The women behind grappa Nonino: an exclusive interview with Antonella Nonino, Institutional Communication Manager
Since the beginning of time, throughout history and across cultures, extraordinary women have faced numerous challenges, worked together to dismantle barriers, defied perceptions and rewrote the rules to push society to improve and think bigger.
It’s no surprise that one of the oldest distillates from the North of Italy, after being known for centuries as the drink helping numbing the farmers from their hard life, evolved into an extremely refined and elegant Italian heritage thanks to the passion of a woman, who made her mission to transform grappa from a Cinderella into a Queen.
On the 1st of December 1973, Giannola Nonino and her husband Benito, revoluzionised the way of producing, packaging and presenting the category throughout the world, by creating the first single varietal grappa, by distilling the pomace of Picolit grapes on its own: the Monovitigno Nonino.
Thanks to ceaseless curiosity, study, hard work, and courage, Giannola, alongside her husband, Master Distiller, and their three daughters, Cristina, Elisabetta and Antonella, gave life to one of the most premium and successful distillates portfolios, which is now available across 72 markets around the world.
Mostly women-led organization, Nonino is a great example of a traditional, yet creative and avant-garde family owned business, working from the grassroots upwards to give life to high quality products and to create positive change for the categories they represent.
It could sometimes be seen as cliché for a daughter to identify her mother as her first inspiration, but for a close-knit family like Nonino’s, with a long tradition of capable women contributing to the evolution of their business, it is natural that Giannola was one of the most powerful fuels for Elisabetta, Antonella and Cristina and the development of their passion for the company.
With this article, Liquid-News would like to shine a light on the Nonino family and the grappa category under a communication, marketing and distribution focused point of view, through an insightful interview to Ms Antonella Nonino, one of the most forceful, talented and experienced industry managers, in charge of implementing the company’s perception and strategies internationally.
Nonino Distillatori was founded in Ronchi di Percoto, in Friuli region, in 1897 by Orazio Nonino, who, since then, geared the company to a family approach based on excellent quality and joint effort. Those values were also portrayed in the label designed by your grandfather Antonio Nonino in 1933, the “folgor furlan”, a fire where the whole family used to gather to enjoy grappa. What did being part of such a strong community mean to you and which are the challenges you face?
Being raised in such a passionate environment, in which every member of the family is actively involved since childhood in every step of the business, is a wonderful opportunity to share and to learn that hard work, passion and experience are key to achieve common goals.
Working with your family can be challenging, on a daily basis, as you are exchanging different ideas and points of view with the people you are closest to. However this is typical of many long-standing Italian companies, especially in the Food & Beverage sector, which proudly represent our country’s values not only with their goods, but with the passion for quality and craftsmanship passed down from generation to generation.
Today the company follows the leadership of Nonino’s fifth generation, you and your sisters: Cristina, in charge of Production and Sales in Italy, Elisabetta, Export and company relations manager, and yourself, who lead the company’s institutional communication. How do the family members join the organization and how do you split roles and responsibilities?
If the company has been experiencing a steady growth through the years, with a wide and deep distribution across the world, as well as fresh approach to the industry, is because every member of the family is actively involved in the decisions, regardless of the different responsibilities.
We all grew up in the distillery, among grapes and stills. I remember that my first ride after I got my driving license was to bring grape pomace to a small producer!
In September, when the schools opened and the other kids were focusing on study and sports, we were all busy with production: the most important and delicate time for us as, at Nonino, harvest, fermentation and distillation need to happen on the same day, in order to preserve the liquid’s wonderful freshness, which is our trademark.
When you are part of a family that runs a business, you have to give your contribution and it was very natural for us to join the company.
As for myself, I have always worked on the weekends while I was studying, then joined my father in the production for fifteen years and finally moved to communication, marketing and international distribution, looking after different markets, like the Far East.
Today my sister Elisabetta is in charge of everything related to internal organization, from legal to HR, as well as of export markets like North America, Russia, Latin America, and others; Cristina manages the Italian and Swiss markets, alongside production with our father; I look after Germany, Austria, and South Africa, as well as the company’s communication, hosting, and media relations, even though each of us, for the markets we are responsible for, run PR and marketing activities.
Almost two years ago Francesca, Cristina’s daughter, has joined the company and is doing a wonderful job in developing our presence in Social Media and following Elisabetta in her trips overseas: we really benefit from the freshness, enthusiasm and creative mind of the new generation.
Speaking of the contribution of different generations, over the years Nonino has become one of the category leaders and proved to be not only a guarantee of quality, but also a cutting edge example of innovation. Since the 60s, when your parents Benito and Giannola have started reshaping grappa’s reputation from “Cinderella” to elegantly bottled “Queen”, chosen by Gianni Agnelli, Cesare Romiti, Claude Levi Strauss, Marcello Mastroianni, and Ermanno Olmi, just to mention a few, until today, when the family is promoting their range’s mixability across the world, through different partnerships with industry influencers and diverse cocktail programs. Which impact are those activities having on your business?
We can proudly say that Nonino lunched the first grappa cocktail competition back in 2008, even though our mother has been promoting grappa in mixology since the 80s and 90s, when she was working with professionals like Mauro Lotti and Salvatore Calabrese, who have created the popular “L’Aperitivo de Il Maestro”, with Amaro Nonino Quintessentia.
What matters the most to us is educating young generations of bartenders on the full potential of this wonderful category, by sharing our world with them, by listening to their needs and points of view, by inviting them to the distillery and by providing fresh ideas.
Knowledge is key and in this challenge we were very lucky to receive the support of the incredibility talented team behind P(our) (Alex Kratena, Ryan Chetiyawardana, Jim Meehan, Simone Caporale, Monica Berg, Joerg Meyer and Xavier Padovani), with whom we share the love for education, novelty and inspiration.
With our young range, the group gave life to delicious and unique flavour combinations that really allow Nonino Grappa to express its full freshness, like Alex and Monica’s “Giannola 38” or Joerg’s “Rosina Ferrario nr. 203”.
Because of their commitment towards the Amazon drink community, in January 2018 P(our) was also awarded with “Risit d’Aur”, the original “Premio Nonino” award, dedicated to promote the conservation of biodiversity.
How do you see the grappa’s consumption evolving in the next few years and which role do you think will Nonino play in it?
I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about it! For more than ten years Nonino has been actively promoting the relationship between mixology and gastronomy. Many of our clients across the world have been experimenting different level of pairings and gave life to outstanding results. One of the most recent ones was the combination of a traditional recipe from Friuli, Toç in Braide (a typical polenta with butter, milk and ricotta), and a modern Nonino cocktail: the mix was so refreshing that it could almost be considered a palate cleanser!
So the future of grappa is definitely in gastronomy and mixology, where the distillate can be used in low ABV and light recipes, too.
Please, tell us more about the Aperitivo Nonino range.
BotanicalDrink, alongside Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, is part of the youngest range of Nonino’s portfolio: “Aperitivo Nonino”. Dedicated to the popular pre-dinner Italian tradition, this line was developed as a fresh mixing tool for modern mixology.
The flavour profile of Amaro, whose original recipe dates back to 1933 and was perfected through the years by my grandmother Silvia first and my parents later, is lightly bitter and 100% craft.
BotanicalDrink is 100% vegetal, more fresh, citrusy and best enjoyed with bubbles, perfect for a Summer aperitivo outdoor.
Both products are highly versatile and cater for different needs, occasions and cocktail ideas.
Your family has always been very active into promoting local and international culture, through long term friendships with creative talents, like Leonardo Sciascia, Ermanno Olmi, Andrea Zanzotto, and through Premio Nonino, a coveted accolade at its 44th edition, that supports since 1975 the development of the agrarian culture. How much do you value the role that art, innovation and talent play at Nonino Distillatori?
Our company and our family have been involved with different artists and scientists for decades, and we have always received from their creative talent support and inspiration. We have deep respect and admiration for culture and we find very important to actively promote it.
For this reason we have decided to reward knowledge, fine arts and innovation through Premio Nonino, with multiple awards.
Some of the most distinguished representatives of international culture, like Claudio Magris, Antonio Damasio, and John Banville, have been members of our jury, which had the honour through the past 44 years to hand out the Premio Nonino awards to personalities like Fabiola Giannotti (2013), Giorgio Parisi (2005) or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009).
Born to a strong and talented mother, sibling of two sharp sisters, aunt of resourceful nieces and proud mother of two daughters, you are an important member of a female-headed family, in which women have not only been included in the business success, but were the authors of it. You travel the world and spend a lot of time in contact with different cultures representing a prestigious brand, you are responsible for a large number of activations that involve numerous abilities and a lot of energy. Which skills do you think a successful woman in our industry needs and which role do they play in your current position?
In my opinion, the key ingredients for a successful and rewarding career are: knowledge, professionalism, curiosity and passion. It is fundamental to never stop asking, traveling, meeting people, reading, as experience comes from passionate learning.
Also, developing personal interests, as they will not only allow you to get inspiration from different worlds and cultures, but will represent an invaluable asset that you will be able to share during various occasions.
If part of our job is more private and it involves learning about production, discussing new flavours, or harvesting, another side, important as much, includes the relationship with different people, from whom we learn and get inspired every day.
Another skill is courage: if you are ambitious and want to grow, you can’t escape challenges and get scared by the obstacles that life throws at you. My mother is a great example of that. Even now, at 80 years old, she is fighting for her beliefs and for full transparency for the consumers: she is in Rome, asking for the law about labelling to require producers to print the name of the distiller, the name of the bottling company and the production method.
What would be your suggestion for someone who would like to start a career in international Marketing in the beverage industry?
Passion for learning and experience: it is fundamental to know everything about our industry, from distillation techniques to ingredients, from the difference between craftsmanship and industrial, regardless the responsibilities you will have. Knowledge not only represent an asset, but it will inspire you in ways you can’t imagine yet.
Director of Sales and Marketing