If drinking locally made spirits, wine and beer is how you like to show your state pride, your mission is about to get a whole lot easier. Last fall, Nevada’s first commercial estate distillery opened its doors to the public. But it’s fine if you can’t get out to rural Fallon to see Frey Ranch’s beautiful tasting room and gleaming still—Frey Ranch vodka is coming to Las Vegas this spring!
The sprawling farm (1045 Dodge Lane, Fallon, 775-423-4000, FreyRanch.com) has been in the Frey family for generations, producing corn, wheat, barley, rye, alfalfa, oats and hay as feed for a nearby dairy farm (just take a whiff!). The dairy farm feeds the grains to its cows, who happily give back manure for the 2,500-acre farm as well as the vineyard, which was planted in 2001 in an effort to consume less water. (Grapes use 10 percent of what it takes to grow alfalfa.)
Colby Frey, a rare fifth-generation Nevadan, bought the farm from his father in ’07, a year after the family had been granted an experimental distilling license to make brandy from wine they were already producing. (Named for its county, Churchill Vineyards produces riesling, gewürztraminer, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon—nine varietals in all, from white grapes that are grown on property and red ones imported from California.)
Now, before you grab old copies of Vegas Seven and start shouting about Henderson’s own Las Vegas Distillery—we know. They know. And everyone involved are friends. While the Freys might have been legally distilling brandy first, what they couldn’t do was sell their booze; Las Vegas Distillery’s George Racz was the first in the state to do that. Hence, Frey happily takes its place as the state’s first “estate” distillery, meaning that all the raw materials from their distillery were grown on their property. “Then we’ll all succeed,” Colby says.
Located on the site of an old horse corral, the new 4,000-square-foot distillery building features a 500-gallon Vendome copper and brass still. It’s a hybrid of a pot still, column and a continuous still, which allows the Freys—Colby runs the biz with his wife, Ashley, and his dad, Charlie—to add vodka and whiskey to their lineup under the label Frey Ranch. Additionally, there are four 5,000-gallon fermenters, one 5,000-gallon mash cooker and one 5,000-gallon beer well, making Frey Ranch capable of producing 10,000 cases of spirits a month.
Since we can’t all fly to Reno every time we have a thirst for vodka with some flavor and character, Southern Wine & Spirits will have to do the heavy lifting, bringing Frey Ranch vodka—and eventually gin and bourbon—to Las Vegas, where bartenders will no doubt have a field day with their new home-state product. And the vodka does have character. Retailing right now for $25 in the tasting room, it’s creamy on the nose, like fresh half and half; mid-weight on the palate; not stripped of its grainy origins; but still it comes across clean. Whiskey laid down for less than a month had all the same assertive graininess, and hinted toward a bold final product—perhaps sooner than later!
I made the journey myself over the winter. It’s a beautiful, but somewhat long drive from Reno to Fallon—about 45 minutes to an hour. And there is no wine trail out there, no neighbors also hawking wine or spirits so as to make a day of it. If you’re coming to Frey Ranch Estate Distillery and Churchill Winery, you’re coming with a purpose: to tour, taste and spend some time with the Freys, pet the family dog and sit on the porch for a spell. It’s surprisingly easy to get comfortable in one of the rocking chairs, surrounded by a fleet of John Deere equipment and sepia-tone photos of Freys past—it simply doesn’t get any more farm-to-glass than this! Just head back inside when the wind shifts directions and the dairy farm asserts its neighborly presence.