Jeff Duckhorn of Sonoma County's Purple Wine + Spirits wins distiller category of beverage industry awards
Jeff Duckhorn has transformed from a number-crunching hobby beverage maker to head distiller of Purple Wine + Spirits, one of the California's largest whiskey producers. He's a winner of Wine, Beer + Spirits Industry Awards for 2019.
The Business Journal asked the Purple team about how Duckhorn's has helped position the startup distillery as a leader of the local craft spirits movement.
What's his background?
Jeff Duckhorn is the head distiller of Sonoma County based Purple Wine + Spirits and is locally known as a number cruncher gone rogue. Jeff is a UC Berkeley grad with a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental economics and policy.
He began his career at Purple in 2011 working in the finance department but he always identified as maker, experimenting with everything from homebrewing to breadmaking for several years. When the owner of Purple, Derek Benham, built out his distillery in 2014, Jeff received the opportunity to leave finance and turn his passion into his profession. Over the last five years, Jeff has taken over the role of head distiller and become the creative force behind all sourcing, distilling, blending and aging of spirits across several categories at Purple. He’s constantly experimenting with new ingredients, refining his processes, and expanding his knowledge whenever possible.
What's the impact your company has had on the industry in the last five years?
Since 2001, Purple has been building wine brands, with our company founder Derek Benham as the force behind brands such as Blackstone Merlot and Mark West pinot noir. Five years ago, Purple broke ground on a passion project and embarked on a journey into a different side of the industry with the build out of our distillery in Graton.
In 2016, we launched our first spirit, Benham’s Gin, and in 2017, we launched Redwood Empire Whiskey.
In five short years since we started in spirits, we’ve become one of the largest whiskey producers in California and we have the largest inventory of aging whiskey in the state. Earlier this year, Redwood Empire Whiskey added two new products to the line-up, debuted brand-new packaging, and launched a national partnership with nonprofit Trees for the Future to plant one tree for every bottle of whiskey sold.
Since the announcement of this partnership in summer 2019, we’ve planted over 50,000 trees. Jeff and his small distilling team are committed to producing the highest quality spirits in sustainably responsible ways, constantly striving to increase efficiency and push creative boundaries.
What are the accomplishments you can list to support that impact on the industry?
- Largest whiskey producer in California.
- Largest inventory of aging whiskey in California.
- 50,000 trees planted with our whiskey brand Redwood Empire Whiskey and nonprofit Trees for the Future since the program launch in summer 2019.
What changes have you noticed in your industry in the last five years, and how have you moved to capitalize on those changes?
Sustainability, responsible production, and product transparency are at the forefront of conversations around craft spirits.
Since we started in the spirits industry five years ago, these principles have been at the heart of the way our distillery operates and the products we create. We’ve been fortunate in that we have not needed to capitalize on these industry trends, they simply align with our practices and ethos.
Additionally, there is a wider array of raw materials and barrel options available to choose from. We are constantly trying new mash recipes and looking for interesting ways to set ourselves apart. From using local specialty malts in our whiskies to sourcing Meyer lemons from our own backyards and zesting and distilling this essence fresh, we feel that better ingredients lead to better spirits. It’s such an exciting time to be a distiller!