Grappa, the story of a bargaining chip

Grappa is an Italian distillate with humble origins that is making a comeback, especially in Trentino, with events and in mixology.

From the sacred bread of the poor to a gem of mixology: today grappa is a secret weapon in the hands of skilled bartenders and connoisseurs. This distillate has begun to open its scents and bewitch the visitors of the kermesse dedicated to wine and spirits. Its history is adventurous, full of anecdotes and events. Here’s how grappa went from being a bargaining chip to pure pleasure.

What is grappa

It is a distillate obtained from the marc , that is what remains from the pressing of the wine grape and its skins. This is why it is also called marc brandy . The word grappa derives from the medieval Latin grappolus , meaning bunch of grapes.a distillate obtained from the pomace left over from the production of wineThe pomace is placed in copper boilers, known as the alembic, where water vapor is passed to extract the alcoholic part present. There are several distillation methods. The most used are steam, bain-marie (where the boiler with the marc is inside another boiler), vacuum bain-marie. To talk about grappa, everything – from the raw material to the distillation process – must take place in Italy. The regions where production is concentrated are Veneto, Piedmont, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Trentino, Alto Adige . There are currently 131 active distilleries with a production of around 35 million bottles.

The hand of the Salerno school

Although the art of distillation is a very ancient practice, grappa as we know it is much more recent. According to what the National Grappa Institute affirms , the brandy was codified by the Salernitana School which, around the year 1000, drew up the rules for the concentration of alcohol through distillation and prescribed its use for various human pathologies. In fact, the name brandy came from the Latin aqua vitae , water of life. It was used to cure all kinds of ailments, but also as sustenance in the poorest families. 

The distillation boom

The Paduan doctor Michele Savonarola published the first treatise on this subject, De Conficienda Aqua Vitae , around the beginning of the 1400s. But marc was probably started to distil already in the 14th century. The boom of master distillers took place in the first half of the nineteenth century, when the rules set by the Jesuits in 1600 were followed. But in 1813 the Florentine Baglioni developed the distillation column, which allowed the brandy to be produced with only one ride. ” But to use it it was necessary to operate on liquid fermented products or not on solid substances “, reads the website of the Institute. “In Italy, the skins of the grapes separated from the must or wine at the end of the alcoholic fermentation continued to be distilled directly and to obtain a brandy with a strong organoleptic character: grappa “.

Trentino, the art of lambicar

In Trentino , grappa has been the cornerstone of many family economies. Documents of the Habsburg court document its use in the area. In the Trentino dialect, distill is lambicar , a term that has taken on many meanings over time. They range from ” getting busy to get by ” to today’s meaning, drawn up by the Institute for the Protection of Grappa of Trentino : ” carrying on the values ​​of tradition, culture and art in a multifaceted territory, with the aim to create real masterpieces capable of fascinating and seducing consumers who are attentive to uniqueness “. Here the sgnapait is a cultural glue, but for many years it has represented a precious resource in the economy of the poorest valleys, such as the Val di Cembra . 

Grappa, a bargaining chip

Those who were busy , those who lambicava , produced grappa at home, consumed it as food . Precisely for this reason, for almost two centuries, grappa has never been a product consumed by the wealthiest classes, but always considered ” the sacred bread of the poor ” in the words of Carlo Alberto Bauer,for two centuries it was considered the sacred bread of the poorauthor of the famous recipe book of the same name. The art of lambicar was handed down from father to son, and the whole family distilled in the huts, in the mountains, away from prying eyes. When home production was banned due to the imposition of the state monopoly, it became a valuable bargaining chip . Pregnant women moved from their homes in the morning to return as thin as twigs in the evening. In fact, saddlebags filled with grappa, sold or bartered on the black market, were hidden in the big bellies. In Val di Cembra there was even the so-called via dela sgnapa, an easy path through the woods, which descended undisturbed near the road to the Devigili and Maso Toldin, above Lavis and Maso Spon. The path connected Giovo to Lavis, today a center of excellence for the production of grappa, thanks to the Pilzer and Paolazzi brands .

Events dedicated to grappa

Grappa enthusiasts must mark three appointments on the calendar: Grapperie Aperte , organized by the National Grappa Institute; Distillerie Aperte , held in October; and the Night of the Alambicchi Litesi , held before Christmas in Santa Massenza di Vallelaghi, in the province of Trento.

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