History of Marolo, Saint Theresa of Grappa
In June 2017, Marolo will celebrate its 40th anniversary. An adventure that, since the end of the 1970s, has made its mark in the contemporary history of grappa, making the Alba distillery stand out due to the high quality of its products and its strong link with the land of its origins.
Signor Marolo, at the end of the previous interview, you were describing to us your teaching career at the Alba School of Oenology. How did you get from the rows of students to the stills?
My parents were business people and in my DNA is embedded the ‘vice’ of seizing any new business opportunity that might come my way. I am by nature a person who is always on the move, busy with several projects at the same time. While I was teaching how to produce grappa, I realised that I could set up my own ompany, make my contribution to the history of Italian grappa, which had declined into an industrial product, losing the taste and emotion of the artisan preparation. It was an idea that was floating in the air and which had to be grasped at that precise moment.
In 1973 there was an ‘epiphany’ for Italian distillers. Giannola Nonino, “Lady Grandfather” as she came to be called, created and distilled the first single-varietal grappa: Picolit. It was a revolution which set a new direction and gave a new impulse to a sector that was flourishing but whose quality was inflated.
How did you grasp that something was changing?
Grappa was originally a peasant’s drink, poor, made from the leftovers of wine-making. So all that was good was sold for a miserable sum and little profit. The leftovers that the producers kept for themselves were transformed by means of real culinary expertise. The marc, for example, was used twice. It was first used to create the vinòt, a piquette which is obtained by fermenting again and adding water, creating an ideal refreshing drink. Only then dd they proceed to distiling what was left. When the first single-varietal grappas came on to the market I realised that a turning point had been reached. Rural artisan techniques could be applied to high quality raw materials to distill excellent grappa.
I made a simple calculation. I was living then and I still live in Alba, capital of one of the most important wine regions in the world, one of the richest in terms of varieties. Why not begin to distill single-varietal products and breathe into grappa the excellence that was uplifting the economy of the region?
When did you start production?
The first distillation was in 1977, in a farmhouse just outside the city of Alba, towards Canale. I produced a grappa solely from marc of Arneis, which was at that time extremely rare and almost unobtainable, one from dolcetto and of course one from nebbiolo, the principal vine variety of these hills.
Can you tell us why you named the distillery “Saint Teresa”?
At one time, I don’t know exactly when, a large part of the land that lies between the Alban districts of Mussotto and Scaparoni belonged to owners of Jewish origins. This could be seen from the architectural uniformity of the farmhouses, built according to common structural designs. It is said that the last descendant of the family, a spinster, converted to Catholocism and bequeathed her inheritance to the Carmelite nuns, the sisters devoted to Saint Teresa of Avila, who was also the daughter of Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Evidence of this story can be found in the “Mission” road that wends its way through the hills, and the fresco of the Spanish saint that we found on the facade of the farmhouse where I set up my distillery.
You chose the “bain marie” method. Can you tell us why?
For technological reasons and, I must be honest, for reasons of space. I had travelled round Italy and observed various artisan methods: direct heat, direct steam. But I was impressed by the stills in Trento, built by maestro Tullio Zadra. It was he whom I asked to build my distillery, creating the first discontinuous steam still with submerged marc in Piedmont. It was a family distillery, well suited to medium-sized buildings. My first production comprised a mere 600 bottles!
Which barrels did you choose for the ageing process?
I opted for acacia. My dream was to create a grappa pale in colour and aged, an impossible aim really because even acacia wood, selected for its delicate colour, has a tendency to darken the contents with the passing of time. Acacia was also a wood typical of the Piedmont hills, truly local, at a time when French oak had not yet taken over in our wineries. I used medium sized barrels, containing 380 litres. Do you know what I wrote on the labels of my first Barolo grappa, in 1980?
What did you write?
“DELIBERATELY FORGOTTEN IN ACACIA BARRELS”. The reason was simple. No one or hardly anyone drank aged grappa, it was not the custom. I had to emphasise that the ageing was not done by chance but intentionally, a programmed “error” to attempt to elevate the quality of my product and give it a new, sensory dignity