Nardini operates two distilleries, one in Monastier near Treviso and the other in its home town of Bassano del grappa. Monastier uses continuous column distillation to produce a purer more neutral distillate, while the Bassano distillery operates traditional discontinuous stills to produce more flavoursome grappa. Nardini is unique amongst grappa distillers in its blending of these two different distillates, a practice which is comparable with the blending of single malt and grain whisky in the production of Scotch whisky.
In effect, Nardini only produces one blend of grappa. The various different grappas which comprise the Nardini range are distinguished by the strength they are bottled at and whether they are aged or not, and if so how long. The base grappa of all is the same Nardini blend.
Nardini’s ethos is to blend throughout the process to enable the production of a consistent product. This starts with the grape varieties of the pomace used and mixing grapes allows a uniform flavour profile to be achieved. Also there is simply not enough of any one grape variety available to produce the volume of grappa required by Nardini. They also blend grappas from five different vintages to eliminate annual variations in pomace and guarantee uniform quality.
A mix of 65% more flavoursome red grape pomace to 35% white grape pomace is sourced exclusively from DOC wineries in the Veneto and Friuli regions, Veneto and Friuli supplying the Monastier Distillery and Veneto supplying Bassano. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot bianco and Tocai (now called Friuliano) most contribute to Nardini’s distinctive flavour with Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Chardonnay and Raboso (a local grape varietal) also featuring in the blend.
The quality of grape pomace is key to the quality of the final grappa and Nardini specifies that lightly pressed pomace, so retaining some juice and moisture, must arrive at one of its two distilleries within 48 hours of being pressed for winemaking. It is then held in large covered cylos to retain its moisture and allow natural yeasts to start fermentation. The pomace is left for around two months before it is uncovered and the top and bottom layers discarded due to the bottom being too moist and the top too dry.
Distillation of the now fermented pomace runs between September to May at the continuous distillery in Monaster, and from November to March at the batch operated Bassano distillery.
Batch distillation at Bassano
Nardini operates traditional batch distillation at their Bassano distillery. Small stills are loaded with pomace and closed before steam vapour is introduced, stripping the pomace of its alcohol content. The alcoholic vapour is collected and condensed into a spirit which goes onto a second distillation in a column still with heads (higher alcohols and methanol) and tails (heavy alcohols and fusil oils) separated to leave the flavoursome heart of the distillate. The first still is emptied of the spent pomace and the process repeated.
Continuous distillation at Distilleria di Monastier
Nardini’s high-tech distillery at Monastier di Treviso uses steam distillation in continuous cycles operating 24 hours a day, Monday to Saturday morning. Tipper trucks continuously load pomace into a hopper which feeds a cone shaped de-alcoholiser through which steam rises, completely stripping the pomace of is alcohol. The vapour passes into a condenser where it cools into an alcoholic spirit called ‘flema’ at 18-20% alc./vol..
The flema passes to the main distillation column. Constructed out of stainless steel and copper, this soaring column has 36 copper distillation plates and as the alcoholic vapour rises up the column, the plates strip out undesirable heavy alcohols and fusil oils. From here the vapour passes to a second column where it is further rectified, with around 60% of the product making its way to the third column where methanol and other unwanted volatile alcohols are removed. A proportion of the distillate leaving the third column is returned to the bottom of the second column for a second pass through both columns to further rectify.
The temperature at the centre and top of each column is carefully monitored and settings on the still are continuously adjusted to achieve the following:
column 1 centre: 94.1°C, top: 78.5°C
column 2 centre: 81.2°C, top: 78.4°C
column 2 centre: 70.1°C, top: 68.5°C
The distillate finally leaves the still at 83% alc./vol. and simply put this distillate is blended with the batch alembic distilled spirit from Bassano, at a ratio of two-thirds column distillate to one-third alembic spirit. However, it’s not quite that simple as part of the alembic distillate is redistilled and vinello, a juice which drains from the stored pomace is collected, distilled separately and blended into the final product.
Oily notes are a common characteristic in grappa but Nardini are fanatical about the total elimination of residual oils from their grappa, saying the oils cause headache and stomach upsets. So not only are they careful to remove oils during the distillation process, they also run the grappa through a specially designed piece of equipment prior to bottling to ensure their grappa is oil free. Nardini lowers the temperature of the grappa to below 0°C and adds a filter of fossil flour; the oils contained in the grappa cling to the filer as its passes through, allowing them to be flushed away. A final paper filter further ensures purity.
As mentioned earlier, the Nardini family only make one blend of grappa but this is sold in three distinctively different styles:
1. Grappa Bianca - unaged but ‘rested’ in stainless steel vats for one year - is the original and best-selling grappa. Originally bottled at 50% alc./vol., it is now also available in 40% and 60% alc./vol.
2. Grappa Riserva - this is also rested in stainless steel vats before being aged in oak casks for at least three further years. Originally bottled at 50% alc./vol., it is now also available in 40% and 60% alc./vol.
3. Grappa Riserva 15 Year Old – as per above but aged for 15 rather than three years. Ageing is in 2,000 litre casks made from Slavonian oak. This oak is non porous and avoids an excessive ‘angels share’ to evaporate. New casks are used at the outset to obtain a golden colour, then older casks are used. The barrels are used exclusively for grappa ageing and are discarded after about 20 years of use.
Nardini produce around 4 million bottles (445,000 x 9l cases equivalent) of grappa each year, the majority of which are sold in Italy but with some 20% exported to countries such as Germany, Australia, USA, UK, China and Japan. Indeed Antarctica is the only continent where Nardini grappa is not sold so the family supplied explorers heading there to ensure they didn’t have to brave the cold without a bottle.