Grappa is proof grapes keep on giving.
I never knew much about Grappa, other than my father telling me when I was a child, “Don’t touch, it can kill you.” Grappa was what was passed around the plastic-covered table when my father visited friends in our Italian neighbourhood in Montreal.
Grappa is made from the skins, seeds and stems leftover when every drop of goodness is pressed out of grapes for wine. The aroma of the pomace or vinaccia is rich and heady, like the inside of a whiskey barrel.
Grappa is a digestive typically paired with coffee. You can serve Caffe Corretto or corrected coffee, pouring it right in the cup, or my favourite, ammazzacaffe – coffee killer – where you throw back an ounce of espresso followed by a healthy shot of grappa.
Many years later, at my cousin’s table in Italy, it was served to me after dinner with espresso and a story.
In Italy, there is always a story.
Lindo Pagura’s family has been producing Grappa for four generations. His grandfather and namesake worked as an apprentice for Domenico Campagna who founded the Pagura Distillery in 1879. Every morning farmers would drop by at 5am for a quick hit to get them started for the day. When Campagna died, he left the distillery to his young apprentice.
Young Lindo grew the operation, winning international awards for his Grappa. But his success was short lived. He died at 35 leaving a wife and two children. Young widow Giovanna Mistruzzi kept the distillery running between two wars even though soldiers of all stripes freely came in to seize the Grappa.
“It is really all because of my grandmother that we are here,” says Lindo today.
The distillery looks much like it did one hundred years ago. Lindo and his three sisters still use equipment given to the family in 1923 by Germany, part of reparations from the first World War.
The distillery is in the small town of Castions di Zoppola, about 90 minutes north of Venice. It is a centrepiece of the village. Everyone knows Lindo and his family. Several times a year he opens his courtyard to musicians and events.
Today the distillery produces a variety of grappas, from tawny coloured barrel aged varieties to bottles infused with local produce. The bottles are personalized and each year, the family contracts an artist to create a unique bottle which is in itself a work of art.
Now the next generation of Pagura’s is preparing to take over the family business, moving forward with innovation, but very much respecting the rich traditions of the past.