We live in a world that is spoilt for choice in craft spirits. Now, more than ever, there’s a great demand for indie spirits coming from the world’s best bars.
But not all of them can trace their roots back a couple generations, before the boom and before craft spirits were The Next Big Thing. Sardinia’s Silvio Carta, on the otherhand, does have a history. Here, ahead of his visit to Australia last month, we asked Alberto Mason, the grandson of the eponymous Silvio Carta, just what it is that makes their spirits stand out.
For those who don’t know you yet, what is Silvio Carta all about?
At the beginning of the 1950s Silvio Carta, my grandfather, founded his company in a small village of Sardinia, called Baratili San Pietro. He inherited a little piece of land from his dad when he was only 23 years old.
At that time, after the second world war, Italy but especially Sardinia was a really poor land. It was not damaged a lot from the bombs, but Sardinian people were in a difficult situation. The economic situation and gap between the North and the South of Italy was getting bigger.
In Sardinia, people used to live only from agriculture, cultivating the fields, raising animals such as sheep, cows and goats and selling their cheeses and milk. My grandfather did not go to any school, but helped his dad on the fields and taking care of the sheep all day long, every single day, including Easter and Christmas.
When he got the piece of land, he started to think what he could have been doing with it. He knew the working life on the fields and with the livestock was really hard and he wanted to do something different.
He started with the vinification and refining of Vernaccia, a wine that has a noble tradition and is an authentic jewel of the Sardinian oenology.
At that time oenology was not really popular and wines such as Vermentino and Cannonau became really bad, like vinegar in a short time. All of them except Vernaccia, which with time got better and better.
But the situation changed during the ‘80s, when the economy changed, customers taste changed and the Vernaccia was not drunk as before. Even the bars (zilleri) changed.
Meanwhile, my uncle Elio finished his oenology studies in Conegliano Veneto and decided to come back home to help his mum and dad.
A new adventure was almost starting. They decided to carry on with the Vernaccia as it is the story of the Silvio Carta company, but on the other hand to build a distillery and produce all the Sardinian typical liquors such as the Mirto Rosso and Bianco, the Limoncello, the licorice, the Grappa di Vernaccia.
In 1982 the distillery was born and even my mum joined the family. Subsequently the company acquired a leading position in the Sardinian marketplace in just a few short years. After a couple more years, the company had conquered the hearts of the public beyond regional borders thanks to a broad range of excellent quality products in the field of liquors and spirits. Since then, tradition and innovation have gone hand in hand to guarantee quality and goodness.
Nowadays, we are the third generation so far, my cousins, my brother and me working together with new ideas, projects, visions different from my grandpa and my uncle, but this is normal, but always with an eye to the story of our grandpa and his experience of life!
Tell us a little about yourself and your role?
I am part of the family business, first son of Silvio Carta’s daughter Licia. I have been around the winery and distillery since I was a little child.
I used to take pictures of the different tractors, sit on them and imagine to drive also them! It is something great and fantastic when you are a child. You feel like a superhero!
Since 2012, I have been working as export manager of the company. Before I began, the company had not been present abroad a lot.
I wanted to introduce it abroad, taking part at the dedicated fairs, meeting importers, doing some tastings.
How important are local Sardinian ingredients to your gins?
Fundamental! Not just the local ingredients, but even the position and the area where the distillery and the winery are located.
The Silvio Carta company is located in the west-coast of the Sardinia island. The company is just 10 km far away from the sea. This is a strong point for all our products because the vineyards, the Juniper trees, the Mirto plants grow near the sea on the coast.
In Sardinia the wind is very strong all the year long. This wind is called “Maestrale” and all the salinity of the sea goes to the berries, to the grapes giving them a wonderful profumo and aroma.
What’s the difference in using dried juniper versus fresh juniper, like you do at Silvio Carta?
Well, on the fresh juniper berries you have all the aromatic substance, all the properties of the berries. You keep them and you do not lose anything.
We pick the juniper berries early in the morning, about 7.00 am, and after 30/40 minutes we are already working them.
The company is just 10 km far away from the sea where the juniper trees are. Another strong point is the fact that the juniper trees grow near the seashore, in a few meters from the sea. So, think about the salty and the minerality from the sea go to the berries.
So freshness, salty and minerality go to the final product (thirty/forty days of infusion in alcohol is followed by two distillations with the discontinuous method for about 10/12 hours per each one by means of steam heating and a copper still), and you can taste them!
You specifically use chestnut barrels to age some of your gins. Why? What characteristics does the chestnut wood give to your gins?
Chestnut is a neutral wood with wide slats that allow the micro-oxygenation of the Vernaccia wine and of the gin on the aging of it. Chestnut allows us to have a better amalgamation of all the botanicals and of course the peculiar yellow pale colour.
An important difference between chestnut and oak is that oak tries to give to the wine the same perfume and aroma. So, when you smell a wine aged in oak, you get it immediately.
Even more, after 3 – 4 years you need to change the oak as it does not work anymore. Chestnut can be used as long as you want!
What does the brand’s motto, “armonia della natura” mean? How does it flow through your products?
In the heart of the Mediterranean, in Sardinia, nature has developed its own ecotype by virtue of the natural habitat and an inviolate territory where the winds scan the weather and the silence reigns supreme, allowing the maintenance of the most ancient traditions.
We try to find the link back to the territory, to look for all the perfumes, flavors, taste and peculiarities of Sardinia. All these ingredients must match together in harmony, in a perfect way and of course the final product must be gently!
What’s your favourite way to drink gin?
Our Giniu alone or on the rocks with a few ice cubes and a slice of lemon. Our Grifu gin in a cocktail with mastic (greek liquor), citrus, soda, an ice cube and garnish with a sprig of cypress. Really refreshing! To be honest, next to the gins, my favourite product is the Vermouth Bianco ‘Servito’. It used to be something I thought of as old fashioned, a drink for my uncle, not for a guy in his 30s. I changed my mind! I really love it, especially as an aperitif during the summer time just chilled from the fridge!
For more information about Silvio Carta, visit Enoteca.com.au.