In a drinks world dominated by huge conglomerates, mostly headquartered overseas, starting a distillery means you have to be either foolhardy or incredibly optimistic. In the case of Arthur Hartunian, owner of the Napa Valley Distillery, it is large doses of the latter. His enthusiasm is contagious and he obviously loves what he does and has a whole lot of fun doing it.
Just as craft brewers have taken on the Goliaths of the beer industry, craft distillers are finding a niche market for handcrafted specialty spirits.
At the Napa Valley Distillery amazingly complex products are made in very small quantities, often using techniques dating back to the mid-1800s. One of their latest introductions that is proving very popular is Old Hollywood Ginn. Authentically made with a base of un-aged grape brandy, it is infused with nine different botanicals as well as new American oak chips. It is not redistilled so it keeps its golden color. Mr. Hartunian explained that back in the 19th century, gin was shipped in oak barrels extracting oak color and taste. When we asked why his Ginn is spelled with two n’s, it is because it does not meet government regulations for how gin is distilled. Is there anything the government doesn’t regulate? It sells for $32 a 375 ml bottle.
Another unusual offering is vintage dated Sauvignon Blanc Vodka. When’s the last time you saw a vintage date on a vodka bottle? Never, of course. Since Sauvignon Blanc is our favorite white wine we were fascinated. The base wine is made from 100% premium single vineyard grapes from the Napa Valley. It is aged for two years in stainless steel tanks then distilled slowly in tiny quantities in an original Vendome Copper Pot Still. Only 5000 individually hand numbered bottles are produced every 18 months. The 2010 vintage is available for $65 for a 750 ml bottle. Premium vodkas are very expensive so this seems like a steal to us when you consider that Sauvignon Blanc grapes sell for about $2000 a ton while the grains used in commercial vodkas sell for about $75 – $400 a ton, plus it is really a hands on operation.
Other fascinating libations include barrel-aged cocktails such as the Negroni. Did you know it is named for a genuine Count Negroni who lived in Florence early in the last century? All the barrel-aged cocktails are sold in 375 ml bottles, will keep indefinitely once opened but probably won’t last long enough for it to be a concern.
If you are visiting Napa, drop by their Tasting Salon in the Oxbow Market. Spirits tastings are now legal in California. The company also ships products depending on the rules in each state and check out their website for information on more fascinating products not covered here.