Made in Kerikeri, Sovrano Limoncello is a household name in Northland and around the world. Reporter Jenny Ling finds out what's behind the thriving family business.
It's a small family business with a large global following that has, at its heart, the humble lemon.
The liqueur empire was established by Italian couple Andrea and Marzia Loggia, who moved to Kerikeri with their two sons 13 years ago.
Sovrano Limoncello is now a household name in the Far North and further afield, and has scooped a plethora of international awards, most recently in August.
It's not bad for a business which started out of the Loggia's garage at Skudders Beach after their move from the Bel Paese [beautiful country].
"It's my whole life," Andrea said.
"I've tasted thousands of brands of limoncello, every kind of limoncello.
"For me it's still a combination of perfection, and the best way to end the meal.
"It cleanses the palate. It reminds you of the family reunion, the Christmas, it's like you smell a roast and you remember a good occasion."
The Loggias were both born in northern Italy.
Marzia's family, from Mantova, has a lengthy involvement in the wine industry, while Andrea's Sicilian family have been making liqueurs, particularly limoncello, for more than five generations.
They wanted to continue the tradition of liqueur-making with help from their son Paolo and his partner Brie Murdoch.
But first they had to educate New Zealanders on how to drink limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur predominantly produced in Southern Italy, especially Sorrento, Capri and along the Amalfi coast.
They took it to markets and food shows and explained the bright and sunny drink - made from lemon zest, vodka, sugar and water - should be served chilled in small glasses as an apéritif or digestif to aid in digestion.
They're not just selling a liqueur; they're selling the Italian way of life, which is all about good food, drinks and company.
"When customers come to a show or market, they come for the warmth and the experience, the overall Italian family feel," Brie said.
"With limoncello, there happens to be a product you can purchase and continue to feel something similar."
ANDREA WAS searching for a sea change for his family and found it in New Zealand.
A plumber by trade and living in Milan, he was tired of the long hours and pressure of living in a big city.
After an initial visit to scope out some work, they moved here permanently in 2007, emigrating to Northland with sons Paolo and Stefano. Their youngest, daughter Izabella, was born in New Zealand.
"Kerikeri was my fate," Andrea said.
"I didn't know anything about New Zealand but I saw the opportunity and made some inquiries from Italy, and I found a job.
"It's far away from everything and feels safe and welcoming."
He and Marzia started their Sovrano Limoncello business in 2009, first making the original limoncello and the cream liqueur.
It proved popular, and they moved the business from their garage to a factory in Waipapa, while expanding their product range.
They added orangello and orangello cream, then caffelisir, a coffee liqueur, and chocolate, walnut, liquorice, mint and rose.
Another move was warranted, to a larger building in the same area.
Their liqueurs are now on shelves around New Zealand, and are exported to Australia, the United States and China.
The family frequent nine markets in Auckland and Northland, including the Old Packhouse Market in Kerikeri and the French-themed La Cigale farmers market in Parnell.
Until Covid-19 put a damper on events, they took their product to about 50 food and home shows a year, all the while keeping their feet on the ground, and keeping it local.
Many of the lemons in the Loggia's limoncello come from the 150 trees in their Kerikeri orchard and the rest are bought from surrounding growers.
Those on the family property are made up of four varieties, which are kept a strict secret.
In addition to using the best white spirit available here, Andrea and Marzia are committed to using spray-free lemons. They go through 30 tonnes of lemons a year and several tonnes of oranges.
Sovrano Caffelisir, the classic coffee liqueur, is made with freshly ground coffee using a 150-year-old Italian recipe.
THE FAMILY reckon they produce the highest-quality limoncello in the world.
And they've got dozens of major international awards to prove it.
There are 38 awards, in fact, all covering the wall of the Waipapa factory where they create bottle after bottle, and case after case.
The first came in 2010, a gold medal for the original limoncello from the Chicago Beverage Testing Institute.
More followed from Chicago, along with the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Florida World Beverage Competition, International Wine & Spirit Competition in London and the SIP awards in California.
Judges couldn't get enough, describing the original limoncello as "fantastically flavourful", "a monumental limoncello" and "a sensationally vibrant limoncello".
They noted its "bold aromas and flavours of lemonade and lemon custard" and its "plush, intensely concentrated, pure 3-D lemon and honey finish".
The cream liqueur is "sensationally delicious" with "citrusy aromas of lemon meringue pie and whipping cream" and a "long lemon curd and pudding finish".
The most recent awards were announced at the NZ Spirits Awards in August where the Sovrano Caffelisir coffee liqueur won the best New Zealand liqueur and best overall in the category.
"What we want to show is consistency every year," Andrea said.
"Every batch can be different because the lemons are different and ripen at different times.
"It's pretty awesome because I'm really picky.
"I'm proud of everyone's achievement, it's not just me, I couldn't do it without the support of the family."
The product has become so popular Brie and Paolo recently branched out and started boutique tours of the Amalfi Coast, known as the birthplace of limoncello.
The first tour was booked for June; nine people had signed up to 12 days living the Italian lifestyle while based in Sorrento before Covid-19 put a stop to any travel.
"The group was all booked and ready to go, we were about to send their phrase books," Brie said.
The pandemic also stopped exports for half the year.
When the Northern Advocate visited recently, they were getting their first order out since February - a batch of coffee liqueur bound for the United States.
Andrea is keen on securing a bigger property to further expand the business and employ more staff.
They've also bought a lemon juicer and plan to introduce granita – a frozen dessert originally made in Sicily - at the markets soon.
"It's everything coming together, like a good painting," Andrea said.
"It's not just one colour, it's all the colours together. At the moment we've the brush, the canvas and the colours - and we are good artists."