The Vinschgau Valley in the South Tyrol is known as the Highlands of Italy for its climate and landscape. One local family operation is now taking advantage of this geography to make history, creating the first all-Italian single malt whisky.
‘Whisky first entered our lives when my father completed sommelier courses in the early 1990s,’ explains Jonas Ebensperger, who heads up the family business. ‘These courses encompassed a range of different spirits, but whisky turned out to be the most sophisticated, offering an excitingly broad spectrum of aromas.’ His father’s passion led the family to study the history and practice of whisky production, and to visit Scotland for tastings. ‘This continued for years,’ explains Ebensperger, ‘and for a long time there was no intention to make the transition from whisky lovers to makers. But after a while our interest shifted from experiencing what was already there to asking ourselves what could still be done.’ After a few more years of learning about the spirit, the family founded the Puni distillery, named after a local river, in 2010.
The growing of grain is an important tradition in the region, and Puni makes full use of local varieties. The recipe combines malted rye, barley and wheat, distilled in Scottish-made pot stills and then matured in different casks (including Marsala wine casks from Sicily, bourbon barrels from the United States, toasted European oak barrels and casks from the Isle of Islay, which previously held fine peated Scotch whisky). Puni has recently unveiled its first batch of three-year-old whisky: the dark ‘winter whisky’, Alba; and a lighter spirit, Nova, which features notes of pear, vanilla and citrus fruits. It is testament to the family’s dedication to the product that a team of Scottish whisky experts was invited to the site to consult on the process.
The aesthetic element of Puni was also vital, explains Ebensperger. ‘It was always important that the design of our products reflect the care that we put into creating them,’ he says. Back in 2010, the family enlisted the help of local architect Werner Tscholl, a specialist both in Tyrolean castle restoration and contemporary structures designed for the mountainous region. Tscholl created a box-like brick distillery, with a gridded pattern based on local barns. ‘This way, the air can flow through the barn and dry the grain inside,’ explains Ebensperger. ‘Werner took this traditional element and reworked it into a protective outer shell for our distillery. It is a fitting connection, considering that the main ingredient of whisky is malted grain.’
The design of the bottle and brand packaging, meanwhile, was entrusted to Munich-based Italian designer Christian Zanzotti. ‘He created designs that I would have created myself, had I the talent to do so,’ says Ebensperger. Zanzotti studied the shapes of traditional whisky bottles before crafting a more contemporary, streamlined design for Puni. ‘Most whisky bottles share one feature, a pot still-shaped silhouette, which became part of whisky’s DNA,’ explains Zanzotti. ‘This got me thinking about how to find the right way to combine the traditional shape and Puni’s fresh philosophy.’ The result teams the traditional silhouette with a black paint job, referencing smoke and charcoal – two key elements of distillation.
The making of the product is all part of the Ebensperger family’s holistic approach: ‘Running a whisky distillery is a life you choose, not a business opportunity,’ says Ebensperger. ‘You are only going to succeed if you put all of your heart in to it. Whisky is the premier league of spirits and we wanted to give it our best.’
As originally featured in the April 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*205)