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Beverage Media
July 2013
G
iven the myriad global iterations
of vodka on the market, it’s hard
to imagine many gaps that cried
out to be filled. Yet that is ex-
actly what inspired the creation of I Spirit,
which has been imported by Domaine Se-
lect since 2009.
“We met in New York: Lapo Elkann,
Giuseppe Cipriani and myself,” explains
Marco Fantinel, a winemaker in Italy’s
Friuli–Venezia Giulia region. “We were
all friends with the passion for high-end
quality and artisanal Italian products. We
all liked to drink great vodka and one
day we simply began talking about the
obvious—there is no great Italian vodka!
We immediately decided we had to do this.”
Serendipitously, the trio had more
than passion and opportunity inspiring
them—they also had history on their side.
During the first and second World Wars,
it was simply not possible to import vod-
ka into Italy from Poland or Russia. In
turn, Giuseppe Cipriani’s grandfather
(also named Giuseppe) made his own in
1934 at the famous Harry’s Bar in Ven-
ice, and the spirit he created had one
particular fan, namely Ernest Hemingway
(see sidebar).
Roots in Venice
Aiming to recapture the character of his
grandfather’s vodka, Giuseppe, then man-
ager of Harry’s Bar, and well-known entre-
preneur Lapo Elkann and Marco Fantinel
set about making their own modern vodka.
The recipe they arrived at is not only an
homage to history, but also a reflection of
the Italian countryside—based on the finest
wheat and a dollop of quality wine from
Friuli–Venezia Giulia. The distillation, re-
peated five times, is followed by the addi-
tion of crystal-clear water from the Dolo-
mites and then filtration on active carbons
to maximize pureness. The resulting char-
acter presents light citrus aromatics, and
on the palate a creamy texture, subtle notes
of vine fruit, white pepper, nuts and miner-
als, and a smooth, silky finish. As a crown-
ing touch, the spirit is bottled in a replica
of the one used at Harry’s Bar in the 1930s.
First released in 2009, I Spirit became
a hit on both sides of the Atlantic (even
Poland and Russia) as well as in Asia. Here
in the U.S., I Spirit has earned spots on the
back bars in top venues in New York City
(Cipriani, Scarpetta, Eataly) and Miami
(W Hotel, Casa Tua, Quattro, Ritz Carlton
Key Biscayne and Cipriani).
I Spirit has also made a top-shelf im-
pression on the judges of prestigious spirits
competitions including: Fifty Best Vodkas
(Double Gold), San Francisco World Spir-
its Competition (Gold) and the Ultimate
Spirits Challenge (90 pts.).
Building on a Foundation
While I Spirit is no longer new, the brand
is still quite young. The prime placements
and medals are a foundation that U.S. im-
porter Domaine Select and the founding
trio aim to capitalize on. They know it
won’t be easy, but their confidence is root-
ed squarely in the quality and distinction
of their spirit. “We don’t and cannot com-
pete to mainstream vodka producers,” says
Fantinel. We are an artisanal producer that
has the challenge to produce an amazing
vodka made in Italy. Any sip should recall
a pleasant and magical moment in Piazza
San Marco.”
Interestingly, part of their plan involves
suggesting the enjoyment of I Spirit both
in cocktails (ispiritvodka.com has a dozen
designed by Cipriani) and neat, matched
with simple foods, such as cherry tomatoes,
basil, walnuts or berries. “Giuseppe be-
lieves in matching Mediterranean foods to
vodka,” says Fantinel. “He believes that the
purity of his creation can even match well
with produce fresh from the farms.”
With their emphasis on quality and
keen awareness of vodka’s power to swing
from elementary pairings to signature cock-
tails, it seems this trio of Italian partners
has the momentum to write their own
chapter in vodka history.
n
A
s locals tell it, there were
three things that Ernest
Hemingway loved above all
else when staying at Harry’s Bar
in Venice: Giuseppe Cipriani’s late
night wit, tastings of Italian spirits
and the tales that inevitably were
poured along with the spirits. After
one particular tale, Hemingway
is said to have jumped to his feet
and declared to Giuseppe: “A toast
to the genius who made it up. An
absurd vision. As absurd as the
idea of an Italian vodka!”
BRAND
PROFILE
Italian Trio Puts the ‘I’ in Vodka
Domaine Select’s I Spirit Draws on History for a
Thoroughly Modern Vodka
BY W. R. TISH
BOTTLED
HISTORY
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