Jackrabbit Hill Farm is know both for being the first certified organic vineyard in the United States and for their ultra-local distillery, Peak Spirits. Owner Lance Hanson and his family were inspired by what he calls the “farm distillery model.” It was well-established in Europe, he says, but it was fairly new to the United States in 2005 when he started distilling.
“We live in the North Fork Valley where we have some wonderful peach, cherry, [and] apple orchards that are our neighbors. In Europe they do phenomenal brandies from this type of fruit, [and we said] we should be doing it here. It was an easy jump to make becauase we already knew how to ferment, and we had a lot of equipment from the winery that we needed.”
Hanson’s farm, Jackrabbit Hill Farm, is a 22-acre vineyard. They grow grapes onsite for their wine, and they use apples from two local orchards to make the base spirit for their gin. “We believe that we can produce the best quality fruit through those growing practices, and if we start with the best quality fruit, chances are we can make a pretty damn good spirit,” he says.
“We look at ourselves first and foremost as a farming venture,” Hanson says. “The core of what we do here is growing. We have a passion for farming, so the wines and spirits we make are things that can pay for the habit, so to speak.”
Eighty percent of Hanson’s sales, he says, come from restaurants. “The more successful artisan, independent restaurants are telling the same story that we are,” says Hanson. He regularly gives talks about organic and biodynamic agriculture, and hosts wine dinners to showcase the thoughtful menus of nearby restaurants.
For winemakers, the greatest day is one in which they “spend more time in the vineyards that they do in the winery,” Hanson says. We could say the same about distillers.