How Grappa is Made
A Quick Guide to Grappa
Grappa is pure Italian heritage. It is the result of an alchemical journey where grape skin and pulp are transformed, drop by drop, into grappa. Only a handful of producers have mastered exceptional, eloquent and mind-blowing grappas. The process used to make this incredible product is called distillation. The product used is the fermented grape skin leftover from winemaking.
How grappa is made
Grapes are harvested for wine and sent to the winery to be destemmed and crushed. They are put into large tanks where the magic starts to happen: fermentation! The fermentation process is when yeasts convert the natural sugar in the grapes into alcohol.
Once this process is over, the liquid and the solid part take different paths: wine continues to do what it needs to do to become that amazing nectar that we all love.
The leftover crushed grapes, known as ‘vinaccia’ (or pomace or marc in English) take another very interesting and unique path that will see them eventually become grappa.
The leftover vinaccia sent to the distillery has to be very fresh and can be either:
-Fermented, if it comes from red grapes that have undergone maceration
-Non-fermented (virgin) if it comes from producing white wine. In this case the marc has to be fermented because distillation needs alcohol.
There are 2 different types of distillation processes:
The discontinuous-cycle: used to make a good-quality artisan product.
The continuous-cycle: which is used for industrial mass production of grappa.
We are interested in the discontinuous-cycle, which is the technique used to make the good stuff!
The fermented marc is placed in copper stills. This still is sealed and then heated from the bottom using direct fire, bain-marie or steam. According to their different boiling points, the volatile parts of the marc separate, extracting the alcohol and aromatic substances.
The vapors are then cooled back down in their liquid state. The head, the first part of the distilled liquid, has to be eliminated because it would give grappa a terribly unpleasant taste, besides the fact that it contains methyl alcohol which is toxic. All the good substances, called the heart, arrive later on as they have a lower evaporation point. That is where all the wonderful aromas are nestled. Then there is the tail, which is a concentrate of fat and oily substances. That too has to be discarded as it would ruin the final product.
The Master Distiller is the magician that knows how to recognize and establish which is which. He is like a director who controls the vapors and aromas until they become that unique harmonious product that is grappa. And he does all this manually!
There is still another procedure before the distilled liquid can be drinkable grappa. After the distillation process, the grappa-to-be has between 65 and 85% alc/vol, definitely a bit too much to call it a pleasant drink! This will be reduced by adding distilled or mineralized water. The final alcohol content has to, by law, range between 37,5 and 60% alc/vol and it is up to the producer to decide the strength according to the style of grappa he wants to produce.
Find out more about grappa and taste some of Italy’s best artisanal grappas at our dedicated Grappa Tasting in Rome.