Jill Olson grew up in St. Helena, where her parents produced grapes for wineries such as Beringer, while she played alongside the children of fellow vineyard families. Nevertheless, spirits run through her veins. After years of experimentation at home and taste testing with friends and family, in 2011 she and husband Doug launched Sonoma Coast Spirits in Petaluma.
Doug handles sales and marketing while Jill concentrates on product development. Their children even play a role, sometimes helping with production or pouring at special events.
The Olsons returned to Sonoma County in 2003 after starting their family in Denver.
“We wanted to live in a charming town but also be close to everything,” Jill said. “Petaluma was perfect for raising our kids because it is ideally situated and also offers a great sense community.”
Prior to prohibition, Jill’s great grandfather, Leonardo Dioguardi, operated a winery in Sebastopol. However, his grappa distillery piques Jill’s interest most. Grappa is made by distilling the skins, pulp, and seeds leftover after pressing grapes for winemaking.
“He wanted to get the most out of his harvest. He didn’t want to waste anything,” Jill said.
The spirit gene runs deep in the Olson family, and Jill has the magic touch when it comes to distilled beverages. It started simply enough when she canned veggies from the family garden. She then moved on to lemons, which are abundant around Petaluma. Being of Italian decent, it was natural for Jill to experiment with lemoncello, an Italian liqueur produced by steeping lemon peels in neutral spirits.
Like her great grandfather, Jill did not want to see anything go to waste, so she started experimenting with lemon juice by way of her pourable lemon drop.
A dedicated mother of four and full-time real estate appraiser, she also belongs to Petaluma’s Woman’s Club, Chamber of Commerce, Sunrise Rotary, Craft Guild, Women in Business, Gap Wine Growers Alliance and the Petaluma Yacht Club.
Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa have tried to entice Sonoma Coast Spirits with promises of an easier business environment but the Olsons remain dedicated to Petaluma because it has become their home.
Sonoma Coast Spirits currently produces three pourable cocktails, made with all-natural ingredients. The Lemon Drop Martini, Mango Tango and Pomegranate-Lime are available throughout Northern California and locally at Willibees, Petaluma Market, Oliver’s, and G&G Markets. This fall they will introduce two new pourable cocktails — a Whiskey Sour and Salted Caramel Espresso. A Ginger Liqueur is also in the works.
“Additionally, we are considering barrel aging our cocktails in order to give them more depth of flavor,” Jill said.
After just one sip, the pourable cocktails are surprisingly as good as anything ordered at a bar, and more affordable. Sonoma Coast Spirits’ pourable cocktails are crisp, fresh and authentic, without being too sour or too sweet and without too much of an alcohol bite. Sonoma Coast Spirits are refreshing, perfectly balanced, and at 16 percent alcohol, are equally enjoyable straight or as a base for other cocktails.
The Olsons are currently applying for a distiller’s permit and hope to open their tasting room later this fall.
“We envision this area to be like Distillery Row in Portland, Oregon,” Jill said of their Scott Street location, in the same building as Petaluma Hills Brewing Company. “Up there, distillers and brewers offer tours, tastings, food, speakers and special events. We’d like to create a social setting for people to enjoy all that Petaluma has to offer in the way of food and drink.”