Florentis, the birth of Italy's first craft whisky produced in Florence


9 aprile 2024

Made with an artisanal process and Italian ingredients, the new Florentis Tuscan Malt Whisky marks an important step forward in the history of the Winestillery distillery in Gaiole in Chianti. To learn more, we met Enrico Chioccioli Altadonna, master distiller and member of the family's second generation.

Florentis whisky is distilled in a 500-liter still produced by Tuscan company Frilli and ages in barrels previously used for the wine produced by the family - a clear throwback to the Tuscan roots of Chianti Classico, which combines with the fact that it’s produced in the first and only craft distillery in the heart of the Chianti Classico region. In short, it's a product that reflects a very strong bond with its land of origin, as Enrico Chioccioli Altadonna explains: 

"We are located in Gaiole in Chianti, the place where the world's oldest wine designation originated. We feel it’s distinctive as well as strongly symbolic for us to produce spirits here that are not conventionally Tuscan yet inseparably tied to this region. Even our still, which we named Bacco, is the result of the know-how of our land. It was custom-made for us by Frilli, a Tuscan company with over 100 years of history." 

Enrico then goes on to tell us how opening the distillery was no easy task. After spending a couple of years training and learning the craft of the distiller, they had to wait about a year for their still. But that was not all: 

"After Bacco arrived in November 2017, we had to wait another year to have the required licenses and finally be able to start the first distillation. It was a long journey, but it gave us the chance to do a lot of research and experiment with different recipes for our products." 

On this topic, we ask him to tell us about their choices of raw ingredients and fermentation process.

"For us, raw ingredients are something of an obsession as well as the starting point for designing and creating all of our products. At Winestillery, our defining element is that our products originate entirely from wine, which is distilled to become the basis of all our spirits, both for vodka and gin. Vermouth is also fortified with our wine alcohol, as tradition dictates. As for Florentis, we use a mash bill of Italian cereals, whose precise composition is a secret but which includes barley malt and other minor cereals like rye. This year we are very happy to announce our cooperation with a Tuscan malting company, which will allow us to use barley malt entirely produced and malted in Tuscany! We felt it was a key step for us which we put a lot of time and effort into, and now it's finally taking shape. Fermentations both in the cellar and in the distillery are strictly spontaneous and employ native yeasts. For whisky, fermentation takes place in 700-liter terracotta amphorae. Fermentation time varies, but on average it lasts about a week." 

A key step in the process is the selection of the different barrels used for aging, which of course is also affected by the climatic conditions in the aging cellars:

"The selection of the different barrels used to age our whisky is an integral part of our product vision," states Enrico. "We want to create a style of whisky that is distinctive, Tuscan and Italian. For this reason, barrel selection is a way to tap into the amazing wealth of ex-wine barrels our region and our country can offer. This is the reason behind our choice to work with two iconic Tuscan casks, the Super Tuscan Cask and the Vin Santo Cask, for our core range. In addition to these barrels, we are working on several interesting ageing projects that allow us to explore distant lands while remaining true to our identity. In our aging cellars the temperature ranges between 18 and 27 degrees in the summer and 12 to 18 degrees in winter, with an average humidity of 50%. In our experience, these climatic conditions have a very positive impact on our products, with a very gradual ageing. This is very important for us especially when it comes to wine casks, as it ensures proper balance between the cereal and the cask component." 

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Florentis is also the first Italian whisky distributed by Velier, which gave rise to Florentis Primo - a special bottling for Velier, which Enrico defines as 

"an amazing opportunity for us to showcase the value of an unusual aging in the world of whiskey. Selected by Luca Gargano, this cask is a 225-liter barrique that previously contained the Super Tuscan wine produced by our family winery. But that's not all. An even more interesting feature is the type of wood used to make the barrel - Tuscan oak, an oak species native to our forests. This kind of wood is as interesting in terms of structure and aroma as it is difficult to source and work. The cask was made for us by the last cooper in the region. Given the strong identity and rarity of this type of wood, we could call it our own Mizunara!"

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Del resto, quella della distillazione è per Enrico una passione vera, al punto da averlo portato ad abbandonare la carriera di avvocato per dedicarsi non solo all’azienda di famiglia, ma in particolare proprio alla distillazione, che lo ha portato a studiare soprattutto all’estero: 

«Sono cresciuto nel mondo del vino, sia mio padre che mio fratello sono enologi e siamo produttori di vino nella regione del Chianti Classico dal 2010. La distillazione invece è stata amore a prima vista. Dopo la laurea in Giurisprudenza all'Università Cattolica di Milano, sono partito per NY con la ragazza che oggi è mia moglie per un'esperienza all'estero prima di iniziare la preparazione all'esame di avvocato. A quel tempo ero semplicemente curioso di conoscere il movimento della distillazione artigianale che stava crescendo negli Stati Uniti. Mentre ero a New York ho fatto domanda per uno stage presso una distilleria di bourbon a Brooklyn: la King's County Distillery. Era la prima volta nella mia vita che mi trovavo faccia a faccia con un alambicco! È stata un’esperienza straordinaria, fatta a contatto con persone straordinarie, che mi ha permesso di lavorare in tutti i campi della produzione del whisky: il mashing, la fermentazione, la distillazione e il blending. Sarò sempre grato ai ragazzi di King’s per questo. Tornato in Italia, l’idea alla base di Winestillery & Florentis era ormai chiara: coniugare gli elementi tradizionali di un'azienda vinicola toscana con l'innovazione di una distilleria artigianale. Così, mentre mi preparavo per l'esame da avvocato, ho frequentato la Scuola Enologica Cerletti di Conegliano per conseguire la certificazione di Mastro Distillatore. Subito dopo ho attraversato le Alpi per andare a studiare enologia all'Università di Bordeaux e poi è stata la volta della Regione del Cognac, per un’altra esperienza distillatoria avvenuta in un gruppo di tre distillerie differenti. Una volta conseguito anche il titolo di Avvocato, ho preso la decisione di chiudere questo capitolo della mia vita per dedicarmi anima e corpo completamente alla nostra distilleria».

At this point, having entered the spirits business as "homo novus", Enrico's approach was to study the origin and history of each product he wanted to make. He tried to understand and take in the characteristic elements of each spirit in order to adapt them to his production vision:  

"Our goal is to create terroir-driven spirits that reflect a new interpretation of our region. To do this, we firmly reject any form of product correction and only use natural ingredients in infusion or distillation. For this reason, our wine-based vodka is not the result of an endless number of distillations, nor does it undergo extravagant filtration processes. Similarly, our gins start from wine alcohol to which we add botanicals selected exclusively from traditional Tuscan ones. Few people know that vodka and gin also have an ancient connection with our country, or that vermouth has been produced in Tuscany since well before Carpano was founded. Just to mention a few interesting facts, the ancestor of gin was first created in Italy, as evidenced by the Compendium Salernitanum, a remarkable medical work dating back to 1055 AD which clearly mentions the preparation of a spirit made from wine and juniper berries. And perhaps there would be no vodka, if the Genoese hadn't brought Aqua Vitae as a gift to the Russian Prince Dimitri Ivanovich Donskoi.  

The main challenge in the creation of our products was definitely making a clean sweep of the roads pursued today by the vast majority of productions - for example, rejecting the use of caramel, colorings and flavorings (including natural ones) in the production of our Vermouth and Bitter. Our most challenging goal, which we achieved, was definitely the creation of Hyper Low Gin - a product we proudly patented which allows to mix the world's only true non-alcoholic Gin & Tonic! Try it for yourself!"

Another key specificity is their copper still, which can distill both with the Bennett method and a Carter Head:

"Bacco is really an extraordinary still that allows us to distill with a variety of different techniques. When I began to imagine it, I essentially wanted to be able to combine in a single tool the specific characteristics of a whisky pot still and a traditional gin still. As for gin, I wanted to be able to distil simultaneously using both the Bennett method and the Carter Head, because only by combining these two techniques can we obtain the highest quality in the extraction of aromas from botanicals. For this reason, some of the botanicals are distilled after maceration in alcohol and others just by steam, but the process takes place simultaneously in order to create a wide spectrum of aromas that would be impossible to obtain by individually distilling each botanical and then blending them."

"For us, product purity is everything," continues Enrico. "And this is the reason that led us to write our own production specification, the Grape To Glass Manifesto. It's an actual contract that requires us to produce 100% natural products. The GTG Manifesto comes from our desire to clearly explain our product vision. In the world of spirits and liqueurs, regulations allow for many ways to correct and modify a product, changing its color, aromas and even taste. We wanted to do things differently, giving the raw ingredients center stage and only shaping them through our still. That's why we reject the use of any kind of additive or corrective. We use no caramel, extracts or flavorings, as we believe these alter the purity of the product. In our spirits you'll only find flavors that have been obtained naturally by fermenting, infusing and distilling the raw ingredients, herbs and spices." 

Before we say goodbye to Enrico Chioccioli Altadonna and thank him for our nice chat, we ask him if he can tell us anything about his plans for the future of Florentis and Winestillery in general: 

"This is a strongly symbolic year for us. Exactly 10 years ago I left for New York and received my baptism into the world of distillation. Ten years later, we present with Florentis our first whiskies and Velier's first Italian Whisky. A full circle closing, but at the same time the opening of a new chapter. By the end of the year we plan to open our second distillery in the heart of Florence, a 15-minute walk from Brunelleschi's Dome. The new distillery will be home to a unique, never-built-before still as well as an on-site ageing area and a visitor center open to anyone interested in learning more about our production."