Moon Import enjoys a legendary reputation as one of Italy’s finest independent bottlers and there’s an incredibly rich story to be told when it comes to their significance as early pioneers for the independent bottler category. Moon Import was established by Pepi Mongiardino in the town of Genoa in 1980. His introduction to whisky came in the 1970s while working for Spirit, at the time the Italian distributor for Hiram Walker brands such as Ardbeg, Ballantine’s and Miltonduff.
Italy's Affinity for Single Malt Scotch
Italy’s affection for single malt emerged in the 1960s when trailblazers such as Armando Giovinetti, the official agent in Italy for Glen Grant, and Edorado Giaccone, owner of the whiskyteca in Salò, began to turn away from the national palate of the previous generation and share their enthusiasm for single malt Scotch. It flourished in the 1980s with Silvano Samaroli, Pepi Mongiardino, Ernesto Mainardi and Nadi Fiori becoming some of the most important pioneers in the history of Scotch whisky.
> Read More on the early roots of Italy's affection for single malt Scotch
Important Connections: The Beginnings of Moon Import
When the time came for Pepi Mongiardino to strike out on his own, he was fortunate in his friendly relationship with several notable contemporaries.
The first of these was Silvano Samaroli, who advised him to remain free of the shackles of the catalogues of big companies like Gordon & MacPhail, and to seek out the whisky that he himself wanted to bottle. This lead Mongiardino to call Invergordon Distillers and enquire about the license to distribute Bruichladdich, which they gladly offered him. The second was Edoardo Giaccone, who was the first person he went to see when his first bottlings of Bruichladdich were on their way. Having spent all his money on advertising time on TV Canal 5, Mongiardino was kindly assisted by Giaccone who offered to take to those airwaves for free to promote the now revered Islay distillery. Moon Import represented Bruichladdich in Italy for five years before accepting the offer from Invergordon to sell the newly-shined brand to Fratelli Rinaldi and attempt to repeat the trick with Tamnavulin and Tullibardine instead.
Emboldened by his early success, Mongiardino was quick to follow in his friend Samaroli’s footsteps, joining him and fellow contemporary, Nadi Fiori, in a new school of Italian independent bottlers in 1982. All three understood the value of collectability, and were very particular about the aesthetic of their bottles. Perhaps none more so than Mongiardino, who followed the initiative of early Samaroli releases, marketing all of his whiskies as components of distinct thematic series in order to encourage buyers to seek out as many as possible.
Joe Wilson, Head Curator and Spirits Specialist
An example from Samaroli and Mongiardino's collaborative 'Dreams' series - Dailuaine 1975
Iconic and Collectible Moon Import Expressions
Half Moon Series
In 1982, just two years after the company's founding, Pepi Mongiardino bottled his first whisky titled the 'Half Moon' series. The name reflects the half-moon shape applied to the typography on the labels. The series featured seven expressions from the Glenlivet, Macallan, Glen Moray, Glen Grant and Tamnavulin distilleries, with two high strength versions of the Macallan and Glenlivet. Representing Mongiardino's first step into his own independent bottlings, these are important objects of Moon Import's history.
The Animals, The Sea, The Costumes And The Birds
The most notable of Moon Import’s series are The Animals, The Sea, The Costumes and The Birds, all bottled between 1987 and 1990. For each, Mongiardino decorated them with artwork he discovered in the 18th century German encyclopaedia, Brockhaus Enzyklopädie. First published in 1796 as Brockhaus’ Konversations-Lexikon, the book is regarded as one of the most influential reference works in history, with the 11th edition of Encylopaedia Brittanica declaring, “no work of reference has been more useful and successful, or more frequently copied, imitated and translated, than that known as the Conversations-Lexikon of Brockhaus.” As much can be said of the labels of those early Moon Import bottlings, the influences of which can be seen on the labels from the Thompson Brothers in Scotland to Sansibar and The Whisky Agency in Germany, and as far afield as the Spirit Shop’ Selection in Taiwan.
Extract from the 18th century German encyclopaedia, Brockhaus Enzyklopädie
The Dreams series was a 1999 collaborative effort between longtime friends, Pepi Mongiardino and Silvano Samaroli. The unusually labelled series feature artworks designed by Nadia Pini and Hans Piu, and all bear Samaroli's signature printed on the capsule. The most sought-after expression on our auction platform is a richly-sherried Glenrothes distilled in 1969 which fetched a Hammer Price of £3,300.
Moon Import 30th Anniversary
In 2010, Moon Import celebrated their 30th anniversary. To commemorate the company’s milestone, they released a rare collection of nine single malts in homage to their previous collections. Recognisable labels include The Birds, The Sea, The Costumes, De Viris Illustribus, Dovr-Toutes-Mares and Horae Solaris. In 2017, a complete set sold for a Hammer Price of £7,000 on WhiskyAuctioneer.com.
Moon Import's 30th Anniversary Collection
Top 3 Moon Import Bottles on Whisky Auctioneer
Bowmore 1957 Moon Import / Crest Label - £8,501 Hammer Price
Bowmore 1964 Moon Import / The Birds I - £6, 711 Hammer Price
Ardbeg 1966 Moon Import #2445 / The Birds I - £6,600 Hammer Price
A Collector's Perspective on Moon Import
Moon Import never compromised on the quality of the liquid, although this standard was arguably set by Samaroli’s first releases some seven years earlier. Whichever of their bottlings you crack open will take you on a journey questioning everything you thought you knew about whisky, reminding you exactly why you fell in love with Scotch whisky in the first place. What they added though, was a uniquely Italian touch to the labels which shared more in common with murals in Florence than what we were traditionally used to seeing on a whisky bottle. A feast for the eyes to match that of the palate.
Add to these their limited themed releases (Birds, Animals, Costumes, Sea, Horae Solaris and many others) and you have the collectors dream. They set the standard which the future European bottlers gladly adopted. To compete with the distillery releases and established Scottish independent bottlers they simply had to deliver something differentiated… and they sure did.
With over 100 beautifully labelled bottles with amazing vintages coming from some of the most sought after distilleries in Scotland, including cherished closed ones, this series has to be one of my most prized collections.
Pat, Owner of Pat's Whisk(e)y Collection,
the world's largest private whisky collection to go to auction
Whisky Auctioneer regularly welcomes rare and collectible independent bottlings from Moon Import in our monthly auctions. Browse all past and present Moon Import lots or contact us if you are interested in selling a bottle of Moon Import.