Luca Mariano Distillery opens first rickhouse

Published 5:15 pm Sunday, May 29, 2022

Luca Mariano Distillery held the grand opening of its first rickhouse on May 14 on its new property, the William Crow farm.

The project is a milestone in Luca Mariano’s long-term plan that has been years in the making, and will continue for many more years. The rickhouse is named after Dan Campbell, a realtor who helped the distillery find and buy the 300-acre property in Danville. 

Luca Mariano’s founder Francesco Viola fell in love with the William Crow farm when Campbell showed it to him years ago. But the property was not for sale, and so Viola continued his search across the state for the perfect place to build his distillery. 

But the farm in Danville kept coming back to his mind. “This one is what spoke to us; we fell in love with it,” Viola said during the opening.

So he had Campbell contact the farm owners to ask about buying it. 

“Everything that was here with its historical value and also in the city of Danville gave a lot of credibility to what we were trying to achieve,” Campbell explained. “I had Francesco out here showing him the property, then we had to figure out how to get it, because it was not for sale.”

After many negotiations, Campbell made a deal with the owners at his kitchen table for Luca Mariano to buy it. 

L to R: Luca Mariano Founder Francesco Viola listens to Dan Campbell, who the rickhouse is named after. A priest on the right side waits to bless the rickhouse; Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman stands next to him. Photo by Fiona Morgan

The journey for Viola started back in 2010 when he was experimenting with distilling liquor in his garage as a hobby. After learning that this hobby was actually illegal, Viola obtained a license to start his own distillery. 

His grandfather, Mariano Viola, had a dream that his family would move from Italy to the U.S., start a business and live the “American dream.” Mariano had taught Francesco how to distill brandy and whiskey. He started the distillery in honor of his grandfather’s dreams.

And Viola’s dreams are not small. He plans to build a row of 13 rickhouses, and will name each one after people who have helped him make these dreams a reality. 

In addition to a distillery, he wants to build a chocolate factory for high quality desserts, a visitor’s center, bar, boutique hotel, and stores.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” Viola said. “I just want something that has a lot of character that we can be proud of and say ‘wow, that architecture is beautiful.’”

Right now, Luca Mariano partners with Wilderness Trail Distillery to make liquor with their own bourbon and rye recipe. Luca Mariano plans to break ground on its own distillery in July, with an expected completion date of September 2023.

The distillery will be next to the William Crow house, which is known as the oldest stone house in Kentucky, built in 1783. Though the house was left abandoned for many decades and is in major disrepair, Luca Mariano plans to rebuild it to how it originally looked.

The oldest stone house in Kentucky on Luca Mariano’s property will be rebuilt to how it originally looked. Photo by Fiona Morgan

Viola said the house will be interactive for visitors; people will be able to learn about its history, but it will also serve as either a bar, store, or visitor’s center. It will likely be rebuilt after the distillery is complete.

“We have a rich history here from the past, but we’re creating history right now,” Viola said.

Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman and Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles were also in attendance at the opening. They spoke about the distillery’s positive impact it will have on the local economy and on agriculture in the state.

“I hope that you know what a huge deal this is to a community like Danville,” Coleman said at the opening.

Coleman grew up in Burgin, which is not far from Danville, and said she never would have imagined this kind of development happening in this community 20 years ago.

“I get to travel the state and do economic development investments every day, but when you get to do it at home, it means so much more,” Coleman said. “To know what this means for the community, for the schools that are here, for the businesses that are here, for the local government that’s here, it’s remarkable.”

Luca Mariano plans to grow its own crops on the property and create a vertical supply system. They just planted soybeans, and will also plant corn and wheat. They hired a local farmer to help. 

“One of the things that’s very important to us and one of the experiences that will be here is to bring guests and schools and teach them that their food doesn’t come from a grocery store,” Viola said. “So many people just don’t realize what’s involved; and we will have livestock, greenhouses, and ways to show people what farmers go through.”

Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles praised Luca Mariano’s commitment to using local farm resources, and growing their own crops for the distillery. Photo by Fiona Morgan

Quarles said good bourbon comes from high quality water, grain and local resources, and he praised the distillery’s use of them.

“This is what agriculture looks like today, and we appreciate the heritage and the investment you’ve made in Kentucky,” Quarles said.

Luca Mariano will start building its second rickhouse this fall.