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Old Vine Barbera at Cascina La Ghersa

T. Edward Wines, New York wine importer/distributor, Cascina La Ghersa, Asti

Piera and Giuilo Pastura (3rd and 2nd from right) outside the family’s vinacola

“Barbera, in my opinion, has nothing less than Nebbiolo,” said Massimo Pastura of Cascina la Ghersa, “with great respect…It has great potential.”  And so, beginning in 1989 when Asti was focused on mass production, Massimo (then 19) joined his parents at the winery and sought inspiration from Giacomo Bologna who in 1982 was known for his Barbera from Monferrato, which at the time surpassed many a Barolo in quality. “Everyone was talking about his expensive Barbera,” said Massimo, “like a Barolo.  But tasting it, you could see the difference.”

A small winery that his parents Giuilo and Piera constructed in the late 1960’s (when Massimo’s uncle sold the family’s vinacola because wine had just then been introduced into supermarkets), Cascina la Ghersa has actually been bottling their wines since the 1930’s. However, it wasn’t until 1989 that the family began to separately vinify the fruit from their 2ha Vignassa vineyard.  “It wasn’t easy to convince my father,” said Massimo, “but after this, we started to gain attention in the market and media. And after a few years, it was noted that the wine had potential for aging.”

Located 15 miles south of Asti and planted by his grandfather, post-phylloxera in the 1920’s, the Vignassa vines in Monferrato were grafted to St. George rootstock because his grandfather was one of the few in the area who could actually graft.  Strong and resistant but difficult to manage, St. George develops deep roots, some over 20 feet, which yields small, loose clusters of petite berries with thick skin.  With only 2ha producing less than one kilo of fruit per vine, Vignassa yields fewer than 3,000 bottles a year.

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Cascina La Ghersa’s Vignassa Vineyard in Nizza Monferatto

“With Barbera in Asti and Monferrato, we can get superior quality because we don’t have Nebbiolo,” said Massimo.  “In Langhe, the best vineyards go to Nebbiolo, but in Asti, we don’t have Nebbiolo, so the best spots go to Barbera. In Barbara d’Alba, Barbera is always on the second step with not the best soil and exposure.”  With 7,000ha planted to vines in Barbera d’Asti, he added, the appellation is home to a multitude of co-ops because within these 7,000ha, there are 4,000 owners.  “You can’t do anything with it,” he said of these small holdings.  “It’s too little to invest in winemaking.”

To realize the wine’s full-potential, Massimo began to keep back 600-700 bottles of the Barbera d’Asti “Vignassa Superoire”, to release the wine after ten years in the bottle. “What makes the wine different is terroir.  Barbera is a sensitive grape,” he added.  “Barbera d’Alba tends to be more tannic because of the soil, which is earthy.  Barbera d’Asti in general has less tannins and more fruit and acidity.  Aging top Barbera in barrique or tonneaux helps get more balance.”  From vines that are planted to limestone with a chalky subsoil, the Vignassa fruit is fermented in the best vintages with indigenous yeast and sees a maximum of 25-28% new oak.  “Barrel aging isn’t the goal,” he said. “It’s not to make the wine different but like the choice of a vessel in the kitchen.”

Of the currently stocked Cascina La Ghersa Barbera d’Asti “Vignassa Superiore” 1999, Massimo said, “1999 was an extraordinary vintage. When compared to 1997 and 2000, it’s more elegant and not as concentrated, but still with more texture than 1998.  The 1999 combines elegance, power and structure.” With 120 cases aged at the winery, 50 were relegated to us.  “It’s ready to drink,” he added, “but could age more.  I still have the 1989.”  Garnet with an aged orange rim, the “Vignassa Superiore” 1999 offers aromas of chalky minerality, plum blossoms and fruit.  Silky on the palate with supple tannins at the finish, it’s a bright and beautiful wine at a solid price point.  “The 1999 is still fresh and very young tasting.  It’s exciting to taste a wine after 15 years that’s still so fresh.”

T. Edward Wines, Cascina La Ghersa Barbera d'Asti  "Vignassa"

While we await the arrival of the “Vignassa” 2010, our most recent vintage is Cascina La Ghersa Barbera d’Asti “Vignassa Superiore” 2008.  “The 2008 is an incredible vintage,” he said.  “In the long term it’ll be really interesting.  2008 was a nice summer, but not too hot.  The ripening was perfect. When it’s very hot, Barbera can miss the acidy [required] for long term aging.”  Bigger with fleshier, rounder blackberry fruit, the 2008 shows fresh acidity with minerality that segues to velvety tannins that linger long on the finish.

With the “Vignassa Superiore” as their 1er Cru, La Ghersa also produces Barbera d’Asti “Piage” with fruit from four estate vineyards. “In Europe, you can get cheap Barbera from Asti at 0.6 to 0.8 Euro per liter,” he said. “The co-ops pay less to growers, so there’s no incentive for quality fruit.” Believing in the importance of a great entry level wine, Massimo allots the same attention in the vineyards and cellar to the “Piage” as he does to the “Vignassa”.  Planted to soils of lime, clay and stone, which are ideally suited to Barbera, the fruit behind the Barbera d’Asti “Piage” 2012 yields light floral aromas with raspberry and blackberry fruit. The minerality on the palate is much like soil to which the vines are planted, and the acidity is juicy like freshly plucked fruit.

For more on the wines of Cascina La Ghersa, read here.

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