In Italy, the traditions and legends of the past go hand-in-hand with daily life. Sant’Anna dei Bricchetti, founded in 2012, is a new winery in a land where winemaking goes back centuries. But its ties to the past and territory run deep.
Ruggero and Orsetta Lenti, founders and owners of the Sant’Anna dei Bricchetti winery, were not born into winemaking families as so often happens in Piemonte, where the next generation naturally enters the business. However, gastronomic production has been a part of their lives for 30 years—and everyone knows that food and wine are two sides of the same coin, that of a complete meal.
Before wine was in their plans, in 1985 Ruggero Lenti had entered the family business: Lenti, an important prosciutto cotto production company today located in Piemonte. But, he and his wife have always shared a lifelong passion for wine and the Monferrato, and they decided to pursue their passion. They found the perfect spot for beginning their dream; but it wasn’t quite ready for them.
Restoring the Past and Uncovering a Legend
The Lentis found the perfect cascina, or farmhouse, for sale at the top of a hill in Costigliole d’Asti, surrounded by vineyards and a breathtaking view. The farmhouse, though, was in desperate need of able, loving hands to restore it. In fact, a different newcomer would probably have razed it to the ground and started anew. Luckily, the historic cascina fell into the hands of those who appreciated it.
The 19th century home is known in the area as the Cascina del Culunel, or the Colonel’s Farmhouse. Little is known about the Colonel in question, though he had been a great equestrian. His personal, leather riding equipment was uncovered after years of being buried beneath dust and the belongings of other generations. Walking through the house, currently undergoing renovation, new identities came alive under Orsetta’s descriptions: a light-filled kitchen, a two-story library fit for the most avid book-lover, and of course, rooms and vaulted-roof cellars for tasting and aging wine.
The walls have been restored to let bits of the old framework show through, reminding the current inhabitants of those who came before them. Orsetta is curious about the cascina’s history, and has gradually been digging deeper into the whispered legends of the Colonel who built the house. Much remains unknown.
The Monferrato in Just Two Grapes
The restoration of the property was two-fold: whereas the farmhouse needed a facelift, the vineyards needed tender, loving care by someone with a passion for the land and its wines.
The Monferrato territory lies to the southeast of Turin in the Asti and Alessandria provinces, between the River Po to the north and Ligurian Apennine mountains to the south. Its name comes from another legend: In the 7th century, Prince Aleramo of the Franks was granted ownership of the land he could travel on horseback without stopping. He marked the territory with a type of brick (mun in Piemontese) commonly used to shoe (frà) horses. It's fitting how the Monferrato's earliest legend is connected with its newest.
The Lentis cultivated their five hectares (brand-new to 50 years old) with just two grapes: Moscato and Barbera. They wanted to focus on the two varieties that have given the Monferrato its international renown, and from these two grapes they make seven wines. One is a dry Moscato—an unusual choice, as Moscato is traditionally vinified as a sweet, semi-sparkling wine. The soil is what convinced them and their winemaking team—agronomist Piero Roseo and the enologists Claudio Dacasto and Giuliano Noè—to make this choice. The limestone and sand give wines great drinkability and elegant aromas, and their dry Moscato expresses the terroir perfectly.
Walking through the rows, the two types of soil were immediately distinguishable: rich, red clay that still retained moisture in older vineyards, and flaky, dry gypsum-rich soil among the newer ones, almost bone-white. Orsetta pointed out the magnificent chunks of gypsum found underfoot, sparkling in the late afternoon sun. Several were as large as a solid foot across, breaking out of the earth like the tip of an iceberg.
The Serendipity of Forgetting
“We actually forgot to harvest seven rows this year,” said Orsetta. Under the fantastic sun that the Monferrato received throughout September, the forgotten grapes began to wither on the vines. They just happened to be Moscato, perfect for an aromatic passito. “I had always wanted to make a passito, but it was never the right time.” Now, it looks like destiny decided for her; in fact, she wants to name the passito Destino. She plucked off a few grapes that had begun to rot, and they fell with a simple touch; but for the most part, the grapes looked healthy and, well, almost raisin-y—exactly how passito grapes should look on the vine.
To make a passito, Orsetta explained, it isn’t enough to just leave the grapes on the vine. The weather conditions must be correct (in fact, they will not make passito every year) so that rains or moisture don’t cause them to mildew. Then, the vine branch is cut so it gives no more nutrients to the grape, and they can begin drying. As the water leaves and the grape continues to soak in the sun, the grapes sweeten and their aromas concentrate. We tasted a couple, and the flavor was like magic—full of honey and Moscato’s famous aromas of flowers and stone fruits like peach.
Shaping the Future from the Past
At just five hectares of vines, the winery is a small operation; but what it is doing is much bigger than that. Italy is built on its past; in a country that is so diverse from region to region, it holds this in common all along the boot, from the toe to the top. It is easy to lose touch with the past and let it deteriorate, as what almost happened to this magnificent piece of property at the top of a hill in the Monferrato. It is far easier to stamp out what remains, burying it in quick solutions and shiny modernity.
Rebuilding and rediscovering roots are far more demanding, but the rewards and cultural value that come from it are that much greater.
Sant'Anna dei Bricchetti
Strada dei Bricchetti 11, 14055 - Costigliole d’Asti
facebook: Sant'Anna dei Bricchetti
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