Grappa Made In Switzerland From American Grapes?

“I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore, Toto.”

Recently I wrote about tasting a Swiss Grappa at a Swiss restaurant (Stable DC). Grappa Vallemaggia is made in Ticino, Switzerland by Vini & Distillati Angelo Delea SA. The label provides a longer name: “Grappa di Uva Americana della Vallemaggia”. The distillery’s website indicates it is from “…the marc of American grape”. Grappa, made in Switzerland, from an American grape? I had to find out what was going on in Ticino.

Uva Americana (various cultivars of “Vitis labrusca”) was brought to Europe mid-nineteenth century and is the source of the phylloxera blight that was disastrous for European vines. The American vines are pretty resistant to the phylloxera insects, while European vines (species “Vitis vinifera”) are not. Many of the imported vines brought the phylloxera insects with them.

Even though American vines helped solve the epidemic (European scions – vines – were grafted to American rootstocks) the grape garnered, and continues to maintain, a bad reputation. It is banned to this day in the Euro zone. It is not, however, banned in Switzerland.

The Swiss make wine from the American grapes (among many others), an inevitable by-product of winemaking is pomace, with which they make Grappa. This actually makes sense. The Swiss in Ticino are in many ways Italian, they speak Italian, they are south of the Alps. As a result, they are allowed to produce distillate named “Grappa” by the EU and Italy.

I have never been to Ticino, but I think I need to go and research in person this oddity of history and culture: Grappa made in Switzerland, by Italians, from a banned American grape. How can I resist?


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