Walheim Ranch offers bergamot citrus for new gin product

Walheim Ranch introduces new flavors to regional gin lovers in the Central Valley and Central Coast


EXETER – Exeter’s citrus has been shipped and enjoyed all over the country, but it’s latest application as a Central Coast gin has opened new doors for a regional orange grower.

Walheim Ranch Gin, a collaboration between pioneer specialty citrus grower and horticulturist, Lance Walheim and Eric Olson of Atascadero’s Central Coast Distillery is coming to Visalia and surrounding areas. The label is relatively recognizable as it depicts the view of Homer’s Nose and the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the view of Exeter’s Walheim Ranch.

Lance Walleim has been working with specialty citrus in Exeter for over 30 years and is familiar to many home gardeners and commercial citrus growers, especially in California. He has written over 30 garden books, including three on citrus. He was a staff writer for Sunset magazine and is one of the senior editors of the last four editions of the Sunset Western Garden Book, the bible of western gardening.

“One of the things I always wanted to do was to try a bergamot sour orange in a gin because we used to add bergamot to our gin and tonics and then purely by chance ran into Eric Golson at the Central Coast distillery,” Lance Walheim said. “We started hitting it off and I started bringing in all sorts of different types of specialty citrus, and one of the ones that came out the best was the bergamot gin.”

Bergamot sour orange is a fruit you might not have heard of but may be familiar with its flavor and aroma. The rind of bergamot is the distinctive flavor you taste in Earl Grey Tea. The oils in the rind are also used in perfumes. Though the juice is very sour, Bergamot is also being used by creative chefs in a variety of recipes for sauces, drinks and deserts.

The dried rind of bergamot sour orange has also been used to flavor a few gins. The fruit is grown primarily in Calabria, Italy and parts of West Africa. There are also some small plantings in California, of which Walheim Ranch is one of the largest.

“When people taste it,  everybody picks up different flavor profiles. It’s really kind of a neat flavor to play with and cast in the spirit,” Eric Olson of Atascadero’s Central Coast Distillery said.

A culinary school graduate, Eric Olson sharpened his cooking skills while traveling through 27 countries.  The highlight of his resume and certainly a gauge of his pedigree, were four years he spent as executive chef of the upscale Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.

 In 2017, he set out on his own and established Central Coast Distillery, home of the award-winning Forager Spirits, on Traffic Way in Atascadero. He is also chef of the small restaurant in the distillery.

This is the second season for the gin, which was introduced last year in small quantities. When it was time for Walheim Ranch Gin’s second season Walheim and Olson decided to bring it back to where it all started.

“The primary reason was it was a big hit over on the coast and the Central Coast distillery primarily. So we sold out fairly quickly. I always thought because naturally we’re originally from Exeter, we’ve been in Exeter for over 30 years so I thought it was a natural fit for the Visalia and Exeter areas,” Wilheim said.

Not only is the collaboration an innovative gin featuring Central Valley’s flavors but it is also helping to fight against the Asian citrus psyllid that has been harming the citrus farming industry in recent years.

“We’re also going to donate $1 for every bottle that is sold to the battle against the Asian citrus psyllid,” Walheim said.

The Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) is a tiny insect that has been causing significant damage to citrus crops around the world, posing a major threat to the citrus industry. In recent years, the impact of ACP has worsened due to its role as a vector for the highly destructive citrus greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB). Measures to control the spread of ACP and HLB have been put into place, but the continuous spread of the insect and the disease remains a serious concern for the global agricultural sector.

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