Meramec Vineyards Winery in St. James and Belmont Vineyards and Winery in Leasburg teamed up to turn unused product into hand sanitizer, which was donated to area first responders last week. For the first run, 900 bottles of sanitizer was made and provided to area police departments and ambulance districts.
Meramec Vineyards Winery is owned and operated by husband and wife team Joe and Michelle Boulware. Joe said he was thinking about expanding the business into distilling operations when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He was contacted by Belmont Vineyards owner Jeff Voss about teaming to make hand sanitizer.
“Meramec Vineyards Winery, which also holds distilling and brewing licenses, began our Meramec Moonshine brand a little over a year ago. Right before COVID-19, we had plans to expand the brewery and distilling operations. Of course, then came the stay-at-home orders and curbside service,” Boulware explained.
He added the business was also trying to learn how to turn their 95 percent on-site service to a takeout or curbside pickup model during the pandemic, which was met with community support.
“The idea came about when one day fellow winery owner Jeff Voss, of Belmont Vineyards and Winery, contacted me asking about my distilling business. He made the suggestion of hand sanitizer and asked if I had given it any thought,” Boulware said. “I told him honestly I have, but I just was so stretched out with keeping our business in survival mode throughout this pandemic.”
Voss, Boulware said, has over 20 plus years’ experience and began working on a formula to use out-of-date product to create hand sanitizer people on the front lines could use, with the product meeting the guidelines suggested by health officials. “Jeff talked me into it. He had experience and looked in to (how to do it),” Boulware said. “He sought out bottles, nozzles, and labels.”
Meramec Vineyards has a 26 gallon still to produce its moonshine line and it was easy to convert.
“We added glycerin, vitamin E, and essential oils,” Boulware explained. The blend was made to not dry out a user’s skin and the essential oils also eliminated the alcohol smell. “I was nervous, of course, but I’ve always felt that risk for a good cause will always pay off. So, we started working on the project. I was in charge of fundraising for our operation,” he said. “The great thing about sponsors is it allows other businesses and individuals to become part of some good in the communities.
“We knew from the beginning we would be donating bottles as the need presented itself. Of course, it did as I was at a city council meeting and learned first-hand of the shortage of hand sanitizer. So, we decided our first few runs would be donated to surrounding counties and first responders first. We know the need may lead us into other markets, so we are preparing for that as well,” he said.
Boulware said wine and beer are both agents to use to create the product, since they have already been fermented once before. “We tried experimenting with beer. The process is a little bit different because it is carbonated, of course,” he explained. He added the process eventually was worked out and the first run of 900 bottles was created, at a cost of $1.50 per bottle.
Both wineries are planning on continuing to produce product as long as it is a needed commodity in their communities and have continued taking sponsors, who get their name on the label. A fundraising campaign is still ongoing o Meramec Vineyards Winery Facebook page, having raised over $2,500 already. Boulware thanked all the supporters of the project and hopes it meets the needs of first responders and those who must be out in public serving their respective communities.