Grappa Materials: the POMACE
However refined the skills of the distiller or the still, it is the quality of the pomace that distinguishes an excellent grappa from a forgettable one.
This post is the first in our newest series, GRAPPA MATERIALS, an in-depth discovery of the fundamental “ingredients” that are the basis of the most celebtrated “Italian spirit.”
+ What is pomace?
Pomace, or sometimes called marc, is the solid remains of grapes after pressing. It is made up of the skins, seeds, stems and pulp of the fruit. Grappa is made from pomace, a distinctive characterstic for a spirit; Congac and armangac, for example, are distilled from wine.
+ Pomace or marc?
In English usage, the two words are interchangeable. Pomace is derived from the Latin popum, which means apple. In Medieval Latin, the term pomacium was used for cider that mutated into pomys in Middle English to refer to the apple refuse leftover from cider production. Marc also means refuse of grapes or other fruit that have been pressed for juice, and is rooted in Medieval French marcher, which means to trample. In Italian, the word is vinaccia, which has similar conotations of grape refuse.
+ Why is pomace good for making grappa?
A grape is covered by a paper thin skin, maybe two millimetres in total. But although the skin is thin, an enormous quantity organic compounds that contribute to its flavour are concentrated in it. All the polyphenols, alcohol, esters, acids, terpenes and aldehydes exist in the skin, basically making a grape a little flavour bomb! Consequently, very few other distillates can boast of a similar sensorial advantage as their base ingredient. Which is why there are significant flavour differences between a grappa made from Barolo or Moscato or Dolcetto.
+ Is all pomace equal?
Definitely not! It does not matter how skilled the master distiller is, or the quality of the still, good grappa can only be made from good pomace. All the flavours and aromas in a grappa originate from the pomace, it is only enhanced through the distillation process. So of course, quality grapes means quality pomace, which means quality grappa. Marolo selects pomace from trusted, small-scale producers who cultivate their grapes in Piedmont’s most renowned crus. Grappa, after all, is like wine, an expression of its territory.
+ White or red? Best is fresh.
There are two types of pomace: virgin and fermented. The first almost always exclusively come from white wine production, since the must is rarely left to macerate with the pomace for very long. It means it is rich in sugars but not alcohols and needs to be fermented in the distillery before it can be used. The second already contains a percentage of alcohol, which gets extracted in the distillation process. Pomace contained micronutrients, oxygen and alcohol, that are at risk of having their sensory profile being reduced if left to ferment for longer than 24 hours. So either white or red, the pomace must be distilled from fresh. Artisenal distilleries are able to produce high-quality grappa because they are able to begin processing the pomace immediately. They are supplied by local winemakers, therefore reducing transportation time and maintaining the quality of the raw material. Large distilleries on the other hand, must store the pomace in silos and treat it before processing.
+ Squashing? Let’s not exaggerate.
A winemaker has influence over a grappa when it is still just a vine, but they have even greater influence when it comes time to press the grapes. They must be pressed with an even pressure so as not to extract all the sugars and alcohols from the grape. A high-quality pomace will still have a moist pulp that is rich is substance and aroma.
+ Pomace, yes. Seeds? No, thank you.
The winemaking process is not always in line with that of distilling grappa. The presses used for white wine often leave the stems intact, which become bitter in distillation. While, on the other hand, the crushing and destemming presses for red wine risk pulverizing the grape seeds, which can release pungent flavours into the pomace. High-quality grappa should be made from pomace where the seeds are intact and are separated out before distillation.