Napa Valley Distillery, Napa, California, USA.
Arthur Hartunian has been a limo driver and a craps dealer in Las Vegas but most of his working life has been involved in the Financial Services Industry, which has included running his own business as an Insurance Agent for AIG. In 2008 with a poor economy, and perhaps fuelled in part by a mid life crisis, he had already thought about what he really wanted to do. He had been creating his own home made Limoncello using Meyer lemons and shop bought Vodka, and became inspired by the positive comments this brought from family and friends. So he moved with his family from Fresno, California to Napa, putting them in the heart of the famous Napa Valley renowned throughout the world for it wine industry. Arthur was now a man on a mission to make and sell his own liquor in Napa Valley.
Setting up a distillery is a costly venture, and to make spirits in any real degree of volume can require a minimum of half a million dollars start-up capital. This makes it a difficult proposition for the truly small-scale producer on a low budget, especially when faced with restrictive State legislation but this is where the true entrepreneur has to get creative. Arthur discovered distributors for the Californian State controlled Liquor Board would only be interested in large-scale producers to be included with the products they carry, however he could self-distribute if the liquor was Brandy based. This got him thinking…
In 2008, in partnership with his wife Lusine (Lulu), they gained a retail licence and released their own Limoncello (winning a Platinum Medal at the World Spirits Competition in 2009) followed by their Napa Vodka Vintage Reserve (making the list for the “Top 50 Spirits in the World” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine). The Vodka is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes (getting around the distribution issue for the Hartunian’s) from a single vintage and estate (possibly making this the world’s first Vintage Vodka) and is bought from an undisclosed Napa Valley winery. This aged wine is then distilled five times and filtered 10 times by Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma (California) under contract for Arthur and Lusine. Since this time their line of spirits have continually grown to provide a burgeoning portfolio.
In 2009 they gained a rectification permit making them the first distillery in the City of Napa since prohibition. During 2015 they hope to become a full distillery and, with the addition of several copper pot stills, plan to bring their spirit production truly in house. Although they have a facility on Walnut Street in Napa, they expect to move to larger premises closer to their retail activities. Arthur is quick to highlight he is a blender of liquor and not a distiller and is seeking a distiller to support the process. Given his background – a businessman - Arthur primarily brings this skill to the enterprise, coupled with an enthusiastic passion for liquor and cocktails (not to mention cooking, cigars and tournament poker).
In 2013 they opened a shop at the Oxbow Public Market and besides their spirits sell a range of premade cocktails, bitters (around 300 at the last count), shrubs, syrups and vintage barware (not to mention tastings, following a change to the law advocated for craft distillers by Arthur). This retail side of the business has blossomed quickly and in 2014 they moved to an even bigger space within the Oxbow Market (found on First Street in Napa).