Romano Levi, celebrated grappa producer, is dead at 80.

Romano Levi, a celebrated artisan grappa producer known for his artist labels and distinctive style, died in Neive (Cuneo), Piedmont on Friday, May 2, 2008. He was 80 years old.

Born in 1929 and orphaned at the close of the second world war, Levi began making grappa at 17 years of age. While some would argue that he was better known for his colorful artist labels than for the quality of his grappa, he was by and large Italy’s most noted distiller. Celebrity first discovered Levi when Luigi Veronelli praised his distillates in Italy’s popular magazine Epoca and called him the grappaiol’angelico or angelic grappa-maker.

His striking art naïf labels were adorned with aphoristic poems: one of the most memorable was Siamo angeli con un’ala sola. Possiamo volare solo restando abbracciati. (We are angels with only one wing. The only way we can fly is by embracing [one another].)

Levi was also known for his frugal salesmanship. According to many, he refused to sell a customer more than one bottle a day and he insisted that customers return with empty Levi bottle to be refilled at the distillery.

Luigi Veronelli, Marcello Mastroianni, and Andrea Bocelli were just a few of the many celebrities, writers, and intellectuals who publicly praised Levi and considered him a personal friend. While Levi’s hard-to-come-by grappas were not commercially available in the U.S., many top American wine connoisseurs collected the prized distillates.

Click here to view a pseudo-neorealist short film about Romano Levi and his distillery (the hand-held video is a poor reproduction of the film but it is informative nonetheless).

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