California Wine Country distilleries, cannabis businesses pivot to help fight coronavirus

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Stories of high demand and short supply of hand sanitizers may lead some to panic but for some North Bay distillers it is leading to another thought - inspiration.

On Wednesday afternoon, Crispin Cain, head distiller at Tamar Distillery in Mendocino County, delivered disinfectant spray it produced at its Mendocino County facility to Serenity Villa assisted-living center in Sebastopol. It was part of a campaign by a new locally formed group called Disinfect Connect that seeks to link distillers with health care providers.

“We are grateful to be able to step up and supply this life saving resource,” the distillery posted on its Facebook page Wednesday. “We will be grateful to get back to making Gin when this is all over.”

And 24 hours after conceiving the idea of using their supplies and equipment to create sanitizer, Healdsburg boutique distillers Sarah and Jose Opatz had a new side business producing sanitizer along with their spirits line.

They gave away bottles on Saturday with at least 100 people showing up at their tasting room for to-go pickups. Some of them recently were let go from jobs as a result of the tanking economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The community has been incredible. Most people who came in also picked up a bottle or two of spirits,” said Sarah Opatz, who started Young and Yonder with her husband in 2013 in Cloverdale and moved to Healdsburg four years later. “It’s kept our business alive and growing. ... We just wanted everybody to stay clean; we had the supply and ingredients.”

Next door in Napa County, Napa Valley Distillery is making its own sanitizer and giving it away for free, the Napa Valley Register reported.

“We figure the more hands that are sanitized the less the virus will spread and the sooner we can get back to normal,” business owner Arthur Hartunian told the newspaper.

Hartunian said he got the idea to make and give away the sanitizer after his own craft spirits business had to stop welcoming customers for tastings due to the pandemic.He’s had to furlough five workers who normally work at the distillery’s tasting rooms at the Oxbow Public Market and its main location at 2485 Stockton St. in Napa.

And in Richmond, Falcon Spirits distiller Farid Dormishian is converting his Richmond boutique operation into a production line into making hand sanitizer, Bay Area News Group reported.

“We’re a tiny distillery but this is an easy way we can help everybody,” Dormishian told the news group, who is creating the gooey substance for local first responders only. He has an order from the City of Berkeley for 1,000 bottles. “The sooner we can get rid of this (virus) the better.”

On Sunday, Solona County-based Heretic Brewing owner-brewer Jamil Zainasheff announced on Twitter that he and his crew received the government green light to start making what he calls Germ Juice, planning on selling it to the public during their brewery’s take-out hours, 3 to 7 p.m. daily.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, cannabis processor CannaCraft announced it’s making 5,000 1-ounce tubes of hand sanitizer to be donated to nonprofits, customers, employees and essential businesses. Kai’s Virgin Vapor, a Santa Rosa producer of vaping cartridges, also has produced its own organic hand sanitizer that it’s selling for $3.99 in single-ounce bottles on its website.

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Beyond hand sanitizer, Santa Rosa textile maker TekTailor, chief executive Steffen Kuehr is trying to expand the product line of police protective gear and recycled messenger bags to make reusable surgical masks for local hospitals.

“I see an opportunity here to bring some new revenue source, at the same time helping out some of our facilities,” Kuehr said. “The idea is to use a local factory to react to local demand.”

Like Young & Yonder, Prohibition Spirits had to shut its tasting room last week at Cornerstone Sonoma. Even before closing, Fred Groth, the co-owner, decided to start production of hand sanitizer given the relative ease for his distillery to make it. But he wanted it to be the exact opposite of that high-octane Purell smell. Instead, he created different smells suited for a high-end cocktail bar such as key lime margarita, the old fashioned and pina colada. Each sells for $6 per 2-ounce spray.

“We wanted to make them like things you want to drink,” Groth said. “That’s a happy smell for sure.”

The product sold well before his tasting room closed and it’s become a popular seller on Prohibition’s website. Word spread quickly about the unique product. One Bay Area emergency services department employee drove over to Sonoma to pick up a batch because of the scarcity of the hand-sanitizing products on retail shelves.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

This story was modified from the original with reports from regional media.

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