“Aperitivo is not a drink, it’s a state of mind,” says Roberta Mariani, global brand ambassador for Martini & Rossi, the world’s best-selling vermouth. That’s one of the key messages she preaches, particularly to American drinkers, many of whom are only now beginning to embrace a more laid-back approach to imbibing, with lower-alcohol beverages that can be leisurely sipped throughout an afternoon.
It’s a simple lesson, though perhaps one that’s best understood with a visit to the aperitivo motherland, the Casa Martini visitors center and museum near Turin, Italy. Over 150 years of Martini & Rossi’s storied history is on display, stretching back to its beginnings in 1863 as Martini, Sola & Co. The company became known as Martini & Rossi in 1879, and by the end of the 19th century, its products could already be found in 70 countries.
The expansion never stopped, and according to 2017 IWSR data, Martini & Rossi accounts for well over half of all the vermouth sold globally. Despite the ever-increasing worldwide presence though, Martini is still firmly tied to its local origins. “The link between Martini and the local agriculture is like this,” says Alessandro Garneri, an agronomist and operations manager with parent company Bacardi, clasping his hands together for effect while leading a walk through key botanical fields in Pancalieri.
“We tried in the past to have the same cultivation in different places,” Garneri says. It didn’t work in quite the same way, though. Martini continues to get nearly two-thirds of its botanicals locally from the Piedmont region, and in particular, around Pancalieri. The area showcases an elevation of several hundred meters while sandwiched between mountains and a river, with cold winters followed by warm, humid summers. All of those factors work together to provide a particular micro-climate which in turn gives a distinctive character and quality to the botanicals grown there. “So we don’t have a choice!” exclaims Garneri.
That tie to local agriculture remains essential, even in the development of new products. That’s the case with the introduction of Riserva Speciale, a premium line designed for an elevated cocktail or aperitivo experience. When Martini was in search of unique floral botanicals for Riserva Speciale Ambrato, the company turned to its farming partners for answers. After much research and experimentation, the result was Roman Chamomile. “We were looking for a floral note that’s not too common, to add something to complete the bouquet,” Garneri says.
The botanicals were then carefully matched with quality wine also from the local region. “We have added some special wines to our Riserva Speciale range, as we want them to be an expression of the territory — Moscato D’Asti for Ambrato and Nebbiolo for the Rubino,” Mariani says.
A century and a half later, and an aperitivo with Martini & Rossi still transports you straight to the Piedmont countryside where it all began, and to the piazzas of Turin where it’s still enjoyed en masse.
Casa Martini is open to the public with a variety of ticket and tour options. The visitors center is approximately 45 minutes outside of Turin, in Pessione, Italy. View the photo gallery above for a look at Martini & Rossi’s home, history and production, including a rare peek at its botanical fields.
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