Once you start looking for ways to repurpose things, you can find opportunities everywhere. Take Alex and Monica Villicana, owners of Villicana Winery in Paso Robles. In 2011 Alex came up with the clever idea to take the bleed-off grapes early in the wine process — the saignée, which is often used to make rosé, or worse, just dumped — as the base for distilling spirits. And why not? Eastern Europe uses the potato because it’s cheap and plentiful, not for any intrinsic reasons.
Today, their Re:Find distillery uses 250,000 gallons of grape juice from all over the Central Coast as the heart of its gin and vodkas. That amounts to about 50 acres of vineyard juice that otherwise, Alex explained, “would be thrown away, along with everything that’s gone into it — the diesel, manpower, water.”
Re:Find has been such a success that the Villicanas now make 2,000 cases of spirits, which is equal to their wine production. “It grew more apparent wine was getting shoved into a corner,” said Alex, “so we decided to browse around and see what might be available” as a space for, well, spiritual growth.
A drive past downtown Paso Robles’ Fox Theatre, built in 1922 and vacant since the mid-1980s, piqued their interest. “We assumed there would still be rows of seats and a screen — the whole nine yards,” said Alex. “But then we got inside, and it was just an enormous space, four walls, and beautiful trusses in the ceiling 25 feet from the floor. I just got chills.” That’s because finding a spot to distill isn’t easy: The columns of a still are 18 feet tall.
After the usual haggling, inspections, and checking with the city’s historical society, the Villicanas bought the theater, and they hope to finish the remodel in two years or less. “There’s a good positive energy in there,” said Alex. “If it’s haunted, there’s a good feeling about it.” The theater will become home for their “dark” spirits program, which they hope will include malted barley and rye from a farm in San Miguel.
In the meantime, Re:Find is still open for tasting and purchase at the Villicana Winery (2725 Adelaida Rd., Paso Robles), where the “white” spirit production will remain. And the experiments continue, including a new barrel-finished vodka that you might confuse for a whiskey and a soon-to-be-released kumquat liqueur. “While I love making wine, with wines, it takes years to get rewards,” he said. “The rewards are a lot faster with distilled spirits.”
Find Re:Find in Santa Barbara at BevMo! and the Bottle Shop in Montecito, or ask for it in a cocktail at The Good Lion or Sly’s in Carpinteria. See refinddistillery.com.