In my research journey along the boot-shaped Italian peninsula, I realize that there are many realities that we know nothing about. Because it is often easier to stop at a first impression rather than to deepen our knowledge. And somehow, I feel lucky. It is a journey that brings to light stories and pieces of Italy that represent precious examples, and that, even in a small way, push us to do better, rather than to feel sorry for ourselves.
Today’s story belongs to the Neri family, and it is the story of a family, of a brand, but it is also the story of a revenge and a rebirth. I met Simone Neri, Pietro Neri’s grandson, who in the immediate post-war period invented Chinotto, or rather, the Chin8neri, and we retraced that story together.
1949-1965-2010, important dates for the Neri family and for the fate of the Chin8neri. Tell us why, and about your promise to your grandfather …
“In 1949, after the war, there was a lot of excitement in Italy, and my grandfather Pietro Neri was a young man full of ideas and from his genius the Chinotto Chin8neri was born. In all truth, the discovery of the drink happened almost by chance. Grandpa wanted to sell an orange drink, but sugar in the post-war era was almost impossible to find, a real luxury, so in his first attempts he used saccharin. The saccharin, however, was very sweet, so much so as to make the orange juice practically undrinkable. So it happened that to counter the sweetness of this orange drink he began to balance it with bitter ingredients such as rhubarb, cinchona, hawthorn, aloe and finally the flowers of chinotto, thus finding, finally, the right alchemy with the fruit of this citrus. So grandfather invented the quinotto, and called it Chin8neri. From ’49 to ’65 he had an amazing success, which made him one of the richest men in Italy; he built a factory in Naples, one in Bologna and another, the most innovative of those times in Capranica, which at the time cost a billion of the old lire, but it was a truly avant-garde establishment.
In 1965, at the peak of his success, my grandfather and his chinotto Chin8neri began to be ‘besieged’ by various characters eager to form a company, until he was forced to give away the factories and brands for ‘political’ reasons. But not the original recipes of the drinks, not even that of the chinotto that brought him to success, which remained and are still property of the family. After the sale in ’69, the various owners who succeeded each other over the years could not repeat the same successes precisely because the Chinotto Chin8neri formula was not the original one and no longer met the taste of consumers. The factory closed in 1995 and remained inactive until 2000, when Buccino’s IBG company managed to get hold of the plant and the brands at auction. And in 2012 the original factory closed its doors again to move the entire production to the Buccino plants where the Chin8neri is still produced.
The relationship I had with my grandfather was fantastic. I was the first grandson. In 2000, after yet another disappointment for not being able to recover the brand and plant, we decided to release chinotto Chinottissimo, a drink based on the original formula but taking advantage of years of work that had brought to the with a few addition of 53 medicinal herbs. The dream lasted 5 years, then in 2005 grandfather passed away. Before his death, however, I made him a promise: that I would do my best to bring this product back to success. From 2010 to today we have grown a lot, but the road is still long”.
What is the recipe for being competitive in an increasingly globalized market and bringing an Italian brand like Chinottissmo to success?
“To offer genuine and quality products at the right price, this is my goal and that of Chinottissimo. While the great giants rule the roost, small and medium-sized businesses defend themselves by making exclusive and unique products, so as to create a space that multinationals cannot access due to the poor quality of their products. ”
The word excellence has been overused, but in your case – and in that of Chinotto Chinottissimo – talking about excellence is a must …
“Nowadays saying ‘excellence’ has become a fashion, every manufacturer can say that their product is excellent, but what really makes it so are the awards that are issued by competent authorities. In my case, the products – and not just the chinotto – have been subjected to a series of scrupulous checks by the competent bodies, and today I am proud to say that my products have been included in the ‘Basket’ of excellences from the Region Lazio and Roma Capitale, a very important confirmation proven on the label by a specific logo. Among other things, in 2014, the City of Rome awarded me the title of Cavaliere del Commercio, for the merit of having re-proposed a historical recipe that helped to revive the fate of Rome, and not only, in the post-war period”.
What are your next goals? Amaro Neri has just made its debut on the market …
“Mine is a work of development and research; I am always careful and keep updated on how to improve products already on the market, or create new ones. In fact, on the wave of the success of Chinottissimo, a highly digestive drink thanks to its 53 herbs, which I consider a ‘bitter’ soft drink, I created the Amaro Neri al Chinotto, which is nothing but the alcoholic evolution of the Chinottissimo. A bottle of great class, with a superb content and an unmistakable and unique flavor. I present it with numbered and vintage bottles; for 2018 I forecast only 500 pieces. In 2019 we will see.”
These are the excellences, authentic and unquestionable, that we like to talk about and witness.