Italy's grappa makers distil quality to win markets

Tue Mar 27, 2012 7:05am EDT
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By Svetlana Kovalyova

NOGAREDO, Italy (Reuters) - For more than 150 years, Italian grappa has been popular as a cheap and strong drink for poor men trying to chase away the hardships of daily life.

But as the thirst for grappa dried up on the domestic market, its producers realized that making farmers' booze was not enough to win back traditional clients or carve a niche on the world spirits market dominated by such heavyweights as cognac, whisky and vodka.

With a rather limited output - about 35-40 million 0.7 liter bottles of Italian grappa are produced a year against nearly 163 million bottles of French cognac sold around the world in 2011 - Italian grappa makers have decided to bet on quality rather than volumes to compete.

They now pour millions of euros into refining their product and transforming it into a fashionable drink.

"With consumption falling there was no other way than to make a top quality product. The trend now is to make an elite, niche product," said Andrea Marzadro, who with his brother owns and runs one of the biggest grappa distilleries in Italy.

Marzadro is among 20 distillers from the northern Italian province of Trento. Members of the Istituto Tutela Grappa del Trentino consortium, they produce Grappa Trentina whose trident label is a guarantee of top quality.

While keeping with the old tradition of making a distilled spirit from grape pomace - skins, seeds and sometimes stalks - left over after grapes have been squeezed to produce wine, they have very strict production rules and quality controls.

First of all, fresh pomace is delivered straight to distilleries, instead of sitting for days in winemakers' backyards, to avoid uncontrolled fermentation.   Continued...