A spirit true to the vine
With a big smile on his face and confidence in his stride, local winemaker and fifth-generation Nevadan Colby Frey entertained visitors on Saturday who drove to the sprawling estate wanting a sip of Churchill Vineyards’ new brandy.
Frey and his wife, Ashley, opened the first case of the first batch of brandy legally distilled at the Frey Ranch south of Fallon. The creation has been years in the making, going back to 2006. The Freys, though, began making their premium wine in 2001.
“The brandy had been in the barrels aging for five years before we bottled it,” Frey said, referring the product as Very Special Old Pale or V.O.S.P.
Visitors inside the winery never tasted brandy that was as pristine as the batch bottled only 10 days ago and labeled last Friday.
“I wanted to have it (bottled and labeled) done by Nevada Day, but at least it’s done before the holidays,” said Frey, who bought his parents winery and distillery several years ago.
The Freys have also scheduled another open house on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. The winery at 1045 Dodge Lane will extend its free wine and brandy tastings and a 20 percent case discount for wine will be offered. Frey said brandy’s color evolves from the natural amber hue, “characterizing the extraction of the oak and flavor from the French oak barrels.”
Those who attended the first open house told Frey he produced a good brandy. Richard Terrin and Dr. Karen Abbott, both from Reno, were among the first visitors to taste the spirit
Terrin said the Churchill Vineyards brandy is probably one of the best he has tasted. Abbott asked others if they could taste the smoke in it.
Both said the brandy has a good texture.
“One of the things I can compare this to is Korbel Brandy,” said Terrin, who told Frey that he definitely has a quality product.
In addition to his wife assisting the operations, Frey said Russell Wedlake has been helping with the day-to-day decisions and distilling the next batch of brandy.
Although the brandy is the first legally distilled spirit in the Silver State, Frey has his sights set on building Nevada’s first legal whiskey distillery, which he hopes to have operational in early 2014. Frey grew the key ingredients for whiskey — wheat, rye, corn and barley — which will be stored in silos northeast of the main building.
Like the grapes grown for the various selections of wines and brandy, Frey said all ingredients are locally grown and will be used in the whiskey and eventually vodka.
Becoming a brandy maker coincides with that of the wine operation since white or red grapes are used for both. Frey said if the wine is not perfect, however, then the vineyards will distill it into brandy. He said Syrah grapes are mostly used in brandy distilling.
Frey said each bottle sells for $25 and six bottles come in a case. He currently said several stores in Fallon will sell the brandy including Red Zinnia and The Beverage Market in the former Raley’s building, but he is also talking to other stores to sell the brandy.
Wine connoisseurs already know the pride and care the Freys take with their winemaking. It is that same philosophy now driving the brandy production and eventually the whiskey distilling
“We want to have an estate whiskey where it is produced and bottled in the same area,” Frey explained. “When you buy in the open market, you don’t know where it came from. Here, we have total control on the entire process.”
Frey is an entrepreneur who knows what and how he wants to nurture the business.
“We know what we are doing and can do it on a large commercial scale,” he pointed out, adding that he has taken many classes on distilling and has toured many distilleries in Kentucky.
He also traveled to Kirby, Wyo., to tour the small-batch whiskey distillery there.
“They have a nice distillery there,” Frey said of the operation, which began several years ago and is 12 miles south of Thermopolis in the middle of the state.