A French liqueur made by an American beekeeper inspired his Copenhagen-based daughter and her English husband to leave Denmark and make wine in Germantown.
Talk about cliché backstories…
This tale of international intrigue opens in Clermont, early 2000s. Ray Tousey, a former Air Force officer turned honey farmer, has a small side business making Crème de Cassis, a sweet, dark liqueur distilled from black currants and best known for its role as a mixer with wine in a kir (or, better still, with champagne in a kir royale).
Cut to Yorkshire, England, 2007. Ben Peacock, an office worker in London, is at a party back in his hometown. There, through mutual friends, he meets Kimberly Tousey. She works for a record company in Copenhagen, where she has lived, with her Danish-born mother, since age 8. They hit it off, get married, settle in Copenhagen, and welcome their first child in 2008.
Back to Clermont, 2010. Ben and Kimberly have crossed the pond to introduce Ray to his new grandson. Amid the celebrations, Ray presents an interesting idea. He has acquired all the necessary licensing to make other wines, but he doesn’t have the capacity or the desire to operate a big winery. What he does have is access to a former retail building, now vacant, across the street from his farm in Germantown. He sees an opportunity for the young couple: Take his licenses and his farm, and start a winery. “We certainly drank lots of wine, but we didn’t know how to make it,” Ben Peacock says. Nevertheless, they decided to do it. “Looking back, we were incredibly naïve. Actually, ignorance may be the correct term.”
They moved their young and growing family — they now have three children — to Clermont, and went all in. “We didn’t want to come and make substandard wine. We wanted the best wines we could make,” Peacock says. They made two crucial decisions up front. “One, I would make the wine. And two, we would need a mentor to hit the ground running.” He found a mentor at Fox Run Vineyards in the Finger Lakes, where he spent three years, “more or less as an intern.” He also took chemistry classes at Columbia Greene Community College, because “winemaking is a science as well as an art.”
They produced their first vintage, with other growers’ grapes, in 2010, and their first estate wines the next year. They also continued to make Cassis, mainly because Ray wanted to keep the bees in his 250 hives busy making the honey he blends with the black currants in his recipe.
They still make a small amount of Cassis, but about 98 percent of their business is wine. Along with their top seller, a pinot noir, they market cabernet franc, rosé, chardonnay, Riesling, and a few others, including Queen of Clermont, a blend of three grapes. “That’s a customer favorite,” Peacock says.
This year they will produce close to 3,000 cases; 80 to 85 percent of the grapes used in that wine will be their own. They sport a tasting room in Clermont, with an eatery called the Heirloom Café run by two CIA grads, and a private room for special bookings.
Success has them thinking of expansion. “We can’t produce one more gallon in the space we have now,” Peacock says. “Our tasting room has tripled in size and is already near capacity, so we are looking at other properties.” They won’t be moving too far, though, which makes everyone happy. Especially founding father, Ray. “He gets to see his three grandchildren every day,” Peacock says. “And I think he is proud of his daughter, his family carrying on and transforming the business from what it was.”