Mar 19, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Ever since Ben Reilley resigned from his top position at Owera Vineyards last August, his friends and fans in and around Cazenovia have been wondering what he was going to do next professionally. Surely, it must be some project connected to wine and spirits, they thought.
And they were right.
After six months of intense work, Ben and his wife Shioban have announced their new endeavor: a small batch, hand-crafted spirits and wines business to be named “Life of Reilley Distilling and Wine Company.” And with their temporary production location secured in Trush Business Park in Nelson and a handmade, copper still currently being produced, the Reilleys anticipate the first bottle of their new endeavor to hit the streets of Cazenovia on July 4.
“When we left Owera we had no idea what we were going to do,” said Shioban, who is a nurse administrator but volunteered her time at Owera during the years Ben worked there. “We had an absolute blast traveling around, meeting people, doing wine tastings. Since we loved the craft beverage industry so much, we decided to start our own business.”
“The void we saw here [in Madison County] is in distilling, and we thought it would be great to complete the beverage craft industry here in Caz [with a distillery business],” Ben said. “And the response so far has been incredible, overwhelming. We have distributors calling us from around the state asking when they can sell our product. It’s very flattering.”
Distilling means separating the components of a liquid as a means of purification and can be done with anything, oils, grains, fruit, etc. Distilleries once were ubiquitous around Cazenovia and Madison County in the 19th century because bars all made their own spirits, said Ben, who said he has been working closely with Madison County Historian Matthew Urtz on the history of distilling in the area.
The Reilleys will begin their distillery using local apples — Critz Farms apples, to be exact. The Reilleys have partnered with Matt and Juanita Critz, owners of Critz Farms, and will use their Critz Farms hard cider as their base to distill and from that create their Life of Reilley hand-crafted premium vodkas, which will be straight as well as flavored vanilla, raspberry and a vanilla-raspberry blend, Ben said.
The Reilleys, in fact, placed the order for their first still last week.
“This will be the first legally owned still in Madison County since the 1850s,” Ben said. The business, in fact, will be the first and only distillery in Madison County currently operational. “We’re hugely proud of that,” he said.
But vodka is only the beginning for Life of Reilley, and the company will eventually move into winemaking and already have their wine license, Shioban said.
Life of Reilley wine will be made by contracting with Finger Lakes wineries that will make private-label wines for the Reilleys based on the Reilleys’ specifications, in what is called the “custom crush” method. For all Life of Reilley winemaking, Ben and Shioban will direct the entire composition; they will choose the grapes, the yeast strains, the fermentation and aging times and every other aspect of production — they just will not be physically making the wine themselves.
But the local production of Life of Reilley wines is in the ultimate business plan, Ben said, as is the production of craft sodas.
“We see an opportunity here … we don’t know the growth potential, but all signs are pointing through the roof,” Ben said.
For now, Life of Reilley will be located temporarily in an 800-square-foot space in the Pelco building in Trush Business Park on Route 20, just across the Cazenovia town line. It is not a retail shop or customer location, only a production facility where they anticipate making less than 50 cases per month, or what qualifies as a “micro distillery.”
“Basically we have to sell it to make more,” Shioban said.
“It is a bootstrap operation,” Ben agreed.
All Life of Reilley sales for now will be done wholesale and at farmers markets and festivals across the Central New York area, Ben said. Ultimately, the Reilleys hope to find a permanent business location somewhere in Cazenovia.
But Life of Reilley is more than just a business to the Reilleys, it is a way of life. As they state on their website, “Life of Reilley is a family business, a lifelong dream and our kids college fund! For us, Living the Life is: a hot summer day cruisin’ in the Jeep with the top down, swimming in Cazenovia Lake, a cookout with friends and a late night campfire.”
And family does mean family — The Reilley children, Paige, 5, and Taven, 7, are integral parts of the business, helping to choose label and logo designs as well as the business name.
The logos and designs all were created by local graphic designer Peter Levins of Lot 5 Studios.
The Reilleys already have a line of merchandise (shirts, hats and stickers) up on their website celebrating their insouciant philosophy, a philosophy that shines through in their company motto: “You’re not living the life until you’re drinking the life.”
“It means living a comfortable, carefree, happy life,” Shioban said.
“It’s your arms up in a jeep,” Ben added. “It’s all based on family and what our family likes to do.”
In the end, all four Reilleys are excited about how quickly their new endeavor has taken shape and eager, and a bit nervous, to see how well business moves forward.
For more information visit lifeofreilley.net or facebook.com/LifeOfReilley, or contact Ben and Shioban Reilley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 506-5084.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.