The Ventura Limoncello Company, the county’s decorated liqueur producer, has ceased operations after a lengthy and frustrating battle against California’s distribution and Prohibition holdover laws.
The Ventura Limoncello Company, founded by James Carling and Manuela Zaretti-Carling, was the only producer of its kind in the state with three core products: a limoncello, limoncello crema and a blood-orange orangecello, utilizing fruit from Limoneira Ranch, Petty Ranch and Old Gold Farms.
The Company’s limoncello won gold medals at the San Francisco Spirits Competition and was America’s highest-rated limoncello. But according to James, since production began in 2008, the company has had to leap a multitude of hurdles.
“We had a real challenge with, A, getting distributors in being interested in the brand and, B, once we had distribution, being able to get it out to the marketplace,” said James. The company wasn’t allowed legally to distribute its own product, nor was it allowed to sell product or offer tastings from its facility in Ventura.
“The nail in the coffin and what made us make this very difficult decision was the fact that the state of California did not see that our particular product was artisan enough to be included in the Craft Distillers Act,” said James.
The irony being that James sat on the committee of the California Artisan Distillers Guild, which lobbied for the law, passed in 2015, which would have allowed distilleries and producers to have tastings and on-site sales. James says that in the 12th hour, however, the distinction between a distillery that makes everything on site and what Ventura Limoncello did, which was to have the base neutral spirit made for them and then brought into the facility, was removed, allowing only the distilleries that produce everything on site to be included.
With the change, James says that up to 60 percent of the guild’s members were left out of the final law.
“Every week I had people either call me or show up at my facility wanting a tour, taste and to buy bottles,” said James. “Oftentimes it was because they went to a store and they didn’t have it in stock, and I had to turn them away.”
The Ventura Limoncello Company stopped production as of Friday, Sept. 30, but James says that there are still bottles floating around in markets throughout the county. He adds, however, that “You better get it if you want it because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”