Chris Hanson of Hanson of Sonoma Distillery wins Wine, Beer & Spirits Industry Awards master distiller category
A winner of the master distiller category in North Bay Business Journal’s beverage alcohol industry awards says the company is fortunate to have grown consistently since it began.
How did you get into the industry? And what has been your career track since?
My brother (Brandon Hanson) and I were influenced by the surge in the craft brewery movement and the art of distillation. We wanted to make something different than what existed in the spirits market.
We chose to make an organic vodka, using our local resource (grapes), and wanted to make an American-style single malt whiskey.
We wanted to have a distillery and tasting room that people could visit where we could share our passion and story and show our process to consumers.
It’s been a long learning process, but we are fortunate to have been growing consistently since we first came to market
How have you or your company influenced the industry in the last five years? What are key accomplishments?
We decided to make a 100% certified organic and gluten free vodka from grapes – values that were ingredient based and more in the food world than the spirits world.
Many people thought no one would be interested in organic, grape-based gluten free vodka, with real fruit infusions. We feel like we were in the right place at the right time. Those distinctions help us stand out from many of the traditional spirits
We have grown our wholesale distribution into most U.S. states, and that has helped us survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
What changes have you noticed in your industry in the last five years, and how have you and/or your company moved to capitalize on or adjust to those changes?
As the spirits industry changes around us, we’ve chosen to focus on what we are known for making well.
Recently, a lot of our time is dedicated to getting our message, our process and our family story out to the consumers through our tasting rooms, social media and being in the broader market in most states.
How has the pandemic affected your business? What has been the impact of restrictions on visitors, closure of restaurants and bars, surge in online shopping, and rise in digital consumer experiences and marketing?
COVID-19 had drastically changed our business, as it has all businesses.
Our production has never been shut down, but early on our tasting room was shut down and we focused on making hand sanitizer.
We donated to many first responders, hospitals, and our local community.
Since then, we make our best effort to do everything we can to safely offer a place where people can escape from home for a meal and a handmade cocktail.
We’ve focused on creating new products and selling our products curb side to go, and we’ve taken this time to improve our tasting room offerings and experiences with our new outside tasting area and are offering full meals from our extraordinary Chef Marteen.
How have you responded to the challenges and opportunities of the virus-influenced economic downturn? How much are these measures making up the difference in sales?
Most of the time, we are doing everything we can to be better as a company.
During COVID-19, we still have the same attitude, but we’ve had to get far more creative. All of the work we put in is to help keep our tasting room doors open and our staff employed during this time.
Our losses have been minimized, we are in a very different place. Some would say we are in a stronger place as COVID-19 has required us to be far more creative than we would have been without it.
Which of your adjustments and initiatives do you think you’ll continue past the pandemic, and why?
We will continue to expand our offerings, and our outside tastings as well as offer full meals. We will continue to keep the bigger long term picture in mind and help out and contribute to our community when we can. We will continue to partner with many of the areas great food and product makers.
How the North Bay wildfires and power shut are-offs affecting the outlook for your business?
The wildfires and power shut-offs over last few years have been challenging to everyone and devastating to many in our community and in our surrounding community’s.
We appreciate everything firefighters, police, and first responders do in response to all these crisis. Still, we are happy to be in Sonoma, wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, and feel good about our future in Sonoma.