Nardini (con't from Home page)
Antonio is as straightforward as his grappa. Well-educated, articulate, passionate for architecture, the arts, and fine food, but when it comes to grappa, he doesn?t need the fancy bottles and swishy winery names. Since 1779, his family?s ?grapperia? has had its place on the eastern entrance to the historic Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) in Bassano del Grappa, Italy?s heart and soul of grappa production. The Nardini?s method of production, the bottle and the label have essentially remained the same for 225 years. Yet Antonio is a leader in the modernization of the marketing of grappa, while still an ardent supporter of traditional production methods.
Arriving in the United States at age 17, Nardini set his career path by studying finance and international marketing before spending a few years honing his skills on Wall Street. He subsequently started his own company promoting luxury Italian goods in the US. Designer furniture, gourmet food, and wine and spirits were not only his profession, but his passion. Although not as yet formally employed by the family business, he selected a US distributor for the Nardini distillates and collaborated with them to market the products. The death of his cousin, the company?s export director, caused Antonio to move back to Italy in 1995, to officially take his place in the family business as the new manager of international exports and the 8th generation Nardini to carry on the tradition born by Bortolo Nardini?s move from Trentino to Bassano in the late 1700s.
Already experienced in promoting Italy?s national spirit in the US, Nardini?s goal was to continue to change the international consumers? general perception of grappa, by focussing on educating the public ?Most think it is like jet fuel, or Italian moonshine, or more an old man?s drink,.? he contends. He credits producers who bottled using fancy, eye-catching designer glass for drawing the consumers? attention to the spirit. But the problem, he clearly states, was often the quality of the spirit in the bottle did not match the attractiveness of the package. Currently, there is a trend toward grappa made from the pomace obtained from well-known wineries. Having the wine?s name on the label is once again drawing attention to the spirit. But Nardini wants to make it clear that unlike brandy, grappa is produced by distilling the grape pomace, rather than the wine resulting from the grapes. So there is little relation between the grappa bearing the wine?s name and the wine itself. Consumers should focus on the distiller and ultimately the taste.
Nardini?s marketing approach may be modern, but their product is still very traditional. The focus is on the grappa itself and maintaining price competitiveness without sacrificing quality. It is with this philosophy that the Nardinis, with a 25% market share, have become the largest seller of premium grappa in Italy, while producing more than 4 million bottles annually. The fancy bottles may have brought attention to grappa internationally, but Nardini credits Italian restaurateurs worldwide for sustaining and growing the market. Italian food is greatly appreciated on a global level and as more Italian restaurants open, it is natural for these ?grappa ambassadors? (as Nardini refers to them) to have their national spirit on the back bar. Nardini?s grappa has been the beneficiary of the proliferation of Italian restaurants, many of which are trattoria style. Most of these family-style establishments will carry grappa, but the focus is on good value as opposed to the expensive designer bottles. Nardini?s distillates are well positioned to satisfy this market.
My first exposure to grappa was at a tasting hosted by Jacopo Poli in 1997. Since then I have been captured by the magic of not only the distillate, but by the personalities behind its production. Countless visits, meals, and tastings with Jacopo, Antonio, Lisa Tosolini and others have led me to realize the importance of distilling the pomace when it is fresh to retain the essence of the varietals used, that all grappas are not created equally, to sip and savour, and that the passion of those making the grappa really does enhance the flavour. My favourite time to drink grappa is very traditional?after a meal as a digestif, or by adding it to the remnants of my espresso.
While visiting with Antonio I discovered that he has been able to combine his passion for food and architecture with his love of grappa. Clearly he loves his food, as I observed as we indulged in an extended feast at a Bassano restaurant owned by the family in which the chef incorporated Nardini distillates in dishes from lamb to zabaglione to house-made artisan grappa chocolates. His passion for architecture is well demonstrated at the Bassano distillery where two large space-age glass pods are seemingly suspended among the trees with the Montegrappa mountain range as a backdrop. They are somewhat surreal, but not out of place. The family commissioned renowned architect, Massimiliano Fuksas, to design them as a landmark addition to their distillery to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the founding of the business.
Antonio believes that as young people around the world gain an interest in art, culture and fine wine, the market for premium grappa will continue to grow. He encourages bartenders to develop new grappa cocktails. He applauds chefs who utilize grappa in both innovative and traditional recipes. He receives more than 15 email requests for information on grappa each day from around the world. His only request of the public is ?don?t judge all grappa by the first one you taste.? He quickly adds, ?unless of course you taste Nardini first.?