A few years ago, Westport Winery co-owner Kim Roberts and her daughter Carrie traveled around the country checking out distillers and were “inspired,” said Roberts.
“We decided we’re going to start a distillery and name it Ocean’s Daughter,” she said.
“Pirates and scalawags welcome” is the theme of the place. Its motto: “She drinks like a fish. He swears like a sailor.”
Roberts and her husband, Blain, founded the winery in 2008 and are both all-in on the distillery. Their son, Dana, the winery’s head winemaker, will leap into the art of distilling. It, like the winery itself, will be a true family affair.
And it is indeed “a leap of faith,” said Roberts. It’s illegal to distill spirits without a license, so you can’t tinker around with recipes beforehand. And you need to have a still and a building to house the distillery before you can get your bond. Which you need to get the license.
In mid-June, Roberts had spent a morning finalizing the purchase of the distillery’s still.
“The still is Aladdin’s lamp for us,” said Roberts, the key to everything else distillery-related. “We can’t get a bond until we get the still and we can’t get a state license until we get the bond.” That’s typically about a 6-month process, said Roberts.
Roberts has decided to buy American.
“There’s a lot of stills made worldwide, but we wanted to go with an American-made still,” she said. “It costs a little more but I’d rather partner with a company that will have our backs.”
That doesn’t mean the family is twiddling its thumbs as all of the required pieces of the distillery puzzle come together. They have over the years developed local and regional relationships that can help them prepare as they run the red-tape gauntlet.
“We’re lucky, when we first opened our (wine) tasting room in Cannon Beach, Oregon about three years ago we went next door to the distillery and they have been an excellent resource,” said Roberts. She also credits the Wishkah River Distillery in Aberdeen as a willing source of information.
Dana Roberts is no stranger to a startup. He, like the rest of the family, knew next to nothing about wine, let alone wine making, when the family decided to start the winery more than 10 years ago. Dana went to Washington State University to learn the art of wine making, and now the Westport Winery has more than 500 medals — awards from wine competitions — for their selections.
“I’m looking forward to this new challenge,” said Dana Roberts. “Now that we have an assistant winemaker it will allow me to branch out in my personal and professional education.”
Roberts, an artist with two architecture degrees, is designing the Mermaid Room spirits tasting room, which she said will be a goldfish bowl-style carved into a portion of the winery’s Sea Glass Grill. Another regulation requires the tasting room have a separate entrance; other than that her two architectural degrees and natural flair for the arts will lead the design.
Roberts, who likes to classify her family as “hillbilly beach people,” is also designing and creating original art for the labels.
“Sirena, Selkie, these are different cultural names for mermaids,” she said. “Their stories cross a lot of cultures.”
The Robertses hope to have their distillery up and running around Oct. 1. Once distilling can begin, Roberts said a vodka can be produced in a little more than a week. Whiskey takes longer.
Existing infrastructure and equipment at the winery could help move things along.
“We can share some equipment between the winery and distillery,” she said. Tanks, filters, forklifts, things like that needed for the wine making process can be shared with the distillery. The still itself will sit inside an existing building on the property at 1 S. Arbor Rd.
“With the whiskey, we have a whole lot of barrels out of wine production with no place to go,” she said. Until now; they can be used to age the whiskey.
The majority of ingredients will come from local sources, some more local than others. The family has a wheat grower source in eastern Washington. The vast gardens on the Westport Winery grounds will also add some flavor to the spirits.
“We want to do flavor infusing,” said Roberts. “We grow lots of strawberries and blueberries, and we live in the middle of the cranberry coast.” In honor of the region’s cranberries, the distillery will craft a cranberry liqueur named Berried Treasure.
Botanicals will prove a big boost to gin varieties.
“In the gardens we have lots of botanicals, and gin is all about them,” said Roberts. Lavender, mint, juniper and more will lend their flavors to the distillery’s selections.
“Mom is already working in our gardens to gather the botanicals for Meermin Gin,” said Carrie Roberts. “Meermin” is a Dutch term for Mermaid.
The family will produce vodka, gin, whiskey, agave (tequila) and rum.
“While my parents like cocktails with umbrellas, Dana and I prefer sipping top-shelf spirits, so we’re working on both ends of the spectrum,” said Carrie Roberts. The family did a lot of mermaid research to come up with the names of the spirits they will create.
“My favorite is Maighdeaan-mhara Whiskey,” said Carrie Roberts. “Dana loves the Nayada Vodka. Dad is into the Sirena Rum so he can make his favorite Mai Tai recipes.”
When it comes to the creation and operation of the distillery, as it is with the winery, every member of the family will bring their own ideas to the table and, while their vision may not always be the same, they all work together to get a favorable result.
“We don’t always row in the same direction,” said Roberts. “For the most part we find the path, and we realize every person in the family brings ideas to the table.”
She said when some of the family doesn’t see eye to eye, another will step up and “look at it a different way and really crack the code.”
Roberts attributes much of the winery’s success with the consistent support of the South Beach community.
“From the beginning it was our dream to teach our kids to love the community, love the land, and love enterprise,” said Blain Roberts. The distillery is “one more step in our efforts to achieve this goal.”