A family affair

Words by Adam Woodward
Photography by Liz Seabrook
      The heating in the car has barely had a chance to kick in when Roberto decides to stop. This is the spot, he explains, where every bottle of Bava wine begins its life – one of 55 vineyards spread across 20 hectares of gently rolling fields and woodland. It’s a cold, overcast day in early January and the vines are bare, yet Roberto manages to conjure a vivid picture of a sun-kissed hillside in bloom, gesticulating loudly as all Italians tend to when describing their greatest passion in life. A few minutes later a small teal-coloured Fiat comes rattling down the road, mounting the grass verge to pull up alongside us. An elderly man emerges from the vehicle and starts chatting to Roberto before continuing on his way, seemingly mid-conversation. Roberto reveals that the elderly man is his father, who officially retired some years ago but likes to stop by every so often to ask how business is going.

    Bava is very much a family affair, and as a fourth-generation vintner, Roberto understands the importance of tradition better than anyone. His ancestors began growing grapes around Cocconato near the town of Asti in the northwest region of Piedmont in the 17th century, and it was Roberto’s great grandfather who built the first wine cellar here in 1911. Today, Roberto runs the company along with his sister, Francesca, and two brothers, Giulio and Paolo, while their best-known export goes by another name. Dating back to 1891, the Cocchi brand was acquired by Roberto’s father in 1977, and its recent resurgence owes a lot to Bava Winery, who still produce this aromatised wine according to Giulio Cocchi’s original recipe. As Roberto puts it, “vermouth is having its gin movement”, and his family have arguably made the single biggest contribution to this.

is more
than an art,
it’s a science.’

    Despite its humble origins and idyllic setting, Bava is a decidedly modern enterprise. Although the original cellar remains in use (it’s recently become wi-fi enabled), the adjoining stone barn houses a dozen state-of-the-art steel vats in which the fermentation of various Piedmonte wines – primarily Barolo, Barbera and Alta Langhe – takes place. Behind the on-site wine shop and tasting room sits an unassuming whitewashed building divided into two large rooms: one containing hessian bags filled with cardamom, cinnamon, liquorice, rose petals, camomile, elderflower, rhubarb root and a curious assortment of additional ingredients; the other furnished with the kind of apparatus that wouldn’t look out of place in a chemist’s lab.
    Winemaking is more than an art, it’s a science, and Roberto and his staff are methodical in their approach to producing authentic, high quality artisanal vermouths and aperitivos. Bava uses its own natural fertiliser made from grass clippings and vine prunings, as well as eco-friendly vineyard poles crafted from locally sourced wood. Energy is harnessed from an extensive network of solar panels and rainwater is collected in a massive 250,000 litre cistern under the cellar, while bottles manufactured with 80 percent recycled glass keep material and transportation costs down. All this makes Bava one of the greenest wineries around, and it also enhances the clarity and taste of their wines – the signature Vermouth di Torino and Americano, so called due to the special blend of herbs and spices that turn the alcohol bitter (“amaricato”), are especially popular among discerning drinkers.

     After driving from the vineyard back down to the winery, where Roberto invites me to sample the full Cocchi range, he scribbles a note with directions to his favourite gelateria in nearby Turin, pausing to remark that even the ink in his pen is infused with vermouth. Turns out his passion for winemaking is not only in his blood.