“Pressed not mashed” may not immediately conjure up elegant craft brandy, vodka, and gin, but it’s a technique central to producing award-winning spirits that taste beyond what you associate with these libations.
One needs to think out of the bottle when embracing such unique aromas and flavors. Dida’s Distillery—say “did-uhs”—is located in Huntly, Virginia and presses grapes rather than mash barley and corn to produce its “water of life.”
“In 1906, our great-grandfather Paul Mariani immigrated to California from Croatia and began farming. Through commitment and passion, it led to the creation of Mariani Fruit Packing Company, a firm still producing high-end dried fruits today. Dida means grandfather in Croatian, and the distillery (Dida’s Distillery) honors his memory,” says distiller Alan Delmare.
The Delmare family knows from grapes having relocated from California in the late 1990s and opening Rappahannock Cellars as the 60th winery in the Old Dominion. Today there are over 310 wineries statewide. The winery produces 15,000 cases of still and sparkling wines annually and oversees one of the largest wine clubs in the state.
Delmare is the son of winery proprietor John Delmare and the force behind the craft spirit side of the house. The “spirit factory” is named in honor of the beloved family member, but the pleasures flowing from its stills are not cast in your grandfather’s—or great grandfather’s—style. These spirited lubricants go well beyond.
Delmare knows grape-based spirits are only as good as the raw material that goes into the still. “We make incredible wines at Rappahannock Cellars, so distilling those wines offers the opportunity to make world-class spirits.”
Delmare has two distilling goals at Dida’s Distillery: “Wine regions worldwide produce spirits made from grapes. Think Cognac in France, Grappa in Italy, Pisco in Peru, and more. Why isn’t the U.S. noted for such spirits given its vibrant wine industry? My goal is to change that situation.
“Secondly, forget what you know about brandy. This is not your grandfather’s brandy. It’s an incredible fine libation born in the U.S. that can rival the taste of the best bourbons.” How so? Cognac is typically aged in toasted wine barrels. But if you age it in both charred and toasted barrels, you get a balanced bourbon-like palate effect. “Guests say they love our bourbon and but we quickly let them know its brandy produced and aged in a different style.”
At Dida’s Distillery, the aging technique produces rich, deep, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, toffee, and coffee notes. The surprises continue as guests sample the vapor distilled gins, flavored with a host of botanicals such as coriander, angelica, orange peel, lemon peel, rose hips, elderberry, orris root, cardamom and grains of paradise. The vodka is vacuum distilled with all-natural cinnamon sticks.
Delmare believes it’s an exciting time for Virginia to be introducing Americans to spirits like brandy that have largely been ignored by the consumer. “There’s an untapped potential for unique distilled spirits made from high-quality grapes and wine.”
If you are traveling along the Virginia Spirits Trail, you can also check out KO Distilling or The Virginia Distillery’s Virginia Whisky Experience.