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It was 1779, ten years before the French Revolution, eighty-two years before the unification of the Reign of Italy and in the middle of the American Revolutionary War. In that year, Bortolo Nardini left his village in Trentino-Alto Adige and opened a “grapperia” in Bassano del Grappa. That was the beginning of a business that has been running successfully through today. The Nardini family still owns the factories that brew one of the most famous grappas in the world. Bortolo Nardini chose the site of Bassano, not randomly. At the time, it was an important hub for all the commerce between the Hapsburg Empire and the Serenissima Republic of Venice. Bortolo had the experience of running a distillery and also opened a bar with its own distillery next to the Bassano Bridge, on the River Brenta, built in 1209 by Gerardo Maurisio.
Words: Luca Ferrato
Images: Courtesy, Grapperia Nardini
People visiting the Nardini distillery and the beautiful Grapperia Nardini in Bassano, have a clear sensation of the passage of time. In fact, the grapperia exudes tradition and history in every corner, but the distillery, just a few kilometers outside the city center, is an expression of modernity and efficiency.
The distillery, which was first established on that site in the 1960s and then expanded in the 1980s, underwent an important renovation in 2004, coinciding with the celebration of the 225th anniversary of the foundation of Grappa Nardini. In that year, the “Bolle,” an architectural work designed by Massimiliano Fuksas, was completed. Entirely made of glass, it was designed with the intention to unite tradition with a vision of the future, for an area of Italy famous for the entrepreneurship of its population. The Bolle contains a laboratory dedicated to verify the quality of the products, an auditorium and a big conference room. Marta Lazzarin, public relations manager of Nardini, told us: “The Bolle is an architectural expression that the Nardini family decided to give to the town of Bassano del Grappa. The architect Fuksas designed the entire structure with the clear intention not to interfere with the environment. The family decided that all the factories involved in the fabrication of the Bolle had to be from Veneto. We have good factories and skilled workers in this area so we don’t need to look outside of Veneto to find excellence.”
Situated directly opposite the Bolle is the distillery. This is one of two owned by the Nardinis; the other is in Monastier—also in Veneto but in the Treviso area. Inside the factories, the vinacaa (essentially the skin of the grapes (being the most important product for producing a good grappa) is worked. Nardini utilizes vinacaa derived from Merlot, Tocai and Cabernet grapes—essentially the red ones, because they are richer in sugar.
In the basement of the distillery, you can see the barrels, those aged three years and the special 15-year edition. Two enormous barrels are placed just outside the cellar and Marta explained: “No, these are not for sale, these are only for the family.” The grappa inside was bottled in 1959, and is much stronger.
The town of Bassano was very important in both World Wars and the Ponte Vecchio was destroyed in February 1945 by Italian partisans who wanted to interrupt communications between the German lines. The bridge was rebuilt in 1947 by the “Alpine,” and the grapperia provided grappa to all the men involved in this arduous job.
Not so far from the city center there is also a bicycle path that travels from Bassano to the Trentino-Alto Adige region for more than 40 kilometers, across the old border between Italy and Austria at Primolano.
At the grapperia, we met some members of the family. Today Nardini is run by Giuseppe, his daughter Cristina, and three cousins, Antonio, Angelo and Leonardo.
Underneath the bar, there is a beautiful area used in the past as a distillery. Now a two-row house full of antique furnishings, it is dedicated to groups of people who want to be introduced to the grappa traditions.
In a corner, there is an old bar, with some beautiful ceramic tiles on the wall. “These tiles are from the sixteenth century, and were made by the Remondini family, who had a great tradition in Veneto for their work. This was the same family which designed the label on the bottle of our grappa, the classical Bassano Bridge, that is the hallmark of our tradition,” explained Leonardo, who is very proud when he talks about the family business. “Everywhere grappa is related to Italy, and we are very proud to represent the country with our product. We believe in traditions, we like traditions, and very little has changed through the years at Nardini. We produce grappa like we did centuries ago; we have the same label that we had in 1779, and this is a choice. Our family is now at the seventh generation in the business, and we are part of the Henokiens Association of family and bicentenary companies.”
Today, Nardini is not only known for grappa, they also produce acqua di cedro, brandy, rabarbaro and amaro. “There’s a curious story about the amaro in the U.S. and all of it is related to The Sopranos, says Antonio. “In three episodes of the series, part of the famous mafia family drink amaro at home. Some people watching the series asked themselves what those guys were drinking and The Wall Street Journal started a competition to taste the best amari sold in the U.S. So, the Nardini amaro won this competition, and now this product is one of the most appreciated in America.”