Sandro Bottega: Bubbling Over With Expertise And Finely Distilled Spirits
Vintners since 1635, the Bottega family are singular and passionate distillers of distinctive sparkling wines and spirits.
Vintners since 1635, Bottega’s family ancestors cultivated vines as tenant farmers. Andrea Bottega, the forefather of this now burgeoning viticulture of grappa and liqueurs, cultivated vines in the hills near Molinetto della Croda in Refrontolo.
Fast-forward four centuries, and Bottega wines and liqueurs, which have won multiple gold and silver awards — in fact, the company has received over 280 prizes and awards — can be found in 132 countries, as well as in high-end duty-free shops and airlines. The distinctive Bottega Gold Prosecco packaging, with its metallic bottle, is said to be a foreshadowing of what waits within. Certainly, consumers are quick to recognize and appreciate both the Bottega brand and the distinctive quality of wine produced by the company.
The distinctive processes of Bottega’s distillation protocols and the continued delivery of excellent products, which now include grappa, wine, gin, vodka, creams and liqueurs, continue to position Bottega as a high-end luxury distiller of fine wines and spirits.
Q. Bottega’s spirits have a history that dates back to the 16th century. How important is that history when it comes to the knowledge and craft of distilling?
A. Bottega is a three-generational family who are committed to wine and grappa making. My grandfather, Domenico Bottega, was a passionate wine broker who had a deep knowledge of wine and grappa. My father, Aldo, was the director of a renowned local distillery from the early 1950s. He developed some innovative technical intuitions, the first of which was the production of single-varietal grappa. He founded the distillery Distilleria Bottega, located in Pianzano di Godega (Treviso), in 1977.
But the Italian distillation tradition is much older: the origin of grappa dates back to over a thousand years ago, when the alchemists of the “Scuola Salernitana” (School of Salerno) codified the rules of alcohol concentration through distillation, around the year 1000. In the 16th century, the physician and botanist Pierandrea Mattioli studied the alcohol maceration of medicinal herbs, and developed a strong and restorative liquor from the residues of grape pressing: “l’acqua di vita” (“the water of life”). In 1618, the “Scola of the Aqua di Vita” or “Accademia degli Acquavitai” was founded in Venice: a trade corporation which trained the “Mastri Acquavitai” (master distillers) and helped spread the knowledge of this distillate in the main European capitals. In the 19th century distillation techniques and grappa were perfected and in 1989 the name “grappa” was recognized by the European Union. Thanks to these experiences, Italian distillers have reached the highest level of distillation techniques over the past centuries — indeed, nowadays most of the oenological machinery and alembics in the world are made in Italy and designed by Italian engineers.
Q. Andrea, originally a tenant farmer, is considered the forefather of Bottega, cultivating the vine from the mid-1630s. What do you think Andrea’s thoughts would be around the scope of Bottega today?
A. I believe Andrea would be proud of how his passion has been actualized through the centuries. He would certainly be proud of the product quality, the environmental awareness and the global diffusion of the brand. But most of all, he would be proud of the respect that his products have garnered.
“I Feel A Strong Bond With My Grandfather’s Adventurous Spirit”
Q. Are there inherent traditions and rituals that began with Domenico in the 1920s that are still honoured today within the company’s mission and philosophy?
A. I feel a strong bond with my grandfather’s adventurous spirit. At the beginning of the past century, he toured Europe selling wine and grappa in his horse-drawn carts or by taking the train.
Q. What makes Bottega’s distillation process different from other products? And how does that affect the aromatic quality, flavour and body?
A. Our grappa has distinctive elements:
• The pomace: our grappa is obtained from carefully selected monovarietal or noble grapes, fermented at a low temperature and controlled acidity. They represent flavours and aromas of a specific grape, hence the distillate is characterized by pronounced typicality. The brand, Alexander, was among the first to produce monovarietal grappa, offering a range of grappas from over 20 different grapes.
• Triple distillation:
– Elimination of methanol and higher alcohols
– Mixed distillation system (continuous and discontinuous)
• Bain-marie distillation: we use a specially designed copper still that has an internal chamber immersed in boiling water. The pomace warms up slowly and evenly, and never gets in direct contact with a flame: the heat is applied indirectly, avoiding the possible burning of essential oils which can develop unpleasant bitter flavours.
• Vacuum distillation: a method of distillation performed under reduced pressure that decreases the boiling point of compounds and allows the molecules of the alcoholic steam to evaporate at a lower temperature, preserving the natural aromas of the grape.
• It has a lower alcoholic strength: while the standard is 40 per cent, our average proof of grappa is 38 per cent.
• It uses certified water from the Alps.
• It is double filtered at -20 C.
Q. In 1992, Bottega introduced Il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco Spumante to its product collection, effectively adding a winery to its distillery. What did this mean for the company?
A. We started producing Prosecco in 1987, followed by the launch of “Il Vino dei Poeti” a few years later. Adding this new brand, characterized by a higher rotation on shelves, was a true paradigm shift and allowed us to acknowledge more deeply the productive processes of the grape’s transformation, its quality-related secrets. We strengthened our relationship with the farmers, who became suppliers of the quality grapes. We enhanced our customer-centric relationships, brand awareness and perception around being “Prosecco experts.” Sparkling wines represent approximately 65 per cent of our turnover. We own 2 per cent of the world’s Prosecco market share.
Q. Who are Bottega’s main demographics?
A. Our target is the sophisticated expert, 25 to 55 years old, with a heavy female skew. Millennials are also becoming a significant target demographic.
Q. Which Bottega offerings are the No. 1 choices for consumers?
A. In Canada, the most appreciated products are:
• “Il Vino dei Poeti” Prosecco DOC Brut, which is the No. 1 prosecco in Ontario
• “Il Vino dei Poeti” Rosé Venezia DOC, which is No. 1 in the “sparkling rosé” category
• For our liqueurs, Limoncino, Pistacchio and gin are the most successful
• Bottega Gold is among the fastest-growing products and is one of the most recognizable and appreciated wines by Canadian consumers
Q. What would you like people to know about Bottega?
A. The quality of the product (Italian, natural, genuine, traditional taste), the design (being an expression of the excellent esthetic character of being made in Italy) and Bottega’s social responsibility toward the environment and the community.
Q. What is next for Bottega?
A. We want to be more present in the Canadian duty-free sector. We are also targeting nightclubs and the fashion industry. We invested a lot in R&D and will soon be launching our latest creations: pomegranate liqueur and ginger liqueur.