Chinati Vergano, an open door between past and future


23 aprile 2024

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Chinati Vergano is a family-run company producing vermouth, liqueurs and flavored wines with artisanal methods. In particular, it focuses on small experimental productions based on adapted recipes dating back to the late 19th century. To learn more about it we met and interviewed Tommaso Vergano, who together with his cousin Pietro took over the company from his uncle Mauro. 

Your company has been active for twenty years. How did it start and how has it changed over time?

We started in 2003, so this is our twenty-first year in business. Our company was founded by my uncle Mauro Vergano, who had already embarked on this journey in the late 1970s, although at first it was just a side business for him. He trained as a chemist and did several jobs before making his choice in the early 2000s - that is, to turn what we might define as a hobby producing small quantities of vino chinato (flavored wine) for family and friends into a real commercial enterprise. 

The story is rooted in the relationship between my uncle and Mario Cocchi, one of the three founders of the historic Cocchi vermouth brand, who had married my grandfather's sister and was his uncle by marriage. He got his training first from Mario Cocchi's expertise, and later from his oenology and chemistry studies. 

He started by creating his core products: two Vermouths – Americano and Bianco – Lulì and Nebbiolo chinato. These are contemporary adaptations of ancient recipes and flavors. This is his unique intuition - to find something of great value from the past and bring it into the modern era, making it available to a wider audience. He then started producing liqueurs, again in very small quantities. Fast-forward a little and we get to 2017, when I started working with my uncle. In 2019 my cousin Pietro Vergano and I took over the business, but we actually made very few changes because what we’re trying to do is preserve my uncle's heritage and he is still a key figure in what we do. We see him as an advisor, as well as of course the founder.  

We came out with new products like Vermouth Dry and started a few partnerships with local companies, including an artichoke liqueur that we make in cooperation with the Dui Puvrun farming company. We also provide consulting services for wineries. We are trying to carry on our legacy, network with other companies in the area and develop new products.

Can you tell us more about the raw ingredients you use? We know they're very important to you.

Raw ingredients are definitely an essential factor for anyone in our line of business. Making vermouth and vino chinato is all about blending and processing existing raw ingredients, ranging from wine to herbs and sugar. So the more our suppliers are reliable, trusted, close and high-quality, the better our final product. What we do is obviously also important, as are the recipes and the choice of wine, but we're aware that being able to rely on people who do things a certain way and can ensure high product quality is perhaps even more important than our own work. Networking with other excellence-driven companies is an essential part of our work, otherwise the final result would never meet our expectations in terms of what we want to put on the market. 

Winemaker selection is always very accurate. Some partnerships go all the way back to the very beginning of our company like the one with Bera, the Cortese di Barbaresco farming company and Ezio Cerruti - all local companies making excellent products. 

For herbs we work with a foragers' cooperative in Pancalieri, a guy who lives in the mountains of Pragelato and grows génépi at altitude, and we also do our own foraging. This ensures we have control over product quality every year. Since we use natural products things like flavors, intensities, bitterness and sweetness can easily change and you always need to tweak the recipe. 

For citrus fruits, we work with a small Ligurian farmer who ensures fruits are picked when they're at their very best. We obviously process them, but if we don't start with an excellent base it's very hard to achieve the quality we're looking for. 

In short, we have the same approach for every product, including our alcohol, which is organic wheat alcohol sourced from a Piedmont distillery. We try to work with suppliers that comply with our scale of values to ensure that once processed the final product is always top-quality.

Vergano ranges from vermouth and liqueurs to vino chinato. Can you tell us what the most challenging steps in the creation of a new product are and if there is one product that's more difficult to make?

We are working to expand our vermouth, vino chinato and liqueur product lines. We want to keep the three families distinct and expand them, as we did for example two years ago with the introduction of Vermouth Dry.

In my experience, one of the most challenging steps is working with winemakers. The nice thing about making vermouth the artisanal way with natural, organic wine is ensuring a consistently similar product throughout the year as well as over the years and different productions, knowing that that wine can change over time. This means bringing consumers a product that is always somewhat new and different but still immediately recognizable, meaning with its own distinctive characteristics. This challenging step is what I really like.

As for creating new products, like I said most times we start from ancient recipes, maybe from traditional Italian pharmacy or liqueur-making, and try to adapt them. Other times we draw inspiration from a recipe or product we tried, and that's also the beauty of it - you get the chance to get around, travel, try new things. The ideation stage is basically about repeated testing, tasting the results and understanding how ingredients interact with each other.

One example is our Vermouth Dry, which is made in a slightly different way. We normally use a lot of dry herbs, but here we decided to use a variety of fresh ingredients to give it an aromatic note, an intense flavor and aroma compared to our idea of a dry vermouth, adding a balsamic, floral, marzipan note. So we had to develop a process that lasts a whole year, because the extract is made up of several ingredients picked in different seasons.

The extract will then be used the following year to flavor the wine. So we forage for elder and acacia flowers, use freshly peeled and infused citron zests, fresh raspberries, walnuts, and the kernel found inside peach stones, giving it a hint of marzipan. These ingredients are perhaps not very traditional but they allow us to make a product that we really like and that is different from your usual Vermouth Dry, which is simply dry, not very fragrant or complex.

Your Lulì, a vino chinato made from Moscato d'Asti, is an absolute first in flavored wines. What were the stages involved in its creation and production?

Lulì was one of the first products we created. The idea originally came to Mauro Vergano while researching information about a product that had apparently disappeared - a passito chinato, which we had never tried or even seen. We only had a handful of traces found in a few pages of literature on the subject or gathered from hearsay. Hence the idea of converting this passito chinato into chinato bianco. The basic idea was that since passito is normally made from aromatic grape varieties we could use muscat grapes, widely grown in the area around Asti and Canelli and in the Monferrato region. We chose to use a muscat variety from the Bera family, which we still use today as it has the right aromatic and body characteristics to withstand flavoring. The other idea was to adapt a recipe for vino chinato leaving only the spices that impart bitterness and removing the slightly aromatic note.

Casa Vergano is your venue for experiments and events. Can you tell us more?

Casa Vergano was stablished a few years ago when we had the chance to present our products at the Turin Book Fair, the most important event in Italy for publishing and literature and one of the most important in Europe. That was the beginning of a relationship that lasts to this day and that provided the inspiration to start a new project within the company. Casa Vergano is a space open to different collaborations, which involves stepping out of our own world and engaging with other organizations like the Book Fair. We provide advice and participate in the event serving drinks and curating menus and drinks lists in cooperation with bartenders and graphic designers. Last year we created a fanzine. We even made a gin with a little song with the help of a singer and a recording studio. We worked with Artissima on a project involving a welcome kit designed for art galleries and artists. We worked with Cripta, a Turin-based curatorial association focusing on contemporary art within the Artissima space, to create a cocktail designed to pair with one of their projects. We also worked with Villa Medici the French Academy in Rome for the creation of a performance event - a Roman writer playing ambient music in the gardens of Villa Medici with a bar counter set up around a tree surrounded by aromatic herbs. Last year we participated in a podcast together with Storielibere, where we shared a drink as a pretext to start a night chat. This year we will be sponsoring Villa Medici's annual Citrus Dinner together with a two-Michelin-star chef. 

It's all connected to our core business but we always try to influence and be influenced, explore any opportunities to be more pop-style, work with art events and bring together different talents like graphic designers, musicians and writers. Turin offers a lot of opportunities for us.

Before we say goodbye, can you tell us something about the future of Vergano?

In the medium term we plan to move to Turin – at the moment we're in a laboratory in Asti — into a much larger location with more comfortable spaces which hopefully will allow us to increase production and focus on new projects, both in terms of products and hospitality. It will be an open space. We want it to be a space where Casa Vergano can also be a physical place hosting people, events and partnerships, from music and publishing to events connected to vermouth or wine.

As for our products, our goal is to keep quality very high because we believe that's an essential prerequisite. We are currently working on a new product which we presented at a show a few days ago - something new and light that we really like. We have partnerships in place outside of Italy. We are working with some young people from London on several projects where we will be providing advice in the creation of recipes and new products. 

Casa Vergano will be keeping very busy because we are looking to find more and more ways, including unconventional ones, to bring what we do to an increasingly wider audience.

We also plan to shorten the supply chain, especially for aromatic herbs. We have an ambitious project to grow our own herbs or at least most of those found in Piedmont, and maybe also our own fruit.

I don't know what the future holds, but we have pretty clear ideas about what we want to do and we're working to make it happen. In the meantime, we hope to welcome everyone to our new location by the end of the year. 

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