New 'Spirit' of Nevada

FALLON, Nev. About an hour outside of Reno, down a quintessential country road, is Churchill Vineyards. The estate winery is managed by husband and wife team, Colby and Ashley Frey, and it is the only winery in Nevada where the wine is grown, produced, and bottled all in one location. In fact, the only time the product ever leaves the property, is when distributors or customers pick up a bottle.

But the Frey's have also been holding on to a delicious secret.

Walk into the winery's tasting room and you'll see rows of French oak barrels. Inside the barrels is Nevada's first legally distilled spirit- a five year old brandy.

"Most vodkas and brandy are made from wheat, rye, barley, and corn, and it's a no-brainer for us because we've been growing wheat, rye, barley, and corn in Nevada since the 1850's," Colby said. "It's kind of neat to grow it yourself and maybe sacrifice quantity for quality."

Colby and his wife are the fifth generation of Frey's to live and work at the Frey ranch. The native Nevadans have roots going back to 1854, but now Ashley and Colby are looking to the future.

They have been federally licensed to produce liquor since 2006, but up until this year, they haven't been able to share what they've created.

"Our brandy has a nice, spicy flavor," Colby said. "It makes a really good Picon Punch, and a really good Hot Toddy."

But no one knew that, because Nevada law had previously banned people from legally making and distributing liquor.

Thanks to the passage of Assembly Bill 153 this year, the Frey's suddenly owned the first legal distillery in the state, and can now sell their brandy.

"It's definitely a game changer," Ashley said. "We have all of the resources here on the farm to make a great product from Nevada resources."

The Frey's are not the only ones to take advantage of AB 153.

Back in Reno, long-time friends Brandon Wright and Chris Shanks recently became the new owners of the historic Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad Passenger Depot on East Fourth Street.

"Chris and I were very quietly keeping our eyes on that for a while," Brandon said.

Brandon and Chris had plans to open a craft brewery inside the old Depot, but thanks to the passage of AB 153, they are now planning to become the state's first combination brewery and distillery.

Brandon says they want to be known for their whiskey, but they also have plans to explore other spirits.

"We even talked about doing a Picon liquor for Nevada's unofficial state drink," he said..

Vacant and falling into disarray since the 1990's, the three story building needs extensive renovations. But Chris and Brandon plan to keep many aspects that make the Depot unique, including the exposed brick and natural oak floors.

They also hope their new business, located next to Louis' Basque Corner and across the street from Lincoln Lounge, will help turn the notorious Fourth Street around.

"Chris and I are both Reno natives and we both want to see this part of town come back to life," Brandon said. "The Fourth Street corridor could be another great part of town."

But Fourth Street isn't the only place that can benefit from the business AB 153 allows.

The Frey's are hoping the distilling business will help many of our local farmers.

"The small family farms are dying," Ashley said. "And it's sad because we grown good quality grain here."

"It's not the Fertile Crescent, but we have all of the corn, wheat and grain," Chris Wright said. "Those are all the primary ingredients in liquor."

And just as people travel to Napa for the wine, these new distillers hope Northern Nevada will soon become the destination for people who enjoy craft spirits.

"It would be cool if we could get our own brandy trail," Ashley said. "That's what we are trying to do here. If we could create a tourist destination here in Fallon, I just think that would be so neat."

The Depot plans to open next summer, but you don't have to wait to try our state's first legal liquor. The Frey's are hosting a free tasting at their property in Fallon from noon until 4 p.m. Saturday, November 9th.