Beauty in a bottle:
PEONY VODKA IS IN FULL BLOOM
By Dominique De Vito [email protected]
I met Leslie on a morning that was picture-postcard-perfect. It was early June. Storms had lashed rain the day before, but had cleared out overnight, leaving a turquoise sky through which big, puffy white clouds sailed on a light breeze and all the young summer greens of the grasses and trees were washed clean and were shining under a bright sun. We met at Leslie’s 18th century farmhouse just outside of Millerton, NY. From a patio with a view of hay fields stretching out in the distance, we settled in to talk about something as magical as the day itself, Leslie’s recently launched Peony Vodka. Yes, Peony Vodka
From her piece of paradise in Dutchess County, Leslie Farhangi was inspired. Her journey brought her here from New York City where she was born, then studied to be a lawyer, then met her husband, John. Early in their relationship, they ventured out of the city to look at possible country homes. When they walked into the house that’s now where Three Meadows Farm is headquartered and where they
live, she said, they both knew it was where they wanted to be. That was over 25 years ago. The farm includes a large barn, and with three active boys and a passion for horses and riding herself, she developed a boarding business that kept her busy. But she was itching to do more. A few years ago she noticed how flavored vodkas started lining up on liquor store shelves, and she was curious. She started thinking about flavors, and what sets flavored spirits apart. She researched the medicinal and culinary uses of peonies, which are an edible flower whose petals are often parboiled in China and served as a delicacy with tea. Leslie and a business partner, Tom Parrett, started working together to fashion a unique addition to the flavored vodka category. They spent a few years refining the product and the concept, putting a business plan together, and playing with flavors. They hooked up with a flavor expert from Dutchess
County, and began experimenting. Peony Vodka was born
“We wanted something that would be different,” Leslie says, explaining how they arrived at the flavoring that imbues the Peony Vodka. “Slightly mysterious and unidentifiable,” she smiles, adding, “something subtle; a whisper.” In the development stages, Leslie explained, there was a lot of blind tasting with different groups of people, all with the intention of refining that certain “something” that would come to define the vodka. From the beginning, she knew she wanted a very smooth vodka, too, one that could be equally enjoyed neat or mixed in a cocktail. The vodka is distilled five times and filtered through charcoal twice. The result is an exceptionally clear, pure, and ultra-smooth vodka.
Above: Leslie Farhangi in her peony garden. Below left: A bottle of Peony Vodka. Photos by Jonathan Doster, courtesy of Leslie Farhangi.
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Leslie was excited to conduct a taste test with me, and I was an eager guinea pig. She took two bottles from the freezer. One was a classic, high-end vodka (unflavored), and the other was the Peony. She poured a splash of the premium vodka in a shot glass for me. I sniffed. It was strong; firey. I sipped. It was clean, but there was a slight burn. Not unpleasant, but definitely there. Next, she poured a splash of the Peony in a clean shot glass. I raised it to my nose. No smell. Just clean. I commented on that, and she nodded, confirming that it was a characteristic of the vodka. When I sipped it, there was no burn. Instead, there was a lovely, lingering hint of flower and spice – a very subtle vanilla note laced with nectar. Amazingly smooth, great mouthfeel. I was astonished. It was unlike anything I’d ever tasted. Love at ﬁrst sip
Love at first sip seems to be a common reaction to Peony Vodka. From a soft launch at Little Gates Wine & Spirits in Millerton this past February, Peony has found its way to distinguished functions at the New York Botanical Garden and the New York City Ballet, where guests have raved about it. Leslie has been very pleased with people’s reactions. Making cold calls to select buyers with great success, Leslie is slowly but surely infiltrating the market. Peony is still very “small batch,” according to Leslie, with production at about 1,000 cases. She likes a slow and steady approach, with a keen focus on quality and brand. She was as diligent about defining the look of Peony Vodka as she was about the vodka itself. It’s clean and classic and elegant. Each bottle’s label has a beautiful pink-tinged
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white peony in full bloom against a black background. When viewed through the bottle, the back of the label has a painted country scene on it. There are three different ones – a farm view, a garden party, and a hunt country scene, all reflective of the country life Leslie and her family cherish.
she wants that to change so that the product is again made where it was born, at Three Meadows. In an area that continues to bless and surprise those of us lucky enough to live here, the inspiration for and creation of Peony Vodka in Millerton is exciting and, somehow, just right. And when you acquire a bottle, first try it neat, and then Life-changing vodka make this favorite cocktail of Leslie’s How has becoming the proprietress that she’s named the Millbrook of a new brand of vodka here in the Breeze: two parts Peony Vodka, one Hudson Valley affected her family? part fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, Her oldest son, Caleb, 21, will be a ¾ part fresh-squeezed lime juice, senior in college. “He’s a big fan,” and ½ part St. Germaine liqueur. she says, “a very outgoing guy who Mix in a cocktail shaker with ice loves to talk about it.” The others, and then pour into a glass, or simZack and Asa, aged 16 and 13, are ply mix all parts in a glass and stir. “not so interested,” she noted, but Perfect. • that’s to be expected given their Ask for Peony Vodka in your local wine ages. Her husband, John, is a true and spirits shop. “Like” Peony on Facebeliever, offering support on all levels (including farm and child care book. Learn more on the website at www. when Leslie needs to take her show peonyvodka.com. on the road).”It’s a team effort,” she says with a smile. As to the future, she says she has a strong, long-range vision for organic growth. Because of an unforeseen issue early on, she had to move the manufacturing of Peony out of New York State, but
Photo source istockphoto.com contributor Ksenia_Pelevina