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Ponte Vecchio 2,
Bassano del Grappa,
In an age of globalisation and conglomerates growing steadily bigger, swallowing smaller competitors in their wake, it’s reassuring that family-owned and run businesses continue to thrive and prosper. Established in 1779, by Bortolo Nardini, and still run by his descendants, Nardini is the world’s oldest grappa producer and one of Italy’s oldest companies.
The town of Bassano is overshadowed by the Grappa mountains, hence its full name of Bassano del Grappa. Thanks to Nardini the town is famous for grappa production, making the ‘del grappa’ even more appropriate. This picturesque medieval town is also famed for its Ponte Vecchio (Old bridge) or Ponte degli Alpini (Alpini's bridge) which spans the River Brenta. Designed by architect Andrea Palladio in 1569, for centuries this covered wooden pontoon bridge was the only crossing for miles either side, making Bassano an important gateway town.
So key was the bridge as a crossing point that people had little choice but to pay the toll to traverse it. The river itself was also an import artery so if they weren’t crossing over the bridge, they were passing underneath it, particularly the men piloting barges made of tree trunks lashed together for use as foundation piles in the construction of Venice downstream.
Bortolo Nardini understood the strategic location of Bassano del grappa, so in 1779 purchased a building, previously a silk mill at the eastern entrance to the bridge and established his grapperia (tavern) and distillery there. The riverside position not only guaranteed passing trade, it also meant there was a plentiful supply of water for the distillation process.
Nardini benefitted from the numbers passing the door of the grapperia to cross the Brenta, but also from traffic on the river below. When bargemen reached the Ponte Vecchio, a dock under the bridge allowed them to secure their payload and make their way up to Nardini’s tavern through a narrow tunnel. After enjoying some grappa they would continue down the Brenta to Venice.
Nardini’s grapperia on the bridge is still open and bustling to this day, being popular with tourists and locals alike, with people from all walks and ages stopping for a grappa or the popular spritz-like Mezzoemezzo. Little in here has changed over the centuries, making the grapperia feel a little like you are drinking in a living museum.