How Valentine Distilling Co. began
For Rifino Valentine, founder of Ferndale-based Valentine Distilling Co., owning a business isn’t just about making profits – it’s about creating products of the highest quality and protecting the environment in the process.
Valentine was born and raised on a farm in Leelanau County, where his family lived off the land. They raised chickens and goats, ate produce they grew themselves and planted evergreens to replace the barren pastureland. This lifestyle gave Valentine a great passion for the environment, a passion that would heavily influence his business decisions so many years later.
While attending Cornell University, where he majored in economics and competed on the wrestling team, Valentine became interested in microbrewing. He found the mechanics and engineering of it fascinating and began microbrewing beer in a bathtub to learn the process.
After graduation, Valentine spent 11 years on Wall Street working as an equity trader. His drink of choice: dirty martinis. Out one night, he realized the vodka he was being served wasn’t the best quality – it was the best marketed. Valentine recognized that we were losing quality manufacturing in America, and the only way he could consume a dirty martini was with a mass-produced, imported vodka. He knew he could do better.
In 2007, Valentine returned to Michigan, learned the art of fine distilling through Michigan State’s Artisan Distilling program, and founded Valentine Distilling Co. He was determined to create the finest spirits and show America that quality manufacturing still exists in Detroit. At the time, the company was among the nation’s first craft distilleries – today, there are more than 2,000.
Valentine Distilling Co. still manages to stand out from the crowd, with award-winning bourbon, gin and vodka available throughout Michigan, nine other states and six other countries. While his spirits have won numerous awards throughout the world, that’s not all that sets his company apart.
A leader in sustainability
In 2019, Valentine Distilling Co. unveiled a 10-year, $500,000 climate sustainability initiative. The first phase involves efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. Succeeding phases will incorporate energy generating systems using wind and solar power, with the eventual goal of becoming carbon neutral. Initial sustainability projects have included installing energy efficient lighting, a higher efficiency steam boiler and a rooftop free chiller that kicks in anytime outside temperatures fall below 45 degrees.
As a proud Michigander, Valentine is devoted to preserving the natural resources that provide water for his company. Craft distilleries use at least 500 gallons of water a day on average. With 1,800 craft distilleries in the U.S., nearly 1 million gallons of water are used per day, and the majority is process water that is being wasted. Valentine Distilling Co. now uses equipment that recaptures 95-98 percent of water lost during the distillation process, which will save nearly 2,000 gallons of water per day. This is projected to save 4.75 million gallons of water over the 10-year period.
Perhaps as a tribute to Valentine’s childhood, Valentine Distilling Co. also launched a farm-bottle-farm program. The company purchases the grains they use in the distilling process from Midwestern farmers. After the grain goes through production, the starches are removed to leave them rich in protein. The grains are then returned to the farmers to be used for cattle feed.
Another big concern for Valentine is his company’s energy use. Through DTE’s MIGreenPower program, Valentine Distilling Co.’s Ferndale tasting room will attribute 50 percent of its energy use to DTE’s Pinnebog Wind park. This commitment will offset 9.3 tons of CO2, which is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from driving nearly 21,000 miles.
You can be part of the change
If you are passionate about the environment and reducing your carbon footprint, DTE’s MIGreenPower program could be a perfect fit. The program allows you to choose what percentage of your energy use you’d like to attribute to Michigan-made renewable energy. You’ll be joining more than 250 businesses and 25,000 residential subscribers committed to creating a cleaner Michigan. To learn more and enroll, visit dteenergy.com/migreenpower.