Happy Valentines Day, readers!
I am very excited to introduce everyone to my first interview of 2020. With over 13 years of winemaking experience, Natalie Dale is currently the Master Distiller of the Great Women Spirits collection from Francis Ford Coppola Wineries (yes, for those of you wondering, it is the The Godfather Coppola). In this role, Dale creates small-batch, house-crafted, classically styled spirits that are as unique and remarkable as the women honored on each label. This opportunity propelled Dale to seek out other women in the distilling community and become one of the few pioneering members of the Women’s Distillery Guild in the United States. “The people in this industry have charmed me with their warmth and unimpeded access of knowledge and skills,” says Dale. “I hope to give back by inspiring other women to pursue distilling.” Dale is currently studying for her Masters in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University of Scotland. When she is not studying, she enjoys yoga, hiking, ceramics, sea kayaking, and traveling every chance she gets. Today we’ll be chatting with her about Lovelace Gin, one of the Great Women Spirits.
Bottled at 40%, Lovelace Gin is composed of 10 botanicals including Italian blue juniper, orris root, cassia bark, rose petals and lemon peels. This medium-bodied yet floral and gingery spirit comes off a little astringent on the nose but packs an earthy nutty palate with floral and citrus. Read along as we chat with Natalie about her studies and Lovelace Gin!
Grayce: Good afternoon, Natalie! Thank you for chatting with me today. I’m so excited you were able to put aside some time from your studies at Heriot-Watt to chat with us. How is school so far?
Natalie: Hi! Thanks for your interest in [the Great Women Spirits]! School is going good. School definitely takes away time from my family and friends, but the learning part is all fun. Even though studying for finals and writing papers feels exhausting at times, the few years that I’ll be dedicating to this are just a small moment in my life right? Right now I’m making a few Coppola wines and looking after the spirits line for Coppola. The wine harvest plus school is the biggest challenge. I’m not stressed, you’re stressed! So, a goal this year is to work on that work/life balance thing a little more. I know I’m not a veteran in this field, my focus over the last 2 decades has been winemaking. Most overlap happens when it comes to barrels and what they can impart on a product. I’ve always been interested in fermentation, creating a product that brings people happiness, and that spans both spirits and wine.
Grayce: That is very cool! I love how you come from a wine background and just grew into spirits. What motivated you to continue to pursue studying brewing and distilling?
Natalie: The impetus was my time at Moonshine University 3 years ago. I was curious about the new spirits line that Mr. Coppola wanted to produce, and I figured I’d test the waters there. There are some similarities in the wine industry like I mentioned, but the spirits side is such an alchemists viewpoint where you get to work with what nature has given you and create a beverage that can show you a timestamp of all the ingredients. At MU we made a rum from sugar cane fields that had gone through a hurricane. A salty rum was something I had never experienced before, and would definitely not do again!
Grayce: I’m actually very curious to try a salty rum. Let’s talk about Lovelace Gin! Why did you choose to name your gin after Ada Lovelace?
Natalie: Ada was a great fit for the gin, because we could tell the story of how math and booze blend together. She is recognized today as the first computer programmer. Born in London in 1815, she studied math and science at the insistence of her mother. She was the daughter of poet Lord Byron and protégé of Charles Babbage, she is now recognized for her stand-alone achievements and extensive writings on computer coding. With Ada being English, this gin is modeled after a classic London dry style gin, with a “code” of 10 different botanicals. Mr. Coppola is detail oriented, and there is always a reason or a story behind why we do something down to every detail on the label.
Grayce: The label is absolutely beautiful! I love how it tells a story about our muse. Tell us about the motivation behind the Great Women Spirits. Why create a spirit inspired by women?
Natalie: Mr. Coppola wanted to showcase trailblazing women of history on the bottles and tell their story. So much of history was written by men, that these amazing women were left out of most history books. His inspiration to do this came from reading Twelve Against the Gods by William Bolitho. This book had all the adventure stories of men, but very little about women. This is a project he’s always wanted to do. He is one of the best story-tellers around, and he loves bringing light to stories that may have been forgotten. His family enjoys tinkering in the kitchen, making cocktails, and the process of making something with their signature on it. That idea just bloomed into running a spirits company! He didn’t just decide to dip his toe into this business, he is definitely committed to making quality products. Especially when it has his name on it!
Grayce: How is each muse chosen? Do they have any significance to yourself or Mr. Coppola?
Natalie: Mr. Coppola has a huge list of ladies that may not have had their story on the forefront. They have all been great contributors to the development of science, math, arts, politics etc. He does all the creative work behind all his products. He gives a style directive and the production side goes to work on accomplishing that target. There is always a link between the woman on the label and the liquid in the bottle.
Grayce: Walk us through the distillation method used for Lovelace Gin.
Natalie: We use a wheat based high proof to macerate our botanicals. Wheat tends to compliment botanicals a bit better, and has more lifted floral aromatics. We do a couple different macerations. One is with Italian blue juniper berries in an overnight soak. Then, we take out our juniper tea bag and hang it in a gin basket. Smaller botanicals are added directly to the still for a hot maceration which further breaks down oils and essences. We do our final proofing with spring water from the Coppola’s estate in Napa Valley.
Grayce: What makes this gin unique from others?
Natalie: All the ingredients make this unique. We source rose petals and lemon peel from the estate. Eleanor Coppola makes a marmalade every year and we steal some lemons from that project. Everything else that is a bit more exotic and can’t be grown here is sourced from an organic apothecary about two blocks away from the distillery. Some of those botanicals include Orris root, a light violet and floral character and Cassia bark which can be very spicy. Italian blue juniper, of course as an homage to the Coppola’s roots in Italy. Our water is probably our signature on this spirit. The water from the estate is very alkaline. When you think about cooking, if you cook rice in alkaline water, it improves taste and makes it fluffier. With coffee and tea, alkaline water will extract more flavor and eliminate bitterness. Alkaline water helps retain vitamin and mineral content that is normally lost in the cooking process. This really savors all those beautiful botanicals we were so careful to source.
Grayce: I love how everything is sourced local! It really showcases the high quality herbs, flowers and fruit from California! How did you choose the collection of botanicals?
Natalie: Excellent transition! We know we wanted to source from the estate as much as possible. We took a look at our favorite gins in the market and looked at their characters, and what we would want to change about them, if at all. It came down to tinkering with a few botanicals, and ending up with 10 different ones. There can be parallels to computer programing and creating consistent botanical spirits. A lot of detail and precision involved! Some botanicals can be very overpowering, but in small doses act as a binding ingredient that can bring all the botanicals together. After many product development sessions and tasting sessions (don’t feel sorry for me!), we landed on our current recipe.
Grayce: Lets talk about your water source! What type of water do you use?
Natalie: The water is sourced from a natural spring on the Coppola’s estate in Rutherford, California. It has a pH of about 7.9 so it is very alkaline. We had an outside lab test the mineral content and it’s really a beautifully tasting water. Slightly mineral flavored and almost nourishing. The Ada Lovelace gin is proofed to 40% alcohol, so 60% is water and trace botanicals. Our water has a lot to do with how our gin tastes!
Grayce: Oh for sure! Many people don’t realize it but water is probably one of the most important ingredients in spirits because over half of the actual spirit is water! Going a little further into mixing, how do you personally enjoy your own gin?
Natalie: The winery has a restaurant where you can get a lavender gin fizz, and those things go down easy! I also like it in a vesper because of its lighter floral notes. You can definitely drink this gin neat, it is very sip-able!
Grayce: That sounds delicious! I’ll definitely need to give it a try. Is there anything else you want to tell us about distilling or Lovelace Gin?
Natalie: This is a great time to look at smaller craft distilleries. So many people are starting to get into it, and I hope your readers pick up something new when they can. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone just wants to make a good product. It’s a great time to be in this industry. Look out for more ladies coming from Great Women Spirits!
Grayce: Are there any more releases we can expect from the Great Women Spirits collection? I can’t help but notice you’re missing a whiskey! 😉
Natalie: Actually, we just released a rye with Dorothy Arzner on the label. She was the first female to direct a sound film and taught Francis Coppola at UCLA. So, this is a very personal product to Mr. Coppola. It’s a Straight rye, 3 year, on Char 4 American oak. I got to play with oak selection on this one, and was able to use my winemaking background blending different layers and flavors. It is only in California, Texas and New York right now. Like every craft producer starting out, we are testing the markets and hopefully can make more of this. I always want to make more booze, not less! It’s more fun that way.
Love my spirits interviews?
Check out my interview with Writer’s Tears Managing Director, Bernard Walsh!