New vodka distillery pitched in Vergennes

VERGENNES — If all goes as planned, by next year Vergennes could add a distillery to its manufacturers of adult beverages, a growing list that already includes Shacksbury Cider and Hired Hand Brewery, although for now the latter still produces its ales in Bristol.
Burlington residents Grace Meyer and Michael Dunn, doing business as NPM Properties, on June 18 earned Vergennes zoning approval to build a 4,300-square-foot building at the corner of Panton Road and West Street that, if it receives state and federal permits, will serve as both a distillery and tasting room.
According to the application, they plan to do business as “UnEarthed Spirits” and their first product will be a potato vodka.
Meyer stressed in an interview last week that hoops remain for the business to jump through, including wastewater permitting through the state, and then federal approval to be a distillery.
“We still have a long way to go. We are hoping to start a business in Vergennes, but we have permits that need to come through and still a lot of hurdles,” Meyer said.
But she and Dunn, a career restaurant professional now tending bar at Winooski restaurant Misery Loves Company, have been working on the project for four years, Meyer said, and they are hopeful.
“We are confident in our plan,” she said. “I am fairly optimistic. We are just trying to monitor our own anticipation, but we’re very excited and hope it works out.”
Dunn went through the Women in Small Business program to develop their business plan, and on the product end Dunn took classes at Vermont Technical College, researched on his own, and experimented as much as the law will allow — there is a catch-22 for those who want to practice their craft. 
“It’s illegal to do any distilling without your federal permit. You have to be a professional distiller in order to distill, so we haven’t done a lot of home experimenting,” Meyer said. “He’s done everything he can to learn it. He’s done a lot of home brewing, which duplicates the process up to a point.”
They focused on Vergennes early in their site search, Meyer said, because they knew people in the restaurant business and in the beverage business, including at Shacksbury Cider, where she just took a job. They were also interested in the city because of her family ties — her great aunt was Grace Bottamini, married to Dr. Joseph Bottamini, who practiced in Vergennes for many years; and because found the city and its business community supportive.
“We’ve always been in love of Vergennes,” she said.
Meyer said she and Dunn also know the principals of the several adult beverage companies in Middlebury, including Otter Creek Brewery and Stonecutter Spirits, and appreciate the camaraderie among the county producers.
“They’ve been so supportive and most helpful with our process,” Meyer said. “We wouldn’t want to do this if we didn’t know the community was so strong and so supportive of one another.”
The land for which they have a permit is a 1.76-acre parcel on the same side of Panton Road and essentially next to the United Technologies plant. It was listed with Sugarbush Real Estate for $65,000 and lies in the city’s Industrial District. Meyer confirmed she and Dunn will buy the land if all works out.
“If we build there, we will acquire the land,” she said.
According to their application to the Vergennes Development Review board, their building will include 3,000 square feet for production and 1,300 square feet devoted to a tasting room and retail, with occupancy limited to 49 people and hours of operation from noon to 7 p.m. Sixteen parking places will serve the building, and they project two employees.
Their application also projects a September groundbreaking, with completion in March 2019 except for landscaping, which would be finished by next July.
Meyer said that timetable might be too optimistic.
“It’s a long, long process. We’re still a ways out,” she said. “We’ll probably know closer to the fall.”
Meyer enjoys Shacksbury, and hopes eventually both she and Dunn can be in Vergennes together.
“It’s a great town to work in. People are always excited, and it’s a lively scene,” she said. “It’s been a blast being over there and spending some permanent work time in Vergennes.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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