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New West Daily Roundup for Nov. 30, 2015

Today in New West news: Dry Hills Distillery slated to open outside Bozeman, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau establishes Eagle Foothills American Viticultural Area; and Westminister, CO-based Farmland Partners buys up more farmland following huge Illinois deal.

Dry Hills Distillery, located in Four Corners (just west of Bozeman), is slated to bring potato-based vodka and gin to Montana markets in early 2016, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Further, Dry Hills is the donee of a grant through the Montana Department of Agriculture, valued at $48,000. The grant comes from the Growth Through Agriculture program, ratified by the Montana Legislature to “strengthen and diversify Montana’s agricultural industry through development of new agricultural products and processes.” From the Chronicle:

[Owner Jeff] Droge, who will manage the distillery with his wife, said they had been toying with the idea for a decade or more.

The family has a farm in the Churchill area, the same place they have been since 1905. Their website says the farm was known as the Dry Hills, which gives the distillery its name.

There they grow wheat, barley and potatoes, the latter being the inspiration for the distillery.

They grow seed potatoes, and a certain amount of what comes out of the field isn’t fit for sale to other potato growers for a variety of reasons, like being too heavy or crooked. Droge’s older brother has a farm near Harrison as well, and between the two places they grow about 1,000 acres of seed potatoes a year.

He estimated they toss aside about 5 percent of what they grow, which adds up to a substantial amount of potatoes. Potato vodka isn’t such a crazy idea, but they don’t plan to stop there.

Now they’ve got a building near the corner of Jackrabbit Lane and Norris Road and a plan. They’ve worked with the Butte-based Headframe Spirits to get their mixes right and have tested a few batches.

They have plans for a potato gin, a wheat whiskey and eventually a bourbon, all made from crops grown on their farms.

“We decided we wanted to be 100 percent farm to bottle,” he said.

Droge said they hope to begin bottling in January. That way they can have some of their product on the shelves when they open the tasting room in February.

Over in Idaho, state winemakers and vineyards are celebrating the recent designation of the Eagle Foothills American Viticultural Area, Idaho’s first AVA located entirely within state. The move comes after local viticulturists and vitners petitioned the TTB for recognition, according to the Idaho Statesman. And according to viticulture expert Greg Jones, speaking to Great Northern Wine, the designation is well warranted. “No. 1, the landscape is so unique from everything around it,” Jones said. “The climate is clearly unique because of the drainage flow of the air that comes from the hills in the area around it. And I think the boundary was fairly easily definable. I think it makes sense.”

The establishment of Eagle Foothills AVA comes after another potential AVA petitioned the TTB for recognition: the Lewis-Clark Valley Viticultural Area, which would straddle the Washington-Idaho border if approved. Eagle Foothills’ recognition comes after a watershed recognition of the Sane River Valley AVA, according to GNW:

The establishment in 2007 of the Snake River Valley AVA, which shares a portion of its western boundary with Oregon, continues to be viewed as the watershed moment for the Idaho wine industry in terms of sales, marketing and reputation. Cunningham and her husband, Gary, have little trouble selling the wines crafted by their award-winning winemaker Greg Koenig. In fact, 80 percent of their 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards wines are sold beyond Idaho’s borders, so marketing their 12,000-case brand was not the driving force behind the petition.

Instead, the goal is to inspire others, she said.

“In a broader sense, I’m hopeful that this will encourage other areas of the state to craft petitions for their own unique spot,” Cunningham said. “The Sunnyslope deserves its own AVA, too. The Snake River Valley is so vast and certainly diverse enough. I see no reason for others not to follow.”

Finally, Farmland Partners is closing out November with even more farm purchases, according to the Denver Business Journal. The move comes after a $197 million deal concerning farmland in Illinois. Under this deal, the agricultural real estate investment trust is slated to buy a 7,400-acre farm in Louisiana for $31.8 million—in cash no less. With the addition of the Louisiana land, Farmland would own or have under contract 253 farms, spanning over 104,000 acres.

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