Producer Stories: Luxardo
Often things in life taste better because of how they're made and who made them. We know this! We pay more for organic. We eat (& love) terrible meals made by humans we treasure. Best meals and tastes are the best not just because of what we are tasting, but are informed by all of this other rich context: who made it, where it comes from, who we are tasting it with and how we feel. I really liked my meal at Noma, but a grocery store picnic with favourites on an empty Danish beach will stay with me for longer. Welcome to being a human.
This realization of context as flavour and taste as history is one of the pivotal reasons I work in wine. Side bar: this clicked for me at 21, on a break between university semesters, traveling New Zealand's wine regions with my first love (#imtheworst).
Wine (& spirits) in particular is so connected to the past. It reflects religion, social trends, historical movements and family histories. When you know these histories, the product tastes different.
Yesterday, I spent the day with Franco Luxardo in Vancouver. Full disclosure: I totally sell Luxardo products! The Luxardo story is hollywood magic: full of triumph, deep sorrow and a happy ending.
Luxardo was founded in Zara, a port city on the Dalmatina coast - now Croatia, in 1821. At the time, Zara was the capital of Dalmatia under Austrian sovereignty. Girolamo Luxardo was sent to Zara as a representative of Sardinia in 1817. His wife, Maria took to making liqueurs at home - as one does - and was particualrly interested by "rosolio maraschino" a cherry liqueur made since medieval times. The Marsca cherry is small, dark and full of tart juice.
Her Maraschino became so acclaimed that Girolamo opened a distellery to make more. Not long after Luxardo Maraschino won a huge prize from the Emperor of Austria for making the best liqueur. They still have it on their bottle "Privilegiata Fabrica Maraschino Excelsior". Wicked.
This is the point where the hollywood story is going well! Anne Hatheway's home made spirits are flying. Her handsome husband is acklowledging and supporting her! She is wearing better pants and finally went to the hairdresser! In my defense, the devil wears prada was just on tv.
Things continue on the up and up. In 1913, the third generation builds a new Luxardo distillery, the largest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Then came the wars. At the end of the first world war, Zara became a part of Italy, with Luxardo now the largest and most important distillery in the country. The Luxardo's were Italian, which they sneakily alluded to with their red, white and green Maraschino bottle. As Franco said yesterday, "it was just packaging, what could the Austrians say". So now, Italians producing in Italy! Yay!
Then came world war two. Zara was destroyed by Allied bombing. The city and distillery were obliterated. Things got worse. At the end of 1944, the German troops left and Tito's communists arrived. The great majority of Italians fled, but those who didn't were killed, including Piero, Nicolo and Bianco Luxardo and their families. The Luxardo distillery was destroyed and the family murdered. Fakes were everywhere as crafty businessmen tried to snatch up the Luxardo name while the family was in disrepair.
Only one brother of the fourth generation survived. Giorgio Luxardo was left with no family, no money and no plant. With only the recipes, Giorgio rebuilt the distillery in Padova, 40 km west of Venice, and relaunched one of Italy's most famous and historic producers from nothing. Giorgio is Franco's father. Now Franco's son Matteo along with 4 other family members make up the 5th generation. Luxardo is now sold in 73 countries and owns 22, 000 cherry trees, making it the largest cherry orchard in the European Union. But actually, THIS STORY. I have heard my fair share of great producer stories, but this one moves me. It is incredible how recent this heartbreak and revival have taken place. Luxardo is such a recognizable brand that we just look at on the shelf and are all like yeah, no big deal, a brand like anything else, but when you know their past these labels mean so much more. Apparently there is a book going in to much greater detail and all I want is to track it down and tear through it.
Yesterday we tried a huge line up of liqueurs: Maraschino, Sangue Morlacco, Sambuca, Sambuca Nera, Limoncello, Amaretto, Grappa, Amaro, Angioletto and St. Antonio. These are all made with 100% natural ingredients (cherries, anise, corriander, cinnamon, bitter orange, lemon, apricot, grapes, hazelnut and all of the other herbs). I could spend another 1000 words telling you about how these natural ingredients are steamed and extracted and preserved in the bottle, but it doesn't really matter (or does it, does anyone else adore learning this kind of detail?). The liqueurs are well made and very good, but it is this family story that makes these products so much more than a bartending trend. Do you agree? Do the stories behind brands particularly family-owned ones make things taste better to you?
Now I just need a not-rainy Vancouver day to take my Marachino to Wreck Beach.