The first thing you should know about Priscillia Occhipinti’s grappa is that it hasn’t won any bronze or silver awards. Oh no. Since taking over the distillery in 2000, Priscilla’s grappa has only ever won gold or double gold medals - over 100 to be exact.
“Where any leftovers would usually be discarded of, Priscilla and her team actually reuse all residues to heat the distillation process, making use of an otherwise wasted source of energy.“
Grappas are often misunderstood due mainly to a plethora of low quality products on the market which burn when drunk. But when done right, the spirit is actually wonderfully silky and a real joy to savour - something we learnt firsthand at Terroir Tuscany thanks to host Castello di Potentino’s close relationship with Priscilla.
Grappa’s main ingredient is pomace or marc - a mixture of grape skins, seeds and stalks left over from wine making processes which are taken through a second stage of distillation to extract the remaining flavours. Where any leftovers would usually be discarded of, Priscilla and her team actually reuse all residues to heat the distillation process, making use of an otherwise wasted source of energy.
“The first to arrive at the distillery is the unfermented sweet pomace from grapes destined for white winemaking: Vermentino, Viognier, Traminer, Aleatico, Chardonnay”
One of the most successful master distillers in the world, Priscilla started her apprenticeship under the supervision of her godfather, Gioacchino Nannoni, when she was still in her teens. Her distillery, Nannoni Grappe is set in one of the most evocative landscapes of the Tuscan countryside and the best Italian marc comes here from all across the region. The first to arrive at the distillery each season is the unfermented sweet pomace from grapes destined for white wine making, rich in sugars and aromas such as: Vermentino, Viognier, Traminer, Aleatico, Chardonnay. These marcs then ferment in the distillery with the addition of selected yeasts (the same as those used in the wine making).
The distillation process takes place between September and November during which time Priscillia has to play alchemist and carefully balance the temperature and pressure (distillation uses steam) to get the best possible flavours and aromas from the natural materials. As she points out - hers is a superior product because she uses only the freshest and best pomace, often delivered still stepped in juices. After its distillation she has to “separate the head and the tail to get to the heart of the grappa”. If it sounds complicated its because it is and Priscilla works with specialist equipment and chemical processes to divide the distillate into solvents, oils and waters, obtaining grappa from somewhere between the three.
Although the grappa is ready to be bottled at this point, ageing must take place to mature the flavours and create a riserva - a higher grade product. At Nannoni Grappe, the ageing process takes place inside our two warehouses sealed by the Italian customs agency so as to officially be classed as riserva quality. The spirits rest in over 1000 barrels (225 litres each) anywhere from 18 months to 25 years.
Priscilla is a known locally as the "magician amongst the stills"
So what makes Priscilla’s grappa one of the best in the world? She attributes her success to her attention to detail and the way this informs all decisions made within the distillery. From using only the freshest pomace, to the manual process of extracting the head and tail, Priscilla only ever works with the very best of what she has available. Her riservas lie in the best quality barrels whilst ageing and her products are never adulterated by the use of added aromas (an effective trick when used by some distilleries to match the initial smell and appearance of aged riservas).
If you thought you didn’t like grappa, think again. Priscilla is a known locally as the "magician amongst the stills" and continues the long tradition in the Paganico countryside of "healthy drinking". See more of her grappas and ethos here and saluti!