Written by Lina Hartwig and Lisa Cadamuro
After driving through countless vineyards and across the beautiful Friulian landscape, we pulled up to the distillation site of Grappa NONINO and got out of the bus. As the sun began to set, a seemingly endless row of gracefully decorated stainless steel tanks welcomed us. In the middle of the site a lady vigorously jumped out of her car and shouted: “Welcome ESCP. We’re so excited to have you here! Viva!!” The extraordinary energy, passion and enthusiasm of Cristina Nonino, third generation Nonino distiller and one of the three daughters of Giannola and Benito, captivated us in an instant. We soon saw how this irrepressible spirit has been passed on through the generations and distinguishes the Nonino women as people and entrepreneurs.
Before entering the distillery, Cristina, joined by her daughter Francesca, made us smell the fresh pomace placed right in front of the entrance, ready to be distilled. Then, inside the distillery itself, the distinct sounds and powerful aromas reminiscent of apple, bread crust, and toasted nuts transported us into a different world: the world of Grappa NONINO. Although it was already sunset, the distillery was in full swing. Nonino is among the very few distilleries in the world that only distills during harvest time, day and night, seven days a week, to use the pomace when it is freshest. The distillery is a true testament to the decades of hard labour, dedication to true craftsmanship and attention to detail that continue to shape the Nonino family business. While explaining the complicated details of the artisanal distillation process to us, Francesa said that “Distilling grappa is like orchestrating a concert. You need to make sure that all your instruments are playing the same music in harmony, otherwise you will have a flawed product”.
Similarly to the director of an orchestra, who does not only make sure that the notes are played correctly but that the music is brought to life, the Nonino women, with their unmatched passion and fervor, manage to instill life into their grappa. From what we experienced, for the Nonino women grappa transcends the product itself: it has become a philosophy that has driven them to constantly refine their products while staying true to their land and legacy.
This philosophy has guided them since the very beginning of their history, and manifested itself for the first time in the Monovitigno Nonino. With the Monovitigno, Giannola, on December 1st 1973, revolutionised the world of grappa, by producing the first grappa distilled from a single-variety pomace deliberately using the noble and native Friulian grape Picolit.
During the tasting, Francesca recalled the moment her grandmother walked through the distillery and smelled the Monovitigno distillate for the first time: “Benito ce l’abbiamo fatta!” (“Benito we did it!”).
Driven by the certainty that they had managed to bottle the distinctive qualities of the Friulian vineyards, Giannola managed to overcome the marketing challenges posed by the high price of the Monovitigno and the widespread prejudice towards grappa. With persistence and creativity she turned the grappa into a huge success, and changed the perception of grappa forever.
With Il Fragolino di NONINO the tasting gave us more proof of the Nonino revolution turned into a bottled success. Il Fragolino di NONINO is the first grappa distilled from the whole grape. Although other fruit distillates were being already made by using the whole fruit, no one before Giannola and Benito had ever thought of using the whole grape for grappa distillation. Again, the Nonino’s faced backlash and resistance, this time created by the Italian law which did not allow for whole grapes to be distilled. But Giannola is not a woman to take no for an answer. After 3 years of struggle against the bureaucracy, in 1984 the “NONINO law”, an exclusive 12-month authorisation for Nonino to distil whole grapes, was issued.
After the tasting, we had the opportunity to pick the Fragolino grapes from the vines and taste for ourselves the importance of high-quality sourced grapes. This reconfirmed that in all products the Nonino family distills, the raw materials are key.
Nonino is living proof of how passion can be passed on not only through the generations but also to people who discover or rediscover the world of grappa. Their effort to constantly innovate, to re-imagine what grappa can be and to deliver a high quality product which embodies their passion and knowledge, has been truly inspiring for us as aspiring drivers of change in the Food and Beverage industry. As we are just starting our journey as IFBM students at ESCP Business School the company visit to Grappa NONINO taught us to be open to inspiration, equipped with resilience and to work hard and with enthusiasm for the things we believe in.