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It is usually said that while there are many ‘martinis’, there is only one Martini. This reminds us how cocktails sometimes have little or no resemblance to the original, the classic Gin Martini, made of gin and dry vermouth, which will always be a classic and the favorite cocktail for many. But when did the story behind this drink get started? We need to go back to the mid 19th century to find the origins of what is today one of the most famous Italian brands worldwide.
Born in 1847 as Distilleria Nazionale di Spirito di Vino all’Uso di Francia, it took only a few years before it became the company we all know, the famous Martini & Rossi.
Imagine being in Piedmont in the late 1800s: this is when four merchants - Clemente Michel, Carlo Re, Carlo Agnelli, Eligio Baudino - started their company in Contrada San Filippo, in Turin, and established the factory in San Salvatore Monferrato, close to Alessandria. Two other protagonists, Teofilo Sola, an accountant, and Alessandro Martini, a salesman, both hired as employees, also became part of the company’s history. Martini, an enterprising soul, decided to share the company’s profits in 1851. A few years later, Carlo Re died and the company was forced to reorganize. In 1863 Mr. Martini and Mr. Sola, with distiller Luigi Rossi as the third partner, got together and started running a business mainly based on the production of vermouth, which they later extended to Asti Martini spumante, Fernet, Bitter, and China.
At the turn of the new century, the company launched Martini Extra Dry, introduced to the market to ring in the New Year. With the death of both of the men who gave the company its name, Rossi’s sons took over the management: first, Teofilo and Cesare, and later on Enrico and Ernesto, all tried to build relations abroad by launching subsidiary companies in Belgium, France, and England. Year after year, the company launched new products that increased its success all over Italy, to the point that Teofilo, who was mayor of Turin at the time, was given the noble title of Count of Montelera by Victor Emmanuel II.
During the course of two World Wars, Martini & Rossi went through tough times, nevertheless the family always tried to protect its employees and maintain full employment throughout the conflicts, at the cost of enormous sacrifice. Only in the ‘50s, with the beginning of a new era for the Italian economy, did the company manage to introduce innovative techniques to reestablish itself in the domestic and foreign markets. Since then, the company has been a worldwide icon, thanks to its most successful products like Eristoff Vodka, China Martini, Spumante Riesling Italico Martini.
The Museums and Casa Martini
It is called Museum of the History of Enology Martini because, while telling the story of the popular Italian brand, it also reflects the passion for archeology of Lando Rossi Montelera, grandson of founder Luigi Rossi and the company’s CEO at that time. The museum officially opened in 1961, when the celebrations of the 100 hundred years from unification of Italy occurred, and it is now considered one of the most interesting European museums dedicated to wine and enology.
The museum was designed by Oberto Spinola and includes sixteen rooms taken from the cellars of the 18th century villa, the first Martini & Rossi house in Chieri. Starting from the private collection of Lando Rossi of Montelera, together with Casa Martini Pessione and Martini World Gallery, it is now seen as a cultural and historical center.
The Museum, containing more than six-hundred pieces, is organized according to ancient rituals and symbolic objects, amphorae and vases of ancient times from the second millennium BC until the Roman Imperial age. The collection follows a specific path, linking wine to human history through the centuries.
The World Martini gallery extends over 500 square meters, next to the wine museum. More than an exhibition, the gallery represents the result of a long research, restoration and reorganization of the historical company. Walking through seven distinct sections, pictures and documents tell the story of the men and the projects that made the brand famous in the world. The journey through multimedia technology leads to an interactive experience along more than a century and a half of history.
Finally, opened in 2008, the Visitor Centre, today known as Casa Martini, represents the company’s heritage and communications history. What you find here is the brand on its various forms in different eras, communicating the company culture to the public.
Today, together with the internet, the museum remains one of the best place to learn about the history of wine in its social, economic, and cultural aspects, and the first and only institution to relate the history of this iconic brand in such an exhaustive way.