Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The History of the Luxardo Company

Founded by the Luxardo Family in Zara, 1821

Luxardo (officially Girolamo Luxardo S.p.A.) is an Italian brand of liqueur most famous for producing Maraschino, a liqueur made from the distillation of fermented maraschino cherries. Luxardo is one of the oldest liqueur producers in Europe and still remains a small family-owned business, owned and operated by the Luxardo family for nearly 200 years.

The First Generation

The Luxardo company was founded in Zara, a port city of Dalmatia, in 1821 by Girolamo Luxardo. At this time Zara was a city of Italian language, culture and ethnic population, and had recently passed from the sovereignty of the Republic of Venice to the Austrian Empire.

Girolamo Luxardo was an entrepreneur and diplomat, born in Santa Margherita Ligure, located near Genoa, on September 29, 1784. Serving as a consular representative of the King of Sardinia to Dalmatia, he moved to Zara with his family in 1817.

Girolamo Luxardo
His wife Marchesa Maria Canevari was interested in perfecting a recipe for Maraschino, a unique type of cherry liqueur produced in Venetian Dalmatia since 1730 by Barolomeo Ferrari and Giuseppe Carceniga. Some allege it was produced as early as the 16th century by Catholic monks at the Dominican monastery of Zara, but this remains unproven. Maria personally produced her own Maraschino at home and it immediately attracted the attention of family, friends and connoisseurs.

In 1821 Luxardo founded a distillery in Zara to produce Maraschino liqueur. After eight years of research to perfect the product, in 1829 he obtained a special privilege from the Emperor of Austria, the “Privilegiata Fabbrica Maraschino Excelsior”. This was a valuable and cherished recognition of the superior quality of Luxardo liqueur, and moreover it granted the Luxardo company exclusive rights to produce Maraschino for the next fifteen years.

Luxardo would go on to become one of the most popular and prestigious brands of Maraschino liqueur, even rivaling the much older company of Drioli, founded in 1759 by the Istrian-Venetian merchant Francesco Drioli, who was the first to bottle and produce Maraschino on an industrial scale, thereby establishing the modern Maraschino industry of Zara. Already in 1864 Luxardo Maraschino was being exported and sold in the United States, and soon Luxardo would surpass Drioli in fame and popularity.

The Second Generation

Girolamo Luxardo died on September 8, 1865 at age 81, and his son Nicolò Luxardo I (1815-1882) took over the business. Taking the reins from his father Girolamo, Nicolò I played a vital role in the company by establishing relationships with prestigious markets all around the world. Luxardo's first advertisement posters were printed in 1874 and distributed throughout Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was not only a first for Luxardo, but also the first recorded advertising campaign for a liqueur in history.

The Third Generation
Luxardo Family Gathering, 1875
Demetrio I (first from left); Michelangelo
(second from left); Nicolò I (third from left)

Luxardo was inherited by Demetrio Luxardo I (1852-1906) and Michelangelo Luxardo (1857-1934). Demetrio I was the first master distiller. He invented new products and refined Luxardo's Maraschino recipe. Thanks to the third Luxardo generation, a new prosperous era began for the company.

Luxardo Maraschino won a gold medal at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, the first ever bestowed upon a European company. The prestige and acclaim of Luxardo during this time period can be measured by the fact that Luxardo Maraschino was served aboard the RMS Titanic during its fateful voyage in 1912.

In 1913, Michelangelo built the most modern and largest distillery in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, called Casa Luxardo. This building was an imposing structure on the harbour edge, which housed not only the new distillery, but also the offices and the private apartments of the Luxardo family. The building survived World War I, but was ultimately destroyed in World War II.

Some setbacks occurred for Luxardo during World War I. The loss of the Russian market, caused by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, led to a sharp decline in sales. In addition, the requisition of machinery and metal materials by the Austrian government in 1916-1918 significantly impoverished the Luxardo factory of its vital equipment.

The Patriotism of the Luxardo Family

The Luxardo's were known to be Italian patriots. Their signature design was inspired by the Italian tricolour: a green bottle with a red cap and a white label written in Italian. All of Michelangelo's sons were sent to study at universities in Italy. Nicolò Luxardo II (1886-1944), Michelangelo's eldest son and future heir, risked being executed for treason by joining the Italian Army in World War I, where he earned two Silver Medals of Military Valour as a cavalry officer. In this period, the Luxardo family proudly supported the unification of Dalmatia with the Kingdom of Italy.

Luxardo Poster, 1939
Sangue Morlacco (‘Morlach Blood’) became Luxardo's second specialty after Maraschino. Originally called Cherry Brandy, it was renamed by the Italian warrior-poet Gabriele D'Annunzio in 1919, during the Fiume Expedition, when a group of Italian legionaries occupied the city of Fiume and established the short-lived Italian Regency of Carnaro. One of these legionaries was Pietro Luxardo (1892-1944), Michelangelo's second son.

The Morlachs were a Latin people of the Dalmatian hinterland who defended the borders of the Republic of Venice against the Turks in the 17th and 18th centuries. Due to the liqueur's dark red colour, resembling the blood shed by the Morlachs under the banner of Venice, D'Annunzio nicknamed it Sangue Morlacco. The name was officially adopted by Luxardo and has continued to be used ever since.

The Fourth Generation

In 1922 the company was taken over by the fourth generation, Michelangelo's four sons: Nicolò II, Demetrio II, Pietro and Giorgio. Under the guidance of the fourth generation, Luxardo's position significantly improved. In 1940 Demetrio II died, leaving his three brothers as the heirs.

The city of Zara had been reunited with the Kingdom of Italy since 1918, and Luxardo once again began to flourish. By the 1930's Luxardo became the largest and most important distillery in Italy. In 1936 Luxardo was responsible for 66% of Zara's liqueur exports. The company reached its peak in this period, with more than 250 employees and an industrial area covering 12,000 square meters.

Casa Luxardo — The Luxardo Distillery, built in 1913
Before its tragic destruction in World War II
However, the beginning of World War II severely hampered industrial activity. During the course of the war, Allied bombing destroyed about 80% of Zara's buildings. After indiscriminate and repeated Anglo-American bombings in 1943-1944, the Luxardo distillery was almost completely destroyed, as was nearly the entire city of Zara. A four-day fire burned several buildings and resulted in the loss of many materials, including 230,000 kg of sugar, 48,000 liters of alcohol and over one million bottles.

The war was very tragic and devastating for the Luxardo family: they lost their distillery, their home and several members of their family. They were but one of hundreds of ethnic Italian families – totaling many thousands of civilians – who were forcibly exiled from Dalmatia as a result of the war. In the end, nearly the entire Italian population of Zara was wiped out through Allied bombings, executions, deportation to concentration camps or exile. While most of the Luxardo family fled to mainland Italy between 1943-1944, some members of the family chose to remain in Zara.

Upon the arrival of Tito's Yugoslav Communist partisans in 1944, atrocities were committed against the remaining Italian population and the Luxardo family was partly exterminated. Nicolò Luxardo II and his wife Bianca Ronzoni were arrested and brutally tortured before being killed by Yugoslav partisans on September 30, 1944. Nicolò II was drowned in the Adriatic Sea, while Bianca was forced to watch. She was shot to death immediately afterward. Pietro Luxardo, who likewise had refused to leave Zara, was imprisoned by the Yugoslavs on October 30, 1944 and murdered on November 12, 1944. His remains were never found.

Pietro Luxardo and Nicolò Luxardo II
Murdered by the Yugoslavs in 1944
Giorgio Luxardo was the sole survivor of the fourth generation. Giorgio fled first to Friuli and then to the Veneto region of northeastern Italy and reconnected with a colleague who had saved the Luxardo recipe book. Perhaps even more fortunately, just prior to the war Prof. Alessandro Morettini of the University of Florence had carried maraschino cherry specimens from Dalmatia to Tuscany, where he founded a cherry tree nursery on university premises. Prof. Morettini graciously delivered these cherry saplings to Giorgio Luxardo after the war.

Armed with the surviving tools and a desire to reestablish his family's legacy, Giorgio chose the small town of Torreglia to rebuild the distillery in 1946. At this new home, Luxardo restored its extensive product line of Italian liqueurs and continued to export the products to markets around the world.

The Usurpation of Maraschino by Yugoslavia

In 1944, before the end of World War II, the Yugoslavs illegally seized all of Luxardo's assets and nationalized them. Assets which were confiscated from all the historic liqueur factories of Zara (Luxardo, Drioli and Romano Vlahov), including all usable equipment and machinery, were unified into a single enterprise in 1946 by the new Yugoslav Communist occupational government.

Although Zara was still formally under Italian sovereignty until 1947, the Yugoslavs were already sequestering private property and goods. The old Luxardo distillery, reduced to almost total ruin by Allied bombs, was rebuilt in the same location and designed to look identical to the original building. By 1946 the Yugoslavs were producing and selling their own version of Maraschino, attempting to pass it off as the same one made by Luxardo.
The city of Zara, 1943-1944
Destroyed by Allied Bombings

The Luxardo family had suffered aerial bombardments, the loss of their home and business, the confiscation of their assets, and the death of multiple family members. Now, adding insult to injury, the Yugoslavs pretended to imitate Luxardo's Maraschino recipe and fraudulently re-bottled it under the same name, using the old bottles and original labels found in the ruins of Luxardo's warehouses.

Maraschino was a trademark owned by the Luxardo family, and they were determined to take legal action against this Yugoslav impersonation. After numerous legal battles, the Yugoslav company in 1949 was forced to change its name from Maraschino to Maraska, a Croatian moniker based on the original Italian name. Other lawsuits against Maraska continued until the 1960's. In the end the Luxardo family was victorious, winning every court case in Italy, Switzerland, Germany and the United States; in each proceeding all decisions were won by Luxardo.

The Usurpation of Maraschino by Croatia

The Maraska company, founded by the Communist regime in 1946, still operates today in modern Croatia. However, the company has never acknowledged its controversial origins, nor its Communist past, and has never offered any compensation to Luxardo.

Today Maraska continues to appropriate the legacy of Maraschino by upholding themselves as the heirs of Italo-Dalmatian tradition and continues to falsely label their products with the name “Original Maraschino”. Despite having no legitimate connection to Zara's original Italian liqueur companies – other than confiscating its properties and imitating its products – the Croatian company insists on tracing its own history through Luxardo, Drioli, Vlahov and the Italian Dalmatian community, without acknowledging the seizure of assets, the trademark infringements, the false advertising, the marketing schemes, the ethnic cleansing of Italians and the massacre of the Luxardo family.

Maraska's official website merely states that several factories were destroyed and rebuilt after the war, and that the three main Maraschino liqueur distilleries were merged and reconstituted as the Maraska company in 1946. But this short and misleading version of events completely glosses over the traumatic events and criminal history upon which the Maraska company was built.

The Former Luxardo Distillery in Zara, Dalmatia
Illegally occupied by the Maraska Company from 1946-2006

Maraska's official website also falsely asserts that the maraschino cherry tree grows only in the area around Zara, in Dalmatia, thereby implying that they are the only ones capable of producing authentic Maraschino liqueur. In fact the same maraschino cherries are grown by the Luxardo family in the Euganean Hills in Italy, derived from the same cherry trees grown around Zara, thanks to the saplings that were saved by Prof. Morettini and brought to Italy prior to the Yugoslav occupation.

On several occasions – during the period of the Yugoslav regime and after Croatian independence – the Luxardo family requested the return of personal assets, including art collections and family real estate, among them the old distillery building and former Luxardo home in Zara, but all requests have been rejected or ignored.

The landmark Luxardo distillery – ruined, seized and restored after the war by the Yugoslavs, and subsequently transformed into the Maraska factory – was recently purchased by a private Turkish bank, the Dogus Group, and will soon become a Hyatt Regency hotel. The Maraska company sold the property and moved to a different location in 2006. Compensation has still never been offered to Luxardo by Maraska, nor by the Dogus Group.


Luxardo continues to produce Maraschino according to Maria Canevari's original recipe, as it was written down in 1821. The current distillery is located in the small town of Torreglia in the Euganean Hills, near Padua, in the region of Veneto, Italy, where the Luxardo family exclusively cultivates over 30,000 maraschino cherry trees – derived from the original maraschino cherry trees of Dalmatia – in what is today the largest cherry tree orchard in the world.

The Current Luxardo Distillery, built in 1946
In the small town of Torreglia, Italy

Until recently, Luxardo was operated by Franco Luxardo of the family's fifth generation, along with members of the sixth generation. Today, the company is headed by the sixth generation: Piero Luxardo Franchi, Guido Luxardo, Giorgio Luxardo II, Matteo Luxardo and Filippo Luxardo. The seventh generation is also just now starting and is represented by Nicolò Luxardo IV and Gaia Luxardo, the first female family member to join the company.

To date Luxardo's internationally renown Maraschino has won more than 56 gold medals in liqueur contests around the world. In 2011 alone, seven of Luxardo's liqueurs were awarded twelve bronze, silver and gold medals in international competitions. The company also produces a variety of other classic Italian liqueurs, including Sambuca, Amaretto, Grappa, Limoncello, Sangue Morlacco and Passione Nera. Besides its famous liqueurs, a second line of Luxardo products now includes a gourmet division with liqueur concentrates, fruit syrups, Maraschino cherries and jams.

Luxardo products are currently exported to every continent and to more than 78 countries around the world. The main export countries of Luxardo products are the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Japan and continental Europe.

See also:
The History of Maraschino
The Luxardo Distillery: How the Croats Attempted to Usurp the Brand
Luxardo Maraschino vs. Croatian Maraska