As winter casts its lengthy, bone-chilling, shadow across our path, with jacket collars raised, we set our sights on finding shelter in a soulful heart-warming drop.

GRAPPA, is a traditional body warmer. You’ll find in every ‘Osteria’ in Friuli. From the Adriatic coast to the regions central plain, from its Eastern hills to its bordering Alpine peaks, this ‘acquavite’ patiently awaits the frozen ones.

In bygone days, Grappa wouldn’t have been for the wealthy few.

We imagine an exclusive Brandy would have been the more noble call. You see Grappa was born of more humble origins. A spirit distilled from winemakers left overs, it has always been the celebrated sustenance of the less well-heeled. It was and still remains the crystal clear energizer added to an early morning ‘liscio lungo’. It was and still is the after-dinner ‘dopo cena’ to help prep oneself for that brisk frosty-night walk that lies in wait outside. Yeah, you know the one.

Here in Friuli, the Nonino family have been Grappa Distillers since 1897.

With more than 120 years of artisan practice under their belts, they know a thing or three when it comes to handling their ‘discontinous’ steam driven stills. So much so that they have long since rewritten the global Grappa narrative. A story built on tradition, and with no shortage of adventure and revolution, it was in 1973 that current Master Distiller, Benito Nonino and his inspiring wife, Giannola, began imagining another world with their first Cru Monovitigno PICOLIT.

A mono-varietal grappa produced exclusively from PICOLIT grape pomace was at that time, quite simply, unheard of. Native to Italy’s most northeasterly region, PICOLIT was a white grape variety almost entirely forgotten outside of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Moreover it wasn’t the only native. There were countless varieties, reds & whites, that spoke of Friuli as their point of origin. And yet, at that precise moment in time, so many of these precious vines were facing extinction. Disease, Pestilence and War over the previous 150 years had ravaged the landscape, laying waste to centuries of natural evolutionary beauty. But as if that weren’t enough, by the mid 1970’s, ludicrous legislation was equally conspiring to banish Friuli’s bounty to the annals of history. Benito & Giannola simply couldn’t bear to see this happen. There had to be a way to avert the looming disaster, even if it meant they themselves would have to carve out the new path to follow.

Growers and winemakers needed encouragement.

The region had an unimaginable wealth of unique ingredients, indigenous grapes that should and could be the envy of the viti-cultural world. IF ONLY PEOPLE KNEW. They needed to know. Everyone needed to understand and learn the value associated with these vines, sustaining the land, the regions culture and heritage, Friuli’s unique identity.

And so, in 1975, the Premio Nonino Award entitled “Risit D’Aur” (The Golden Vine Shoot), was immaculately conceived.

On 29th November of the same year, it was born. The RISIT D’AUR instantly became a masterful, enlightening and enriching advocate for indigenous rediscovery. It became the road to salvation not just for grape varieties like PIGNOLO, SCHIOPPETTINO, RIBOLLA GIALLA and TAZZELENGHE, but also for Friuli’s farming and agricultural community. Reborn, reinvigorated and increasingly recognisable, Friuli and NONINO set sail toward a new era of growth.

They say time flies when you are having fun.

Indeed 43 years have since flown. Giannola won’t mind us recounting how recently she celebrated her 80th. But you’d absolutely never know it given her inexhaustible enthusiasm. Benito and herself are still at the helm of the good ship ‘NONINO’ but their crew has grown. Flanked by the dynamism of their three daughters, Cristina, Antonella and Betty, together with the youthful energy of grand-daughters Chiara and Francesca, they combine to create one amazing natural force.

The Classic Grappa Bianca (known as the 41° & 50°) remain pillars of the distillery’s production programme.

So too the use of their traditional, hand crafted, “discontinous” copper pot stills. These are the beating heart of NONINO. To make an Artisan Grappa, this is the only way they know how. The NONINO family are what we like to call “Future People” and their ever-expanding portfolio is 100% proof positive. Innovative new creations like their Amaro/Bitters and Fruit & Honey distillates stand alongside the Classics, the numerous Cru Monovitigno Grappe and the prized Barrel Aged Reserves. No surprise either to witness growing global numbers of Movers and Shakers surfing the new wave of NONINO Aperitifs and Cocktails.

It was our great fortune during Harvest 2018 to have the opportuntity to visit the distillery where Antonella guided us through a working day in the life of NONINO.

Outside it was a balmy, sun-drenched late September day. Friuli was experiencing an Indian summer, the like of which living memory could faintly recall. Inside, in the cradle of the distillation hall, there was heat of a different sort. Clouds of steam rising from the open mouthed stills, all eagerly awaiting another serving of ‘la vinaccia’. The perfume of Christmas permeates the air. In a single word, we are SPIRITUALIZED.

Little did we know when we started out on our path of discovery…

Yes, little did we know but man, look what we know now.
Were it not for Benito & Giannola’s imagining’s in 1973,
we at THENATIVEGRAPES would probably not be.

So to this family of “Sweet Saviours”, on behalf of the countless Native Grape souls everywhere, we proclaim…

Long may NONINO’s steam-powered visionary spirit reign !

SPIRITUALIZED… A poem by any other name.

Sweet Saviour – VILLAGERS

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