04 May Conde Nast Traveler- Why You Should Drink Gin in California Wine Country
Though California wine country is best known for its world-class cabernets and chardonnays, there are an increasing number of distilleries setting up shop amongst its vineyards. Here, we handpicked our favorites.
Napa and Sonoma Counties are home to around 400 wineries between them, and though we’re grateful for their bounty, it’s refreshing to see an increasing number of distilleries set up shop amid the grapevines. Though the presence of micro-distilleries has grown across the country, California’s been sluggish to participate, largely thanks to an antiquated Prohibition-era law which forbade distilleries from selling anything directly to the consumer. Fortunately, that changed as of last year, and with the opening of each new distillery in wine country, the area’s only gotten better and richer.
After years of working in environmental non-profits, husband-and-wife team Ashby and Timo Marshall set up shop in Sonoma County in 2013 with sloe gin on their minds. Sloe gin—a liqueur made from macerating sloe berries (which are not berries at all, but rather bitter, diminutive plums) with sugar and gin—is the digestif of choice in Timo’s native English countryside, where his family has been perfecting its recipe for generations. Spirit Works is currently the only manufacturer of true sloe gin in the United States, and their product—light and lovely, evoking botanicals and blackcurrant—is alone worth a visit to their tasting room. You can also try their vodka, gin, and forthcoming whiskey, each crafted with a true grain-to-glass approach using sustainable practices that jibe with the couple’s environmentalist past.(6790 McKinley St. #100, Sebastopol; 707-634-4793)
Don’t be fooled by their Newsies-style outfits—the folks at Napa Valley Distillery know their booze. Arthur Hartunian and his wife, Lusine, moved to Napa in 2009 with the aim to make cocktails an integral part of the area’s culinary culture. With an approach that’s more playful than precious, Arthur studies up on the traditional methods of distillation and blending, then launches into experimentation, resulting in Napa Valley Distillery’s long menu of unique spirits, bottled cocktails, and liqueurs. Their tasting salon ought to be visited whether you’re in the mood to drink not, as the vast array of bitters, shrubs, tonics, and syrups are a delight to the senses. And the salon’s location—within Napa’s Oxbow Market—showcases the some of the region’s best food and drink. (601 1st Street, Napa; 707-226-9269)
The freshest face on the scene, Griffo Distillery is the realization of a long-plotted dream. Seven years ago, Mike Griffo was a Bay Area physicist itching to distill something other than nanoparticles, so he headed to Wall Street to build up his savings. Later, he and his wife Jenny returned to Petaluma, California to fire up a beautiful warehouse and craft a truly elevated gin. It’s best sipped by itself, to best appreciate the fresh, distinctive flavors of carefully infused botanicals and hand-zested Meyer lemon. Distillery tours are available. (1320 Scott St, Suite A, Petaluma; 707-879-8755)
The Karakasevic family has been distilling spirits in Napa Valley for more than 30 years, and with the patriarch Miles—a 12th-generation distiller—passing the title of Master Distiller down to his son Marko, they show no signs of slowing. Their winery and distillery, Charbay, is rooted in tradition, but Marko’s R5 Whiskey is entirely new, made from Bear Republic Brewery’s hoppy Racer 5 IPA. The Karakasevics keep busy: For a small family operation, they produce a wide selection of fine liquors and operate not one but two facilities. Visit the original location in the scenic hills of St. Helena, or hold out until the fall and head up to Mendocino County, where they’re opening a new tasting room. (4001 Spring Hill Mountain Road, St. Helena, CA; 707-963-9327)