With unequalled know-how, it has become the number one company in the grappa sector, the queen of spirits in Wine Spectator and every year it hosts a prestigious literary prize
It is possible to distil an idea, a thought and a passion. To do so, you need an extraordinary ingredient and 5 artisan distilleries that are blended masterfully by the artisan distiller through every phase: from introducing the steam to splitting the head, and tail at the perfect moment to select the heart of grappa. You also need three pagodas made from wood and copper – as beautiful as jewels – and numerous small barrels made out of prized materials, such as Nevers and Limousin oak, wild cherry, acacia, bottled without added colors. This allows for a natural ageing of the invaluable spirits inside. Finally, you need an almost magical and poetic place where intense emotions can merge into a spirit that encapsulates pure sensuality, capable of caressing the palate and inflaming passion – grappa.
This all happens in the temple of the Nonino «spirit», based in Ronchi di Percoto, in Udine. It’s a company with a high concentration of love and intelligence, where in between the grape and the final product you will find the head and the heart of Giannola and Benito Nonino, along with their children Cristina, Antonella and Elisabetta. It’s a blending of alchemy that has managed to transform grappa from a coarse liqueur – a pocket-sized dose of warmth as the New York Times wrote in 1997 – into a noble spirit, unique in the world for its purity. The Nonino revolution literally rewrote the rules of production when it began back in 1962. After 11 years of studying, research, trials and tasting sessions, things culminated with the choice to distil the fresh marc from a single variety, the Picolit, rather than various grapes that have been conserved for a long time. The technique is unique – as of yet unrivalled – and is behind an enormous, clamorous brand and market success, to the extent that the company is now the biggest in the grappa sector.
«I still remember the moment when Benito and I achieved our first single-variety Grappa Monovitigno , the Picolit, using drop-by-drop distillation», remembers Giannola Nonino. «It was 1 December 1973 and I held it in the palm of my hand, with Cristina, Antonella and Elisabetta huddled around me in silence. In those drops, I sensed the same aroma of vineyards that came from the grape skins, as well as acacia honey and ripe quince apples».
Thanks to Giannola Nonino and his husband Benito, grappa is no longer the Cinderella of spirits but the Queen, capable of winning itself the debut service on spirits worldwide in the wine-making bible, the Wine Spectator. If Grappa Picolit inaugurated the beginning of a new direction for the Percoto-based company founded by Orazio Nonino in 1897, the native Friulian vine varieties (Schioppettino, Pignolo, Tacelenghe and Ribolla gialla – authorised in 1978) ensured its rapid ascent and conquest of the world.
In 1984, the Nonino family distilled the grape in its entirety and created a new nectar: Acquavite d’Uva ÙE Picolit. «We had to ask for authorisation from the Ministry of Industry, Agriculture and Health to produce it. And to underline the importance of the new product, we collected it in a vial made out of hand-blown Venini glass and used packaging that was revolutionary at the time, complete with unique labels that I’d sign by hand one by one», Giannola Nonino explains.
The millennium was inaugurated with Gioiello – a pure spirit obtained from the distillation of merely honey and all of its various tastes. It was created by Cristina (head of distillation and the Italian market), Antonella (head of foreign relations and marketing) and Elisabetta (head of foreign markets and internal company organisation). «The work is hard but it’s also a pure, huge and untouchable pleasure. This is why my husband passed on the art of distillation to our daughters. They have guts, personality and awareness and are working hard to make our company grow even more in relation to the excellent quality we offer», Giannola underlines.
The company rounded 2015 off with turnover of €14.4 million and is present in 70 countries. For the first time, exports featured more heavily on the sales figures compared to the internal market. However, Nonino isn’t just grappa; ever since 1975, for one day a year, Percoto transforms into a capital of culture with writers, actors, directors, scientists, journalists and businessmen arriving from all over the world. «It was born as an act of love to our land which in time has shown itself to be a great way of communicating the values of quality, respect towards the territory, its traditions and fruits», Giannola explains. Grappa and culture: a winning combination.