The Glass fire that burned 67,000 acres last year in North Bay, California caused heavy damages to the grapevines in Napa Valley, rendering them useless for the winemaking industry. But a spirit distillery had a great idea of turning the grapes that had been tinged with ash and smoke into “something awesome.”
According to the Guardian, Eric Lee, who runs the craft spirits distillery Hangar 1 in nearby Alameda, reached out to an affected winery and asked if it could cooperate to process the wasted grapes into vodka.
“We came in and said let’s work together and salvage this situation,” Lee said. “We wanted to figure out how to upcycle what would normally be going down the drain and turn it into something awesome.”
And their cooperation has brought some sweet fruits. Hangar 1 this month released the results of that collaboration: a limited edition Smoke Point vodka distilled from Napa-grown malbec and merlot grapes.
The new vodka made from useless grapes has a sweet and spicy finish, smooth enough to sip with subtle notes of fruit, licorice, and allspice.
The liquor is one of several solutions being tested as vintners adapt to a future where the risks of ruined grapes run higher every year.
But there wass another motivation for their cooperation.
They have decided to donate all the proceeds from their new products to the California Fire foundation as a gesture to honor the firefighters and to raise awareness of the wildfires as well.
“We are not looking to make money on this,” said Nicolas Quillé, chief winemaking and operations officer at Crimson Wine Group, which supplied the grapes to Hanger 1. “We were extremely affected and we were looking for ways to say thank you, to a community that helped us so much.”
“There is definitely another layer to this besides just let’s do something good and make lemonade out of all those lemons,” Quillé said, adding that this was a chance to explore novel ways to use fire-damaged grapes that otherwise would have gone down the drain.
Eric Lee explained that vodka is traditionally made from grains or potatoes because it can be made of any sugar or starch-laden food that ferments. His distillery had already been using grapes in their signature vodka, which gives the liquor a unique character and taste profile. However, Hangar 1 is the first distillery to use smoke-tinged grapes to make wines.
In their new vodka, any residual smokiness was left behind during distillation. The final result came out with a clean flavor with hints of fruit, vanilla, and honey, according to Quillé.
“A lot of people think vodka is supposed to be totally flavorless and totally aromaless, but we are really learning that you can tell the difference between the base materials,” Quillé said.
Their resulting batch turned out 4,800 bottles, which retail for $50 each. This run is a limited edition.