Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

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Stein Distillery takes the journey from fields to bottle

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There has been a large increase in the number of craft distilleries over the past few years, and new ones can be seen from Ashland to Portland.

But there aren’t many whose roots run three generations deep in Northeast Oregon, and are linked directly to the raw materials that go into making exceptional spirits.

The Stein family settled in Joseph, OR in the late 1890’s and relied on the land and wildlife for survival. They became wheat farmers, and for many decades, the focus was on traditional crop growing and selling.

But the agriculture business is never easy.

Grain prices started to fall and the family was looking for ways to produce crops for alternate means, and with the ability to grow really good wheat, rye, and barley, the idea for a distillery was hatched, and enter Austin and Heather Stein.Combine with Austin

Austin and Heather are 4th generation Steins, both of whom wanted to carry on the hard-working tradition of their families and small town communities whose residents share some core values, and with many of them running family owned businesses.

They both achieved engineering degrees in college, and eventually wanted to use them for the greater good, and as Heather points out, they saw that opportunity present itself in 2005.

“We noticed 2 lots on Joseph’s main street for sale, and decided it was now or never. We had the know-how in the family to distill, to build, to manufacture and to manage. All the pieces were there to run a business. “

As with many small town families, the Steins also had a construction business, which gave them the wherewithal to know how to develop these lots into something that could bring new jobs and resources to the community.

So the plan was launched with the ability to develop the property, and the engineering backgrounds to assist in the distillery setup.

But Heather and Austin were focused on creating craft spirits that were both representative of their family’s farming heritage, and world class in taste from the start. This led them down the knowledge and education path.

“ We went to a distilling class in April 2006, offered by Bavarian Holstein, and learned how to distill using manufactured equipment. We decided to order the equipment after 3-years of obtaining licensing from both state and federal governments. After receiving the equipment in March 2009, it took 4 months to perfect the grain to starch conversion process. Once perfected, we distilled vodka right off the bat and then cordials, and then started distilling and barreling whiskey for aging.”

The ability to distill high quality vodka and cordials from the outset allowed them build the brand. The team did tastings, worked on distribution, and started to create the story around Stein Distillery. A story centered around making high quality spirits from their own grain – truly farm to bottle distilling.

The vodka and cordial sales also brought in much needed revenue to this young craft distillery. But, as Austin states, there was always a goal on producing another product line.

“ The vision has always been aged whiskey. We needed to get unique vodka and cordials to the market first to start making a name for ourselves and bring in revenue. But the ultimate goal was always aged Oregon whiskey made from true-Oregon grain. “23-Bottles Front of Still

In addition, the Steins had the intention to set themselves apart from other micro-distilleries in Oregon, as well as bring back some famous cocktails of yesteryear. To do this, they decided to grow their own rye for use in the vodka, and whiskey as an addition to their family grown wheat.

But the focus on uniqueness didn’t end there. The Steins knew they could distinguish their whiskeys even more by adding another unique grain, and so they started growing barley as well. Even with the ability and knowhow to grow wheat, rye, and barley, they were still in need of one other ingredient, an ingredient they would need to source – corn.

“We knew we couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with Hermiston corn so we decided to source corn from a cousin already growing it in Hermiston. Knowing exactly where the raw material is from and how it is grown, and knowing careful and meticulous Stein hands have been in the process from start to finish, ensures a consistent high quality product to our consumer.”

And getting the product to the consumer started in Joseph and Wallowa County – not necessarily the center of the craft spirits movement. To the Stein’s knowledge, the closest distilleries to theirs would be in the Tri-City area, Spokane or Boise – over 3 hours away. But being the sole distillery in a large area did create opportunities for not only the business, but also the community.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 9.49.42 PM“ We would say that having the distillery in Joseph has created talk/interest for alternate uses for grain/agriculture in general, as there are still many family farms on the Eastern side of the state. Our distillery has brought additional tourism to Joseph which is a major industry for Wallowa County, and we hope to continue to attract people to this beautiful area.”

With the tasting room thriving, raw materials growing and a mix of products that includes vodka, rye whiskey, whiskey, bourbon, cordials and “steinshine” (based on a family bourbon recipe), one might think that the Stein Distillery would be content.

Not so much. It’s time for expansion.

The distillery is currently in the early stages of designing a barrel aging warehouse to their distillery in Joseph. This will not only allow more space for the barrel products to age, but will also free up manufacturing space to increase production.

In addition to the expansion in Joseph, they recently opened a tasting room in the Progress Ridge are of Beaverton. A move they know helps to build the brand equity in new areas.

“ Having a tasting room allows the consumer to be able to sample the spirit before making the decision to buy. It gives us the opportunity to educate the consumer on how spirits are made, what they should be tasting and why they should care about it. We find consumers are also interested in our story and our supportive of our small family business.”

And this growth has led to some new challenges and opportunities in the business.

“ Being of engineering and manufacturing brains, we are not naturally the first ones to market/advertise/sell but obviously these activities are critical to any business, and so we will be looking to add expertise and opportunity in these areas. These actions will help us continue to move nationally and internationally with our products. Meanwhile, we do foresee the current demand picking up in 2016, therefore expanding our production capability will also be critical.”

With a hard working legacy of 4 generations of Oregonians supporting their efforts, the Stein family is well prepared to weather the entrepreneurial storm, but offer this simple bit of advice for others making the leap.

“Be prepared for a long journey.”

For more information, visit www.steindistillery.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter and instagramRye

Returning to Oregon roots

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As you step into Wild Carrot Herbals, you are met with the smell of lavender being crushed in the basement, the gentle whir of machines in the manufacturing room, the steady sound of product being slipped into cardboard shipping sleeves, the colorful sites of the retail space, and the soft welcoming voice of Jody Berry. The combination of stimuli instantly helps ease the tensions of the day away.

Berry has been creating Wild Carrot Herbals since the year 2000. Started out as a passion project years ago, just outside of Olympia, Washington, the effort has matured over the years into what is now a thriving herbal manufacturing and retail business in Enterprise, Oregon. It is here that she and her family opened the Wild Carrot Herbals retail shop almost two years ago.

“Our goal is to create honest, nutrient-rich, joyful products that are reasonably priced for the entire family. Our products are brought to you by people,” said Berry. “We are family owned and operated in this beautiful and wild place in northeast Oregon, where we manufacture everything ourselves. Our products are all made in very small batches – measured, mixed, hand poured and labeled the old fashioned way: with love, care and cleanliness.”

In addition to the care she puts into each and every product she creates, Berry also insists on using glass bottles instead of plastic, and the shipping peanuts she uses are made from sorghum, are GMO and gluten free and completely dissolve in water. Even the packing tape, adorned with the Wild Carrot and Baby Carrot logos, is printed Kraft paper, not plastic, and is completely recyclable.

A deeper connection

Like all entrepreneurs, Berry’s story is just as much about her past as it is about her future. Berry grew up in Gladstone, a fifth generation Oregonian. As a young adult she attended Evergreen State College, where she lived alone and off the grid in the woods just outside of Olympia. While most of her friends were living on campus or in the city, Berry was living a life of solitude and simplicity. For five years she lived without running water, electricity, or a phone. During this time she built a yurt and a sauna. Life was simple and she soon realized how strong of a connection she had with the earth and the plants that grew from it.

Eventually life dictated some changes and she entered the corporate world as a copier salesperson where she soon learned a thing or two about herself.

“I won every incentive trip to Hawaii they offered. It was hard, but I was very competitive.” She spent seven years selling copiers. “It taught me how to sell, and I learned how to print a label,” she said smiling, surrounded by products with a variety of labels she created for them.

Berry and her husband Michael had met at Evergreen while studying organic farming, and married nine years later. Both had been organic and biodynamic farmers and have incorporated these practices into the Wild Carrot products they now produce in rural northeast Oregon.

Back to the farm

“When I told my parents I wanted to be a farmer again they were not surprised. They told me that that is all I have ever wanted to be,” said Berry. “I didn’t even realize how true that was. I had never given it up because it just wouldn’t let me go.”

She and Michael settled in Rickreall, Oregon where they built a 30’ x 96’ greenhouse. Michael grew organic salad greens while Berry concentrated on creating salves and lotions in her newly constructed 700 sq. ft. yurt.

“We had 60 chickens, 22 turkeys, three dogs and five employees and we eventually outgrew the space,” said Berry. “We realized we didn’t have to stay in Rickreall. Rickreall had been good to us, but we could go anywhere. We knew we wanted to stay in Oregon, so we began looking. We looked at Paisley, Lakeview and Williams. I had been a river guide on the Grande Ronde River 30 years ago, so we decided to check out northeast Oregon and that is when we found this space. It is just perfect for us.”

Finding a home

It really does look as if the space, known as the Enterpriser and built in 1924, was made especially for Wild Carrot Herbals.

Wild CarrotThe manufacturing room is tidy and clean, with plenty of space to move around in while working with infused oils, mixing salves, or filling lotion bottles. Shelves in the shipping room are stacked with boxes of fresh product primed and ready to be sent to any one of the 300 health food stores in the northwest and California that now carry Wild Carrot Herbals, as well as their baby line of products known as Baby Carrot. The retail space is warm and inviting, a great showcase to display the 100 different products they now create.

“This is the first time we have tried retail,” said Berry. “The retail store is way more than we ever thought it could be. We have learned that this community is so supportive. There are so many people in northeast Oregon that make things. It is a very creative community.”

Seemingly at one with the plants, Berry appreciates all they have to offer and has spent countless hours learning about their every nuance. The earth where they grow, the rain that waters them, the sunlight that encourages growth and vitality, and the coolness of a moonlit night are all a part of each stem, flower and leaf. As she crushes lavender in the palm of her hand, she no doubt gives thanks for all that went into the creation of the rich scent that drifts about her.

Wild Carrot Herbals has 100 different products made for women, children, pregnant moms, and men, along with 50 different infused oils, a variety of salves, lotions, body butters, lip balms, facial toners, cleansers and creams. Each and every recipe is created by Jody Berry herself.

As Wild Carrot Herbals grows in popularity, Berry says they are cautious with their growth. Last summer they began working with a distributor in Hong Kong which supplies 110 stores.

“This has great potential,” said Berry. “We already ship all over the world and our e-commerce website has been awesome. It is a good way to communicate with our customers. We are looking at managed, steady growth. We don’t intend to be a national company and really evaluate each new store that we take on. Our focus is quality, not quantity. It appears that the retail store will continue to blossom and we will put more energy into that adventure. We hope to hire a few key people to assist us in the day to day. Maybe then we will have a first family vacation in over eight years!” With six employees already, Berry said she likes to keep a positive work environment. “We pay our employees well, treat them well and we try to be flexible with their work schedules.”

The complexity of simplicity

With so many different avenues to keep track of between production, shipping, e-commerce, customer service, retail management and life in general, something had to go, at least for now.

Hand cream“We thought once we moved to Enterprise that we would continue farming, but we are really enjoying the simplicity,” she said. “We couldn’t afford farmland here, and we were also overwhelmed by doing all aspects of the product production. We still grow plants, like calendula, but on a smaller scale. We didn’t expect all the folks that came forward that wanted to grow for us. They mostly live down the valley a bit more where it is a bit warmer and easier to grow things. It is pretty ideal really – we still get to have the relationship with the plants and know where they come from and know the farming and harvesting practices. We also get to share in the abundance.”

“We are highly influenced by our bioregion and have gotten to know the plants that are native here, while enjoying the beauty of this place,” said Berry. “There are nettles in our Peace cream, and St. John’s Wort in our hand lotion, yarrow in our chest rub, and rose petals in our eye cream. They make for a great excuse to get outside and keep the balance. Some of our Oregon products are the Pacific Northwest cedar, rose & arnica massage oil, Oregon lavender lotion, Oregon mint lip balm, wild rose eye cream, Douglas fir lip balm, and rose body butter, to name a few. We use images from Oregon like the John Day and Wallowa mountains on our labels too. I hesitated slightly when formulating products with Oregon in the name, thinking that they would not be marketable in Washington or California, but over the years I have been told by our customers that Oregon has a reputation of being different, of being a place of wild beauty and wild spaces. People are inherently drawn to that.”

Growing challenges

Some of the biggest challenges Wild Carrot Herbals faces is keeping up with production, but luckily for Berry, her husband thrives on that kind of challenge.

“Michael is our systems guy. He helped build a brew pub in Pennsylvania and he has worked on Earth Ships in Arizona.” said Berry. “He has taken us to a whole new level because of the production machinery he has found. We now make product five days a week. We make hundreds of gallons of botanically infused oils, where we source organic ingredients whenever possible.”

Berry’s future looks promising to say the least.

“There is that expression,” said Berry, ‘do what you love, love what you do’. I think success is dependent on passion and I am quite passionate about making non-toxic skin care and working with herbs. I am also passionate about people and fostering my relationships with them. From one customer who walks through our door, to a buyer for a chain of 10 stores, I am always grateful. After all this time, I still love my job. I love the plants, making a difference, the connection I have to the people that I really love. We aren’t just making something, we are making a difference, and I am forever in awe of the plants.”

For more information, visit http://www.wildcarrotherbals.com/, follow Wild Carrot Herbals on Twitter, or like Wild Carrot Herbals on Facebook.

A deeper connection

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At the edge of the Wallowa Valley, circled by the awe-inspiring Wallowa Mountains, Cory Carman raises cattle.

It could be just as simple as that, but it isn’t.

For four generations Cory’s family has been raising cattle in Wallowa County, each doing things a little bit differently than the generation before; Cory Carman is no exception to that rule.

Cory raises grassfed registered Herefords and Angus cattle alongside her uncle Kent Carman and husband Dave Flynn on Carman Ranch. She is raising her three children, Roan, Ione and Emmett on the very same ranch her great-grandfather Fritz Weinhard started raising cattle on in 1935.

She nurtures the very same land her grandparents, Ruth and Hoy Carman cared for, and she continues the family tradition her dad, Garth, lost his life for in a farming accident in 1993.

Homecoming

Cory’s uncle Kent and grandmother Ruth had been operating the ranch for many years while Cory was away at college. After graduating from Stanford and spending time on Capitol Hill working with the Ways and Means Committee, then managing several restaurants in LA, Cory decided to take a break from the cities and head back home to the ranch for the summer in 2003. The time had come for her to clear her mind, and figure out what she really wanted to do with the rest of her life.

6877653307_7eb1be7815_oLittle did she realize then, but the ranch seemed to be calling her home. Cory soon realized it was a lot of ranch for just two people to manage, and she was asking a lot of her grandmother and uncle to save it for her until she was ready to come home and take over.

“Once I had a proper career, I knew I would come back to the ranch,” said Cory. It wasn’t until she saw just how much work was on the shoulders of her uncle and grandmother, that she realized it was now, or never. “If I wanted to be here in 20 years, I needed to start contributing that day, or let go. A cattle ranch isn’t something you just put on hold.”

From that moment forward, Cory has been immersed in the cattle ranching business, but Carman Ranch is not a typical cattle operation, and Cory is not a typical rancher. Many cattle operations raise the cattle, load them into semi-trucks, and then send them to auction.

The process continues with the beef being reloaded into trailers, where they are sent to be processed at slaughter houses. The end result is meat that has been subjected to stress, time and time again. This practice works for many ranchers, and most of us are accustomed to buying this type of beef from our local grocery store, but this cattle processing practice does not suit Cory, who is involved throughout the entire life cycle of her cattle.

Part and parcel

Cory is a hands-on rancher: from birth, to pasture, to summer graze land, she is there to watch the cattle thrive as they meander across the meadows of the ranch. Cory’s cows spend their entire life on the ranch foraging on famous Wallowa Valley grass and grass hay.

6877656945_5bac54b4c3_o“We are committed to preserving the natural environment and providing our customers with healthy and delicious beef,” said Cory, who believes in low input farming practices, which includes eliminating chemical fertilizers. The deep-rooted perennial grasses that the Carman Ranch cattle graze on stores carbon in the soil, which also helps to remove it from the atmosphere.

Carman Ranch was the first Oregon ranch to earn grassfed beef certification from Food Alliance, the most comprehensive third-party certification program for sustainably produced food in North America. Food Alliances grassfed certification guarantees that animals eat only grass, never any grain or grain by-products, nor do they receive hormones or antibiotics of any kind. Food Alliance certification also ensures that Carman Ranch meets rigorous criteria for safe and fair working conditions, soil and water conservation, protection of wildlife habitat, and healthy and humane animal treatment.

At the end of fall, as the cattle mature to around 18 months, it is time to call in the local butcher, Kevin Silvieria, a highly regarded craftsman in his trade. Quickly, humanely, and free from the stress of the typical beef processing scenario, the animals are harvested on the same land they were born on. Silvieria, of Valley Meat Services, then drives the meat all of three miles to his shop in Wallowa where he cuts it to Cory’s specifications.

Facilitating connection

This could be the end of the story, but once again it is only the beginning.

“People want a connection to their food again,” said Cory.

Cory knew instinctively there was a market for grassfed beef in Oregon, before there was a market for grassfed beef in the state. Her years of restaurant experience in Los Angeles gave her insight to what customers, who were beginning to become more and more health-conscious, were looking for, so she set out to create the market that would welcome her own 100% grassfed beef.

Contributing to the Oregon economy

In 2009, with packages of Carman Ranch Grassfed Beef, fresh from Valley Meat Services, Cory traveled to Portland where she met with chefs from popular restaurants. One can only imagine the sense of pride, with a touch of butterflies, she must have felt as she approached her first chef. She told each of them the benefits of her grassfed beef, which is free of hormones and antibiotics. With one taste of the beef, all reservations are pushed aside.

Carman Ranch Grassfed Beef is now an ever-present staple on many restaurants throughout Portland, including Dick’s Kitchen.

3730060144_f0c4239728_o“We wanted to have a 100% grass-fed beef hamburger on our menu, mainly because of the health benefits of eating beef raised this way.” said Barbara Stutz, of Dick’s Kitchen. “We wanted people to be able to enjoy the classics without any guilt, and actually be feeding their bodies with great nutrition. We did tastings from several different ranches and found the taste of Carman Ranch beef to be far superior. We also wanted to use a product that was environmentally conscious.

“It turns out that grass fed beef, raised the way they do at Carman Ranch, helps to reverse carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively than any land use. For us it was a win-win. We really respect ranchers that understand the difference and go the extra mile to produce beef this way, the combination of grasses that make up the diet for the cattle create an amazingly flavorful product.”

“Our customers recognize that there is a flavor difference between grass fed beef and commercially produced beef and they enjoy the out and out yummy flavor. Many are thrilled to be able to eat a great burger that is also good for them and some are just happy that it is a great tasting juicy burger.”

In addition to her grassfed beef adorning the pages of menus throughout Portland, Carman Ranch, in conjunction with McClaran Ranch, also from Wallowa County, offers customers a chance to buy a portion of a cow to stock their freezers with through a cow sharing program. The Carman Ranch Buying Club also offers communities in the greater Portland area a chance to buy a smaller portion of the 100% grassfed beef at several locations throughout the city on specified days of the week.

“Growing up in Wallowa County, especially on a ranch, gave me a sense of responsibility and a sense of curiosity. It gave me a sense of independence,” said Cory.

Her love for the ranching lifestyle is just as strong as the generations that came before her, but her way of getting it done is just about as unique as she is.

For more information, visit http://www.carmanranch.com, follow Carman Ranch on Twitter, or like Carman Ranch on Facebook.