At Borgo Ascheri in Bra, 360 degrees of hospitality
In the heart of the Roero is the city of Bra, the Zizzola monument sitting in its courtyard on a hill overlooking the city. In the center of this town, the warm and welcoming hotel Borgo Ascheri affords its guests every degree of comfort. Here, find consistent high quality from the wine cellar and the osteria to the lodgings and every detail of “project hospitality.” The family spirit is practically tangible in this hotel that gives tourists an unforgettable experience.
“Every wine is the outcome of three different factors: origin, species, and interpretation. The first depends on the terroir and vineyard, the second element is determined solely by choice, and the wine’s interpretation is the mark of whatever the producer impresses upon his work. ”
Matteo Ascheri’s great-great grandfather after whom the producer was named was cited by Lorenzo Fantini in Monograph on the Viticulture and Oenology in the Province of Cuneo, dated 1879, as a model of innovation for his method that was “both ancient and modern,” one that introduced iron wires in vineyard staking . A “friendly giant” in both stature and Italian wines, Matteo Ascheri is also an innovator, using his instinct and foresight to make his guests feel comfortable and at home. He began by expanding the activity that initially started in 1880 by his great-grandfather Giacomo Ascheri, who transferred to Bra after leaving his small community of Ascheri at La Morra, where his family has written proof of their origins as far back as 1196. At the end of 1800s, Bra, with its advantageous geographical position, was a commercially lively and authentic production and purchase point for leather, wine, cheese, and agricultural markets from the Langhe, Roero, and Cuneo Valley. After two world wars with the Great Depression sandwiched between them – which was in part pushed by the declining Royal House of Savoy – Bra’s connection to the big city of Torino weakened. Of the numerous wineries that at one time were the soul commercial activity, the Ascheri Winery is today the only one in Bra, the remaining custodian of this ancient and noble tradition.
Subject to a succession of structural changes over the years, today Borgo Ascheri is an architectural jewel that turns inside the cornerstone of the winery.
In our work, we’ve chosen the natural approach with a moderate use of technology, without overworking the wine with particular treatments, and re-evaluating the aging of wine in wood barrels that aren’t new. We make our own choices; that is, we don’t follow the organic or biodynamic trends, yet we’re attentive and sustainable, working with ethics that respect nature. We always look to be pragmatic, both in the vineyards and the cellar, as well as in the market. The technical and technological evolution has allowed us to produce better wines. Up until the 1970s, three or four out of ten vintages were good, three or four are okay, and three or four quite shoddy. Now they’re almost all excellent, and it’s not just a question of climate: we professionally manage production with timetables and the correct instruments, all of which have had a positive impact on the wine’s quality.
Can you give me some numbers?
We have 45 hectares (111 acres) of vineyards on three different homesteads for an annual production of about 240 thousand bottles, almost half of that Barolo. We export over 97% of our production to 50 foreign countries, in particular Germany, the UK, the US, and Canada. In China and Russia we’re being very cautious...we prefer markets that guarantee continuity over time and, in any case, our production is practically all allocated.
If you had to choose your favorite label, what would it be? One from your own production, and one from a producer who’s your colleague.
I’d say a Barolo Sorano or a Nebbiolo d’Alba Bricco San Giacomo, without indicating any particular vintage; I’m of the idea that sensations vary from person to person. Apart from our own territory, I’d say a Château-Grillet, a small denomination in the Rhône Valley. Viognier is always able to surprise me.
Speaking of Viognier, how did you choose to cultivate international varieties on the hills of Montalupa?
In our vineyards in the Langhe we chose the classic route, using only native varieties for the farms in Serralunga d’Alba and at the borders between Rivalta di La Morra and Verduno. In the Roero, on the other hand, we wanted to highlight the territory with grapes that were best-adapted to express their potentiality, Syrah and Viognier. But if it’s true that there are no native vines, the fact that the earth and producer are Piedmontese is indisputable. And in our parts, whites are generally fruity and fresh – think Gavi or Arneis – while we want to try a new kind of white, different, with complexity and structure. I think the Viognier can have a life of 12-15 years. Aging reds is already the custom, but I find the concept of aging a white an exciting prospect.
What’s the secret for a good wine?
Every wine is the outcome of three different factors: origin, species, and interpretation. The first depends on the terroir and vineyard, the second element is determined solely by choice, and the wine’s interpretation is the mark of whatever the producer impresses upon his work. For me, loyalty to three precise characteristics is fundamental: elegance, natural concentration, and balance. And I’m convinced that wine is made in the vineyards more than in the cellar, where I believe interventions should be reduced to a minimum.
Is there any one person who, more than anyone else, guided you in your career as a winemaker?
The oenologist Armando Cordero, a humble man gifted with a truly unique sensibility. He made me understand that to describe a wine, few words are needed; and that, in the cellars as in life, it is better to be than to seem.
How do you communicate your wine today?
There is no better way to communicate than by what’s in the bottle. Everything that a wine has is contained in its bottle. It’s necessary to work with seriousness; to let others appreciate your wine is a process that requires time, allowing others to eventually. In any case, whether we receive positive reviews or negative, the happiness or disappointment lasts just five minutes; then, we get back to work.
Let’s talk about something other than wine. Tell me about the Osteria Murivecchi.
It was there in 1880 where our family had its first cellars for aging Barolo, and where in 1993 we created a friendly, family atmosphere where we propose only typical Piedmontese dishes, paying particular attention to tradition. We wanted a locale with personality, and in this we were pioneers because no one was doing that at the time. Traditional dishes were being lost, and we sought to recuperate them. Not fabricated or professional, but in an authentic manner, in a family locale with wooden tables, simple and good recipes, daily specials written on a chalkboard, and wine sold by the glass…it was a complete novelty!
“Subject to a succession of structural changes over the years, today Borgo Ascheri is an architectural jewel that turns inside the cornerstone of the winery."
And to complete the project, tell me about the four-star hotel Cantine Ascheri.
Our hotel is the result of a reconstruction in 2005, situated above the cellars, which are visible in the hallway through glass paneling. The idea is to invite our guests to taste our labels, letting them understand that they’ve found themselves in a particular place with wine at its epicenter. Everything is taken care of and decorated down to the last detail with taste and style: a great hall with a loft and thematic library, a lounge bar, a summer terrace with wild grapevines, and 27 rooms of which four are junior suites and two are suites. In some of the rooms, we’ve directly inserted monocles in the wall that highlight different monuments or other aspects of Bra. We live in a marvelous territory, and it’d be a pity not to emphasize it.