Friday, October 26, 2012

A museum in Nizza Monferrato: the life and times of Arturo Bersano

Carrozza Siciliana ~ Emozioni Tantrici
Often when visiting wineries in Italy they will have a space set aside for a museum. This past trip we visited no less than three such museums. The most interesting one though was at the Bersano winery in Nizza Monferrato. One of a handful of historical wineries in Piedmont that are grandfathered in to make Barolo and Barbaresco, even though the winery is in the Asti province, Arturo Bersano was a forward thinking man and one with many eclectic interests. His Print museum is a fascinating place to linger and peer into the mind of an early 20th century collector. Many passions, a fair amount of personal wealth and power, Bersano is a fascinating study of a Piemontese wine baron. His widow still lives above the building, is past 90, and let us in to look over the dusty collection, which is interesting beyond any of the panegyric attempts we read so often on the internet, often describing the most mundane and insignificant things.The museum, created before the hype of the 21st century, is a trip back into a silent world of thought and emotion. Quite a wonderful experience.

One of the most arresting pieces in the collection is the Pomona Italiana, an edition dating back to 1817. Inside are colorful and beautiful lithographs of grapes, some familiar, some endangered and some lost forever. One of my favorites is the Uva Bizzarria, a multi-colored grape.

Another interesting artifact I spied was a bottle of 1877 Barbaresco from what is now the Castello di Neive. The bottle was from the estate of Riccardi Candiani. Notable also is that Bersano was given the bottle by Bruno Giacosa in 1972, as noted on the bottom of the bottle.

Bersano was an avid food society person. Along with heading up the local chapter of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, Bersano was crazy about Bagna Cauda (as many Piemontese are). I found a photo of an induction into the Confraternita de la Bagna Cauda, with the inevitable oath taking, pledging eternal allegiance to anchovies, garlic, boiled vegetables and, of course, the wines of Monferrato and the Langa.

An art collector as well, there is a cache of wine oriented drawings. This one with the little dachshund waiting to collect the spilling wine is dear.

In the museum is a full-sized Carrozza Siciliana, with paintings from the Tale of Roland painted on the cart, as is the custom. This image shows the death of Ruggiero.

One of the more odd paintings is this one of two Arabs prostrating themselves before a bottle of alcohol, with a tired or possibly dead camel in the background. Truly bizarre, with profane connotations. In those days there was less sensitivity to Islamic taboos. 

Along with his diversions, Bersano had moments of depth. He kept notes on cards, thoughts, and this one was posted. Essentially, the saying goes that the farmer‘s wealth isn’t in the bank.

It isn’t all about swirling and spitting. Italian culture can be found in the smallest corners of an old mansion now forgotten by time and modernity. But at one time, this was most likely the center of someone’s universe. Take the time to visit if you are ever in the area. Call ahead.

Bersano Winery and Museum
Piazza Dante, 21
14049 Nizza Monferrato (Asti) - Italia
+39 0141 720211

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