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New distillery should raise spirits in Naramata

Dawn and Doug Lennie outside the site they
Dawn and Doug Lennie outside the site they've selcted for Naramata's first distillery.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

Construction of a new distillery should raise spirits in Naramata.

Dawn Lennie and her husband are nearing the end of the regulatory approval phase and hoping to open the doors of Legend Distilling later this year.

She said the idea of making spirits with products from Naramata and elsewhere in B.C. has been aging for nearly four years while awaiting loosening of liquor laws that govern small distilleries.

“In March (the B.C. government) changed the regulations to allow farm-gate sales for distilleries using 100 per cent B.C.-grown ingredients in their products, so it brings it more in line with what the wineries are allowed to do with the tasting rooms and that sort of thing,” Lennie explained.

“So that was a big difference, because that kind of side-tracks (the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch) and all the mark-ups, so we can sell directly to restaurants and private liquor stores and from our own tasting room.”

There are already a handful of distilleries in the Okanagan, but Legend will be the first in Naramata.

Lennie, who previously owned the Bench Artisan Food Market in Penticton, expects the new business to complement the existing wine tourism industry around Naramata.

Work is already underway on Legend’s headquarters in a former doctor’s office on Naramata Road near the intersection with Arawana Road.  But despite the property’s commercial zoning, a distillery is not permitted, so the business still requires an amendment from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

Karla Kozakevich, the RDOS director for Naramata, said the board is expected to give final approval this week after a favourable public hearing in December.

“Some people at first had concerns about noise and hours of operation, and we explained that (with the property) being commercially zoned for the past 30 years or so, a pub could go in there (or) a restaurant. Anything that fits commercial zoning could go in and be open to midnight,” Kozakevich said.

“The Lennies plan to just be sort of like a 9-to-5 operation,” she continued, adding the creation of new jobs will be welcome in the community.

Lennie said the business will likely start with two staff members to run a tasting room, plus a part-timer to help her husband, Doug, on the distillery side.

Legend’s initial offerings will include vodka and gin, with whiskies and other spirits expected to be available in subsequent years.

Besides the zoning amendment from the RDOS, the distillery is also awaiting clearance from the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch.

The best-case scenario would see the business open in time for the May long weekend, Lennie said, which would require about a month of lead time to have vodka and gin available for sale.

That would also give the proprietors time to firm up marketing plans based on the distillery’s name, chosen for its nod to the colourful history associated with booze.

“There’s a lot of legend and stories around the production of alcohol in general, so we’ll probably play on some of that in the names of products,” Lennie said.

“We want to have fun with it.”

 

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