by Tamara Scully
Located in Colorado’s aesthetically pleasing North Fork Valley, a region known for it’s fruit, this certified biodynamic and certified organic farm – complete with its own winery and distillery – crafts beverages with their own fruits and those grown by neighboring certified organic growing producers.
The exquisite fruits grown in the valley are transformed into a variety of alcoholic beverages, enhanced by the small batch production and pure water. “Our approach in the cellar and distillery is really simple, whole fruit fermentations in small, stainless vats; no added yeast; no other additives other than a small amount of sulfites when bottling. We’re always trying to express the pure qualities of the fruit and botanicals,” founder Lance Hanson said.
Hanson and his wife Anna have 70 acres in western Colorado. They farm 11 acres of hops, 18 acres of vineyard, have sheep, goats, cows and chickens. The farm is home to the winery and the distillery, which by law must be separate businesses, all of which function under the Jack Rabbit Hill Farm “umbrella,” Hanson said.
The quality of the beverages produced at Jack Rabbit Hill Farm begins with their farming practices. They rely on natural, farming methods, such as cover cropping and composting, along with biodynamic preparations designed to enhance the fertility of the soil. A main tenet of biodynamic farming is the elimination, as much as possible, of off-farm inputs, creating a farm where each piece is an integral part of the whole.
Hanson credits biodynamic growing practices with creating plants which are “stronger and more resilient and we think this translates into a better piece of fruit.”
Grapes grown on the farm include Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Meunier, for making their wines, as well as their grappa. Their own Chambourcin grapes are used in the vodka, and Vignoles in the bitters. The farm’s hops are used in their New Avalon Cider. They consider their fruit to be “craft farmed”, grown in small blocks, with the utmost attention paid to growing practices.
Apples, peaches, pears and additional grapes are purchased from nearby Ela Family Farms, Fortunate Orchards, Osito Orchards, Gunnison River Farms and Dill Farm. Cider, gin and brandies are made with these fruits. And each batch of those beverages utilizes a large amount of fruit.
“Lots of fruit goes into every bottle of wine, cider and spirits. Our brandies, for example, have about 30 pounds of fruit in every bottle,” Hanson said.
Small batches are the hallmark of both the Jack Rabbit Hill Farm wines and their distillery products. Thirty pounds of fruit in a 375 ml bottle, native yeast fermentations, and batches that do not exceed 2,000 liters, equate to truly handcrafted beverages.
Spirits and Wines
The Peak Spirits Farm Distillery at Jack Rabbit Hill Farm produces CapRock organic gin, vodka and brandy, as well as biodynamic grappa. The CapRock name originated from the pure, soft water from the CapRock formation, with an elevation of 10,500 feet. Located in Grand Mesa, a mere 20 miles from Peak Spirits Farm Distillery, this water creates a distinctive, smooth product.
CapRock Vodka is made from grapes that are fermented whole – including the skins and seeds – without any added yeast. The vodka is twice distilled; using certified organic Romanian winter wheat distillate. Gin is crafted from Jonathan apples, plus a dozen different fruits, flowers, seeds and spices, and the Romanian winter wheat distillate. All ingredients are fresh, and distilled slowly under low steam pressure. Whole fruit mashes are used to make CapRock brandies.
“We just feel we are making a better product because our source fruit is, we feel, tastier, more expressive, and more complex,” Hanson said. “I think it all comes back to the quality of the fruit we’re growing in our valley.”
The winery itself is certified organic and biodynamic. The mountain terroir is the guiding force behind the varieties of grapes they grow, and the wines they make. Ten acres of grapes are used for the production of the farm wines. With organic compost and biodynamic preparations, along with organic sulphur – which is used both as a farming input and a winemaking input – these wines are pure, simple, wild-fermented, whole-berry wines. All of the wines are aged in neutral, French oak barrels.
The New Avalon Cider is a combination of farm-grown hops, wild-fermented apples and rosebuds. It is aged in the wine barrels. A dry cider, it is bubbly and pale.
Another winery product is their Wine Tapestry wine kegs, which serve the restaurant industry. Hanson was a pioneer in urging Colorado legislators to allow keg wine sales to restaurants. Wine by the glass – straight from the five-gallon, stainless steel keg – offers benefits to the winemaker, the restaurant owner, and the customer, as kegs are both economical and environmentally friendly alternatives to selling bottled wines to the restaurant industry.
Simplicity is the common denominator in all of the products from Jack Rabbit Hill Farm. Whether it’s growing the crops or crafting a wide variety of beverages, the farm is the epitome of simplicity. Low input farming and beverage making leads to a complexity of tastes, textures, flavors and aromas that no complicated formulas and added ingredients or steps could ever hope to duplicate.
“There’s really no magic in our product practices, we just insist on sourcing super-expressive fruit which we know, based on our own experience, comes from low-input farming practices.”
Jack of all trades
by Tamara Scully
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