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Posted on: August 15, 2017

Distillery planning move to Danville’s River District

Vincent Puccio hopes to bring a whiskey distillery, retail store and tasting room to the River District by the end of the year.

He and his partner, William T. Willis, own and operate Dry Fork Fruit Distillery in Meadows of Dan in Patrick County. But they can’t sell their product on premises there because Patrick County does not allow liquor by the drink.

They plan on moving the entire production to downtown Danville from Meadows of Dan, Puccio said.

Danville — especially the River District — is becoming a destination for visitors, he said.

“You’ve got tourism and entertainment down there,” Puccio said. “It all works together.”

He pointed to events at Carrington Pavilion and the farmer’s market as examples. Also, visitors from up North and others passing through come to see the last capital of the Confederacy, Puccio added.

Dry Fork Fruit Distillery makes 100-proof and 80-proof whiskeys, including corn and fruit whiskeys. Flavors include blueberry, strawberry, blackberry and Damson plum. Its products are all-natural with no artificial flavors, Puccio said.

They make their whiskey using a steam process with stainless steel and no direct flame, he said. The distillery produces about 2,500 gallons of whiskey per year.

Sandra Puckett Belcher, director of marketing and tourism for Patrick County, said it was unfortunate that the county could lose Dry Fork Fruit Distillery. The business has attracted visitors to the area, she said.

“It’s heartbreaking, but they are a business and they have a product they want to promote to the fullest,” Belcher said.

Puccio’s and Willis’ original plan was to open the distillery near Willis’ farm in Pittsylvania County, according to a June 15, 2015 article from the Martinsville Bulletin. Although the Pittsylvania County Board of Zoning Appeals approved the location, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors denied the zoning request.

In March 2014, Puccio and Willis filed for a special use permit to put the distillery at a former body shop on Chatham Road in Axton, according to the Bulletin. However, about 40 members of two churches on the road attended the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting to oppose the distillery, and the board rejected the request.

The duo later opened the distillery in Meadows of Dan.

Their whiskey is sold in about 38 ABC stores across the state. Two of their products — clear and strawberry whiskeys — are sold in Danville, Puccio said.

In Patrick County, Dry Fork Fruit Distillery can manufacture their products, but cannot sell them on premises, Puccio said. When the distillery opened about a couple of years ago, Puccio thought they could get legislation passed in the General Assembly to allow them to sell on site, but it did not happen.

Since Danville allows liquor by the drink, Puccio and Willis would be able to offer their products at their location and have a tasting room and retail store selling T-shirts, glassware and other bar products. They also would like to hold events at the distillery.

Patrick County Administrator Tom Rose said there are exceptions to the county’s prohibition against liquor by the drink. Primland Resort and Woodberry Inn are examples. Rose said.

“We could never establish tastings up there [at Dry Fork Fruit Distillery],” Rose said. “They were very adamant that they needed that.”

The Patrick County Board of Supervisors had no say in the matter, but sent a letter of support for an exception for the distillery to the state legislature, Rose said.

Rose said he was “extremely disappointed” the distillery could end up leaving Patrick County for Danville.

“They’ve been a huge attraction for us,” Rose said.

Danville City Council voted 7-0 during its Aug. 3 meeting to create a definition for distilleries and allow them in the city.

Planning Director Ken Gillie said Dry Fork Fruit Distillery would not have to seek City Council approval since a distillery would be considered a use by right in the River District.

They have submitted plans to the city, and if they are acceptable, the city would issue permits. The distillery would also have to apply for ABC and business licenses, Gillie said.

Danville Economic Development Director Telly Tucker said he doesn’t think the distillery will run into any obstacles in his office. There shouldn’t be any regulatory issues as long as they follow guidelines for building permits, Tucker said.

Distilleries are growing in popularity, “particularly with younger populations and in urban environments where you have redevelopment and folks moving back into cities wanting more diverse offerings,” Tucker said.

“They’re looking for craft beverages, they’re looking for something that is unique to a specific area,” he added. “It becomes a magnet for tourism.”

John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at jcrane@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7987.

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