MORRO BAY — A lot has changed since Jim and Gloria Zion unleashed their flagship Wicked Harvest Pistachio Bourbon Whiskey on the world a little more than a year ago.
Over the past 12 months, the husband and wife team from their Morro Bay home have seen their bourbon grab the attention of new and old whiskey drinkers, bring home some hardware, and their lineup expand with the introduction of their second offering — Wicked Harvest Hazelnut Bourbon Whiskey.
“It’s become a passion for us,” says Jim. “It’s a fascinating business. We have learned a lot in a short time.”
Like their first-to-market pistachio-infused bourbon aged in Merlot barrels from the Central Valley, the hazelnut offering is another first and pays homage to Gloria’s Oregon roots.
“Gloria’s childhood all grown up in a glass,” says Jim.
Diced and roasted hazelnuts are infused using the same 6-year-old bourbon distilled by Kentucky Artisan Distillery outside of Louisville and finished in Pinot Noir barrels from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Wicked Harvest Hazelnut went to market at the beginning of November 2018 and is being well-received, no doubt buoyed by the success of the pistachio bourbon.
“We are finding that true bourbon aficionados are tending to like the hazelnut better because it drinks like a true bourbon,” Gloria says. “You have a little bit of toasted nut in that product from the diced and roasted hazelnuts.”
There is no secret to their success. The Zions are passionate about their products and are willing to put in the work needed to get a fledgling venture off the ground.
“We are the only employees,” says Gloria, whose business card reads “Director of First Impressions” while Jim’s reads “Director of Everything Gloria Doesn’t Want to Do.”
Along with the growth has come the creation of Velvetree Foods and Wicked Harvest merchandise but through it, all their story and focus remain.
“We are growers,” says Jim, adding that using hazelnuts allows them to “help other growers expand their market.”
Gloria was a former teacher, vice principal, principal and assistant school superintendent who also used to train principals and school districts.
The idea for nut-infused bourbon aged in wine barrels came out of a side conversation with Steve Thompson, owner of Kentucky Artisan Distillery. The two were at a meeting at Cal Poly and began talking about how to blend their products to create something new and roughly three years and 38 iterations later Wicked Harvest Pistachio Bourbon was brought to market.
The couple went door to door personally telling their story to shop owners on the Central Coast and in the Central Valley with the hope of being poured or sold at their establishments.
Gloria remembers that first sale like it was yesterday. She went to Cork ‘N Bottle in San Luis Obispo.
“I can remember still going in that day and I was just shaking almost not knowing what to say,” Gloria says.
One sale quickly turned into two and by the last count, Wicked Harvest was available in more than 100 locations in three different states, says Gloria.
“It’s been fun,” Gloria says. “I was thinking back to when we were just in a few locations. It was just Jim and
“It’s still a matter of going in and connecting face to face. We find that still gives us the best results,” Gloria adds.
Since going to market they have poured at trade shows and medaled in three competitions. Wicked Harvest Pistachio Bourbon took silver at the Central Coast Craft Spirit Competition at the Mid-State Fair. Their bourbon was also one of the ingredients that helped Matt Hanson of Fish Gaucho win the Get Crafty mixology competition with a drink dubbed the “Wicked ‘Itch’ of the West.”
All of these face to face interactions allow the Zions to tell their story.
“There are real people behind it,” Jim says. “There are actual humans making this product, putting blood, sweat and tears, money, hopes and dreams into it and when you tell people that they have this connection to it. They say ‘You know what, I like the product, but I also like you.’
“And what I find is if they like you they want you to succeed,” Jim adds.
For more information on Wicked Harvest, including where to purchase the bourbons, visit www.wickedharvestspirits.com.