11 October 2021

Grappa is a business for the youth: The challenges and innovations for the Alumna Francesca Nonino

Class of 2016, sixth generation of a family of distillers, Francesca Nonino is now responsible for the digital communication of a Made in Italy company awarded worldwide


Why did you choose Luiss and what memories do you have of your time at University?

I knew it was an incredible University and for my Master’s Degree, I wanted to try out a new study path. This led me to choose Economics and Business Management, with a focus on Finance. In addition, Luiss is a University with important worldwide connections, and I strongly wanted to do a study abroad program. So as soon as I started, I applied for a study period at Yonsei University in Seoul. It was the best experience of my life. I always knew that my roots are in Friuli and that my life would be where the family distillery is. For this reason, I wanted to experience a different culture, both in terms of the study methods and relationships with people. And it was amazing.


Over 120 years of history, the first Italian distillery to be awarded the best in the world in 2019. How did it all start and where did you get today?

Our story started in 1897 with my great grandfather, Orazio Nonino. He was a “Sotan” (in Friulian dialect), meaning a farmer with a still on wheels. He went through vineyards to collect the grape marc, in exchange for a few liters of grappa that he would then produce. From that single still, Nonino is today the largest craft distillery in Italy, a distillery that is a declaration of love to the grape marc.

The grape marc is the part of the grape that is rich in aromatic substances but is very fragile. It begins to develop degenerative fermentation in just a few hours. My grandfather, our Master Distiller, chose to solely distill the fresh grape marc that had just been racked. To do so, he built a distillery of 66 discontinuous artisanal stills, which only distilled in combination with the grape harvest, for 8-weeks a year, but 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.


Then came 2020 and a pandemic that put a strain on all companies. How did you deal with this crisis?

Covid blocked one of the sectors to which we are most connected that is the catering business. During that period, I endlessly sought the answer to the question: how can we make it clear that Nonino stands firm even in this challenging time? I finally had the idea: Free Grappa Masterclass with home tasting kit!

I used LinkedIn to target the campaign for the job title. I needed between 3 and 15 contacts. We got 80! I was so happy with the result that I shared a video on my profile expressing my enthusiasm. The video went viral, the masterclasses became 25. From then on, I started using LinkedIn, also taking advantage of the digital marketing levers.


…to the point that I became the official grappa influencer. What is the real challenge of such a title?

I still can’t believe it! The concept of ‘being an influencer’ is very modern, whereas grappa is still and often seen as something for the “elder generation”. That’s why I find it an incredible combination, and here communication becomes strategic. It is my challenge to be able to talk about grappa to younger consumers and to recount the history of the company in an authentic and truthful way.


Your videos went viral on LinkedIn: being informative, authentic, and showing your passion. What inspires you and how did you find the stylistic code of corporate communication?

My biggest source of inspiration are my grandparents, their history, their challenge to transform Grappa from Cinderella to the Queen of spirits! I don’t have a specific style, but more of a “communicative philosophy”. I’m a great supporter of the principle of reality over appearance and that you can be serious without really being serious. I love my job. I love to advertise our products and I also want to have fun doing it! I’m truly grateful to my family for supporting me in this new tone of voice on my profile. I couldn’t have done it without their support.


What is your advice to the new generations?

I believe that in everyday life, it is essential to know who came before you and the core company values, which must become yours and be defended. I like to talk about generational transitions, where there is mutual trust and respect for what was done before you, but there must also be the courage to think in a new and open way. The worst thing you can hear in the company is “it has always been done this way”.


What are you building for the future?

My challenge is transparency for the grappa label. Unfortunately, in Italy, there are still some terms of the label that can be misunderstood. I’ll do everything possible to enhance the mastery of our distillery and teach how to consciously choose grappa. I would like Italians to love the ambassador of Made in Italy in the world as much as I do! I want to introduce the culture of Grappa!


Good luck Francesca!


Virginia Gullotta, Journalist