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Nonino: a story of passion

Grappa has a centuries-old history, but it has always been considered a poor, crude product. It was Giannola and Benito Nonino who, with the creation in 1973 of the first single-vine grappa, started a real revolution that turned grappa into a Made in Italy excellence in the world.

reading time6 minutes

“Historia de una passione’: this is perhaps how Luis Sepulveda would have titled the film he wanted to dedicate to the story of the Nonino family, a Friulian company that today is synonymous with quality Italian grappa and one of the few all-female companies with a history spanning 127 years.

A success story that began in 1897, when Orazio Nonino founded a small distillery in Ronchi di Percoto (in the province of Udine). Before then, it is said that Orazio distilled marc ‘door-to-door’, going directly to the farmers’ homes with his cart.

Up until the 1970s, however, grappa was certainly not a valuable product; on the contrary, it could be considered something crude, peasant, just right for warming up. Grappa tasting was not even considered yet, a glass of grappa was something you gobbled down and go.

Silvia, Giannola and the others

The female regency of the distillery began in 1940 when, after the death of her husband Antonio, Silvia Nonino became the first woman to head a distillery. Nothing strange, really, if you consider that knowledge of botany has been the prerogative of women since ancient times. And indeed, the ‘Aperitivo Bianco Nonino’ was Silvia Nonino’s brainchild.

The turning point came in 1973, when Benito Nonino and his wife, Giannola Bulfoni, came up with the revolutionary idea of distilling the marc of a single grape variety: Picolit. It is a prestigious grape, and above all, it represents the land that produces it: Friuli. However, the costs proved too high for the final consumer, especially for a product that until then had not been considered particularly prestigious.

Giannola’s marketing and ahead-of-their-time influencers

It is here, however, that Giannola’s talent comes into play. She understands the importance not only of quality but also of the product’s image. That’s why she decided to put the grappa in precious blown-glass ampoules with vintage labels handwritten by herself. Then, she gave the precious product as a gift to a number of ‘influencers’: Gianni Agnelli, Sandro Pertini, Eugenio Scalfari, Indro Montanelli, Marcello Mastroianni, Sean Connery, just to name a few.

From that moment on, everything changed. A representative of the Agnelli family placed a large order, and Silvana Mangano decided to make a gift of it to her friends in America. On June 2, 1998, Giannola Nonino was appointed Cavaliere del Lavoro, and two years later, in December 2000, the prestigious magazine Wine Spectator opened its feature dedicated to spirits with Grappa Monovitigno Picolit Nonino.

Leadership, plural feminine

Today, Nonino Distillatori Srl is a world leader in high-quality artisanal grappa. The company is still run by the Nonino family, now in its sixth generation. Giannola’s three daughters, Cristina, Antonella, and Elisabetta, are all at the helm of the company, together with her granddaughter Francesca Bardelli Nonino, who is the Web Manager and known “Grappa Influencer.”

But we must not forget the role that women played from the very beginning of the company’s history. In fact, it was the task of the farmers’ wives working for the Nonino’s to separate the Picolit marc from the rest. This was a completely new activity, which the husbands did not want to carry out because it was considered useless and boring, but the company paid the women with a 100% surcharge, thus contributing to their economic independence.

The Nonino Award

The Picolit grape variety is only the beginning. Giannola and Benito managed to obtain – not without difficulty – the official recognition of the other ancient indigenous grape varieties of Friuli, including Schioppettino, Pignolo, and Ribolla gialla. All this became possible thanks also to the Nonino Risit d’Aur – Barbatella d’oro Award, which offered a million liras as a prize for those who had put a lot of effort into planting these ancient varieties.

In 1977, the Nonino Prize Risit d’Aur was joined by the Nonino Prize for Literature, which aimed to tell and keep alive the memory of rural civilisation. With Mario Soldati as president of the jury, the prize made Nonino known to many of the most important writers and intellectuals, both Italian and international.

Nonino’s historical headquarters is in Ronchi di Percoto (UD). The company has forty employees, a turnover of 17 million euros in 2022 and sells on all continents.

Congratulations to those who, in pursuit of quality, innovate and bring grappa Made in Italy to the world!

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