful I can see how easily it is to become emotionally attached to the land. The drive up to the facility was not as much fun as our bus was a little bigger than the roads were designed to handle.
Gianpiero Scavino, son of Giancarlo gave us a tour of the facility and explained their processes and vineyard management. They have 25 hectares (60 acres) of vineyard in Santo Stefano Balbo, Canelli and Calosso. They rent an additional 16 hectares on the famous hillside of San Maurizio. Everything is done by hand, just by looking at the vineyards you can tell how precarious pruning and harvesting must be.
Gianpiero went into great detail on the processes behind making moscato. He vinifies the separate lots, cooling the must immediately is essential in order to preserve the delicate aromas and keep the wine fresh.
Gianpero brought in a full basket of grapes for us to taste. Moscato is one of the few grapes that tastes as it does when vinified. But looking at the vineyards and hearing Gianpero describe the care of the vines, it hit me, that Moscato D’Asti within this “triangle” of communes is really about “grower” wine the way people consider champagne made by growers, “grower Champagne” or “farmer fiz”. It was quite clear from Federico’s talk earlier that day and then Gianpero’s talk that the focus on the vine. It is all about the care of the grapes in producing these very delicate wines.
We had a very nice, “light” by Italian standards lunch at the winery, our glasses filled with Moscato D’Asti as well as some Ceretto Barbera D’Alba. With the way the winery was built, I felt like I was eating right on the cliff among the vines. I felt one with the land and the vines and life was good!! Grazie mille to Federico Ceretto and Gianpero Scavino for a wonderful morning among the happy grape people!! Happy grapes makes for beautiful wines!