Wines and spirits
After working in California's software industry, Hanson moved to Colorado and began producing wine from grapes grown on his farm in 2000. He began selling directly to consumers at Aspen's farmers market in 2003. "We were there for two to three years getting a lot of great feedback from consumers," he says.
That humble beginning helped shape the guiding philosophy as Jack Rabbit Hill grew as a winery. "Those interactions for the first couple of years really informed how we were going to present ourselves, how we were going to build our identity," Hanson says. "That identity had a very strong farm focus."
Jack Rabbit Hill is first and foremost an organic farm. "It's not about the tricks we play in the distillery, it's not about the fancy equipment or production methods, it's not about manufacturing," Hanson says. "It's about agriculture."
While continuing to produce a variety of wines, Jack Rabbit Hill also produces craft spirits and ciders under the CapRock, MEll, and Avalon Grower brands. It was a natural progression, Hanson says. "We're not reinventing the wheel every time," he explains. "Distilling made sense. We already had all this expensive equipment that distilleries need in the winery."
As the product line has evolved and annual sales have hit 18,000 cases, the focus on farming practices has intensified. "We think quality starts in the ground," Hanson says. "At the end of the day, it's just about creating a tastier product and we think the quality of the ingredients is at the core of the quality of the product."
That led Jack Rabbit Hill to biodynamic farming in 2006. "Biodynamic farming is a form of organic farming that also gives us the tools and recipes to make our soils more like those forest floor soils," Hanson says, "because the more we can do that, the healthier the plants are, the stronger they are, the better able they are to produce fruit that is really expressive and tasty." Hanson notes that the focus on the farming methods is a means to an end. "The ultimate selling point is the product quality," he says. "Things just have to taste really good."
All Jack Rabbit Hill products use ingredients from either a single vineyard or single orchard. Ingredients not grown at Jack Rabbit Hill are sourced from local farms that employ similar farming practices including Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss and Fortunate Fruit in Delta. "We're trying to showcase the fruit from a certain farm," Hanson says. "The sense of place that fruit expresses adds uniqueness to the product."
Challenges: Growing pains. "Trying to predict what's going to happen in the future and have enough capacity to support it," Hanson says.
Space is also an issue. "We often find ourselves in positions where we simply don't have enough room to do what we need to get done," he says.
Opportunities: Growth. "We want to continue to turn more people on to our products and the way we do things and to this whole wonderful world of Colorado agriculture," Hanson says. "We couldn't be doing what we’re doing without all this wonderful fruit that's grown on the Western Slope. . . . Hands down, it is some of the best fruit in the world."
He says the new Avalon Grower ciders could be a catalyst. "The ciders are single-orchard, very unusual in Colorado," says Hanson. "I don't think anyone else is doing this. We want to showcase that farm, that grower. These are agricultural products."
Needs: Finding quality employees can be difficult. "Recruiting good people is always a challenge in a rural environment," Hanson says.