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The state's only spirits distillery

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By Carol A. Clark

After persevering through a maze of bureaucracy for nearly three years, Ron and Olha Dolin now have the distinction of owning the only licensed distillery in New Mexico. “We’re the first people in the state’s history to be licensed,” Ron said during a recent distillery tour. “Los Alamos County and the county council were very helpful and put up no roadblocks.”The Dolins’ Don Quixote Distillery is located on the grounds behind their Pajarito Acres home in White Rock. The brandies they produce, including grappas and piscos, are now on sale at La Vista Restaurant in the Hilltop House Hotel, in upscale restaurants throughout Santa Fe and Albuquerque, in the liquor section of Smith’s Food and Drug Centers in Los Alamos and White Rock, and in liquor stores throughout New Mexico.The Dolins released their first batch of liquor in November. A bottle of their product retails for $34-$49.99, they said. Along with Don Quixote Distillery, Dolin Distillery Inc. does business under the name Spirit of Santa Fe.“The two of us building this together is the best part of the business,” Olha said during a recent visit to her distillery.She and her husband began their journey into the distillery business in 2003. Olha is a native of Ukraine. After the Soviet Union broke up, Olha’s father, a ship captain, learned to make vodka to attract ship hands to work for him. Through her family, Olha became somewhat familiar with the process.The couple married six years ago. Olha and Ron, who holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, soon merged their knowledge and talents to create their unique distillery. “We combine French technology with American moonshine ingenuity,” Ron said, laughing.Their operation began to take shape after Ron and Olha spoke with the owners of Black Mesa Winery in Velarde. They were given a batch of grapes, and some three years later, officially licensed, made brandy and sold it back to Black Mesa.The couple have purchased several pieces of equipment from Balagna Winery of White Rock, which closed last year. They also purchased French oak barrels from Gruet Winery in Albuquerque. After the winery uses the barrels for two years to make champagne, Gruet buys new barrels and sells their old ones to Ron and Olha. The couple are very appreciative because the barrels develop a rich flavor from the champagne, they said.Their operation was featured in American Distillery Magazine in June. A visiting judge tasted their Grappa Malvasia Bianca and suggested it was of such quality that they should enter it in an international competition, Ron said. Grappa is an Italian after dinner drink for the digestion, Olha said. Ron added that their blue corn vodka has a much smoother taste than a Polish rye or Russian wheat, adding that it’s much sweeter as well.The unique features of their distillery include White Rock’s high altitude. “You won’t get that cooked or burnt taste with our product because water and alcohol boil almost 20 degrees cooler in White Rock than at sea level,” Ron said. “Also, we don’t do any post-distilling alterations. Some distillers use glycerin to make their product taste smoother but we eliminate the need for additives by processing the way we do. Because we’re smaller, we’re trying to be as organic as possible.”Ron has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for 25 years and said he doesn’t plan to give up his day job anytime soon. He does plan to continue working with Olha during his free time. “Our goal is to produce 5,000 cases of product annually, which equates to 25,000-30,000 gallons of wine per year,” he said.The Dolins also have a winery license and will be launching a port line this year. “We will be the only port producer in the United States making our own wine and brandy for the port,” he said.Ron and Olha live on a three-acre spread with their children, Joshua, Sasha and Nicholas. What started out as a hobby has developed into a passion and the operation has now outgrown the couple’s property. They hope to find eight acres, preferably in Los Alamos, on which to construct a much larger facility. Their search may require going down in the valley, Ron said, if they can’t find land on the Hill.Ron also maintains an avid interest in public service. In 2006, he unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Tom Udall D-N.M.,  for his seat in New Mexico’s 3rd congressional district.While federal rules are updated and contain different requirements, New Mexico has one set of rules dating back to prohibition in the 1920s. “The next guy will have it much easier,” Ron said, laughing.He added that because northern New Mexico was the first wine- and spirit-producing region in the United States, dating back to the 1500s, “it means we’re bringing back the first manufacturing business to the region.”