Luca Mariano Distillery places its first still

Published 3:52 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

By Fiona Morgan

Luca Mariano Distillery installed its first 18-inch column still in its new David Phillips Craft Distillery on Sept. 14.

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Several local leaders watched as construction crews used a crane to lift the 36-foot-tall still, and moved it toward the new building. Crews lowered the still through an open part of the roof to its new home.

The still will process up to 15,000 gallons per day, and will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s the first of three stills that will go in the craft distillery.

Construction has been ongoing at the new distillery for almost a year. It’s the second new building on Luca Mariano’s property at 128 Letton Drive in Danville, also called the William Crowe Farm.

Luca Mariano opened its first rickhouse on the property in May 2022, named after realtor Dan Campbell. The craft distillery is named after Master Distiller David Phillips, who is overseeing the distillery’s construction and will operate it once it’s complete.

Founder and CEO Francesco Viola explained that each building on the property will be named after people who have helped turn his distillery dreams into reality. The next rickhouse will be named after Earl Robinson, who Viola purchased 17 acres from for the project.

“It took 13 years to get to this point, and we’re very happy and proud of this moment,” Viola said.

Viola estimates that the distillery will be done by late November. He said there were some delays due to materials and barrels not being available. But now that they have the necessary materials, and once the stills are in, construction will move fast.

Viola has already hired all 14 positions to operate the distillery building. More jobs will continue to come, as Viola has big plans for the property.

In the coming years, Viola plans to start construction on 13 more rickhouses, another larger distillery next to the craft distillery, an outdoor amphitheater, and a two-block city-style village. The village will have shops and restaurants on the first floors, with a boutique hotel on the upper floors.

Eventually, the entrance to the property will be from East Main Street. Viola said he wants people visiting to see and experience Danville’s Main Street before they get to the distillery, so they might be intrigued to see more of the city.

“I just want to do my part to preserve a treasure here,” Viola said, referring to Danville’s land.

The property has about 500 acres of farmland, which is growing corn that will go directly to making bourbon. Viola said they’ve been able to clean up some tree lines and overgrowth to add more acres to farm. That work added even more farm acres than what they’re taking away for building development.

“The goal for us is to control the grains; when we control all the processes from start to finish, we’ll be able to have a unique product, and what we feel is the best quality product,” Viola said. “We’re not just at the mercy of someone else, we create our own specifications, and you’ll taste that in our product.”

Luca Mariano recently released its first eight-year bourbon whiskey. Luca Mariano Ambassador 86 is a limited release to coincide with the 2023 NFL season, and to celebrate the career of Antonio Freeman, a former Green Bay Packers wide receiver and Super Bowl XXXI champion.

It’s a three-barrel small batch, high rye Kentucky straight bourbon, and is 86 proof. Viola said Freeman is a good friend of his family’s, since they’ve bonded over their love of the Green Bay Packers. They named the batch 86, which was Freeman’s jersey number throughout his NFL career.

“Being a professional football player, you’re part of a team, and then suddenly I wasn’t when I retired, but Luca Mariano swept me off my feet and put me back on a team,” Freeman said in a news release. “I couldn’t be more proud to be representing Luca Mariano’s first eight-year product.”