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Sabbatical Distillery: Innovative Craft Distilling on the Farm

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“Much like our distillery, the word sabbatical has its roots in agriculture. Originally signifying a year-long break from working the fields, its meaning has evolved over time but the sentiment remains, a break or change from the routine for rest, rejuvenation and new pursuits. Whether it’s a break for an hour, a day, a drink or a year, we believe it’s always a good time for a Sabbatical.”

San Joaquin County had not seen a distillery since pre-prohibition times but, over 100 years later, Jack Zech and Danny Leonard have come along and changed that. In doing so, they surprised even themselves by nabbing double-gold medals in 2022 with their very first release, a blended whiskey that knocked the socks off the judges and would surely have been the envy of even the best bootlegger. Then Sabbatical Distillery took the gold again with their debut gin, Sábado.

Unique Blends
East of San Francisco, on the California Delta, lies some of the richest, most productive farmland on the planet. It is here, on Victoria Island, amidst 7,000 acres of Jack’s family farmland, that Jack and Danny develop and produce their meticulously crafted premium spirits. Each beverage is like no other on the market, in part because they use their own farm-fresh ingredients to innovate and to perfect their finished products. They say it’s also because they have the freedom to test and experiment extensively, to seek out ingredients such as malted barley of every kind, to locate “that extra character component” that sets their whiskeys apart from others.

At the Sabbatical production site, 16021 CA-4 in Holt, visitors drop in steadily to sample this lineup of small batch whiskeys and to sip a remarkable blueberry-lemon vodka and their outstanding Sábado gin, all crafted with produce grown on site. “We are not at 100 percent yet, but we are working steadily toward using our own farm products exclusively,” Danny clarified. He described the reactions people have when they are introduced to Sabbatical beverages. “People are somewhat blown away and really appreciate the quality and flavor of the whiskey. The bright flavor and smooth botanical style of our gin are a huge discovery for a lot of people as well, many of whom previously had never even liked gin. The newly converted and self-proclaimed gin lovers alike often tell us it’s the best they’ve ever tasted. That’s a really gratifying reaction to witness, especially after so many hours spent perfecting our process behind the scenes.”

The Choice
What led these two businessmen-turned-artisans to take on such an ambitious project? As with any big undertaking, a multitude of factors paved the way. Danny and Jack first became friends while attending UC San Diego. Both graduated with double majors in economics and international business and each left to work in other countries for big-name companies, eventually rising to leadership positions with COO-type responsibilities. It was several years later when Jack received a letter from his grandfather, Nic, about the farm, that he recognized what an unusual opportunity lay before him to build a dream business.

After taking a sabbatical of their own to research and study the possibilities, Jack and Danny knew they wanted to proceed. “We had this space available to us, the family supported our idea, and it was something we knew we just had to take the leap and start this distillery,” Jack said. “Yes, we decided pretty swiftly,” agreed Danny. Not only did both friends have complementary skill sets, they recognized the importance and stability that came from knowing they shared the same values, beliefs and goals.

While a multitude of factors may have paved the way, there were also a multitude of roadblocks. Patience proved to be indispensable in obtaining all the clearances and approvals from the county, state and federal agencies that supervise the production of spirits. Danny summed up just one of the many arduous processes. “It took us over three years just to get permission to turn on the equipment,” he said, gesturing toward a row of gleaming stills and fermentation tanks where their award-winning products are made.

The Results
Sabbatical will soon launch its new Spirits Membership Program featuring quarterly deliveries, special events and other assorted perks for members. They collaborate regularly with fine restaurants to present whiskey-pairing dinners and offer tastings at retail partner locations. Upcoming on-site events will feature food trucks, U-pick at the farm for the summer blueberry harvest season and various seasonal farm stand events that highlight the various fruits, nuts, honeys and vegetables grown just outside the distillery on Victoria Island Farms.

Both partners say that they absolutely thrive on the intensely detail-oriented production methods and the wide variety of their day-to-day responsibilities. The seasonal nature of farming and the unlimited approach to developing each product keeps everything new and exciting. With their focus on quality, sustainability and commitment to the community, Sabbatical Distillery continues to exceed expectations, and, as they say, “push the limits of what a craft distillery can be.”

In addition to direct sales from the website with shipping throughout California and in-person sales at the Sabbatical Distillery Bottle Shop and Tasting Bar, Sabbatical’s products are available at locations including bars, nearly 100 restaurants and stores from the Bay Area to the Central Valley and beyond. For a complete list, visit