DIY Cocktail Tips from Wine Country Experts

DIY Cocktail Tips from Wine Country Experts

A farm-to-bar, class-to-glass, off-road adventure with Wine Country’s most creative and herbal cocktail makers and shakers.

Adapted from DIY Herbal Cocktails from Wine Country, published in the Summer 2016 issue of Edible Marin & Wine Country. Story and recipes by Nissa Pierson; Photos by Nat + Cody Gantz.


Hidden under the shade of Wine Country lies a thriving farm-to-bar cocktail scene. That’s no surprise given the wide array of locally-distilled spirits that have cropped up in recent years.  Pair those with the region’s bountiful farm fresh produce and you have a highly potent mix. 


Order up a bottle (or several) of spirits from one of the talented craft distillers on Bay Area Doorstep Market, then follow these DIY tips from a few of the hottest cocktail superstars in the region and you’ll soon find yourself imbibing your way into mad cocktail mixing skills. 

Photo Credit: Nat and Cody Gantz

Arthur Hartunian, Owner, Napa Valley Distillery 


“Start with home-infused spirits for an extra special touch. Don’t be afraid to experiment, even take opposite flavors and make them work.”


Combine your favorite spirit (use a mid-range quality) with a large handful of fresh herbs, using flowers, stems and seeds, or a combination, in a large glass jar or bottle.  

Add in slices or whole pieces of ripe, peak of season fruits and/or vegetables. Think fresh fennel fronds and cucumber in gin and mint and peaches in bourbon. 

Place your concoction in a cool, dark place to rest and infuse. 

Shake the jar or bottle every few days for 2–3 weeks, continually smelling and tasting for desired level of infusion.  

Scott Beattie, Beverage Director, Meadowood Napa Valley 


“A salted or sugared rim wakes up the palate for the sip to come.”


Basic recipe for salt or sugar rims: 5 parts salt or sugar to 1 part fresh herbs.

Flash dry fresh herbs by popping in the microwave for 10–20 seconds.  Finely chop or crush herbs and mix with salt or sugar.

Play with various parts of the herbs to alter salt/sugar flavor essences.
Use minimally processed organic sugars, like turbinado or raw.
Liven it up by using vibrantly-colored salts like black lava or pink Himalayan.
Balance by adding citrus zest.

Keep things interesting by using Shared Culture's Koji Salt, available on the Market now.

Photo Credit: Nat and Cody Gantz

Photo Credit: Nat and Cody Gantz

Kirsti Harley, Bar Director, Alexander Valley Bar at Medlock Ames Winery


“Don’t be afraid of the wacky or the weird; use well-crafted spirits.”


Basic recipe for cocktail syrup: Equal parts sweetner and water.

Bring the water to just under a boil. Remove from heat and mix in your sweetener of choice (Experiment with honey, agave, maple syrup or turbinado, brown or coconut sugar), stirring until dissolved. 

Add a handful of fresh herbs and allow to steep for a few hours.

Strain and discard solids. 

Chill syrup until ready to use. 

Tara Heffernon, Co-Owner, Duke’s Spirited Cocktails

“Keep the integrity of the cocktail local, but don’t be afraid to journey for treats. Be particular about glassware. The increased pleasure from the glass is vast. And take your ice up a notch, too!”


With just three types of bar glassware—coupe, rocks/tumbler and Collins-style—you can properly execute nearly all cocktail styles.  Vintage styles found in local antique shops add an extra special touch.


Ice. It makes a difference, and “fancy” cocktail ice is relatively easy and cheap to execute at home. Incorporate widely-available silicone ice molds into your home cocktail repertoire. Store-bought ice is the enemy, but when the party gets big enough, make friends with it.

Photo Credit: Nat and Cody Gantz

Photo Credit: Nat and Cody Gantz

Gillian Tyrnauer, formerly of Healdsburg SHED

“Preservation should be sustainable. Enjoy guilt-free peach shrub in January.”


The basic recipe for a raw shrub: equal parts sugar, fruit and vinegar.
Shrub making is very creative and contingent upon each taster’s palate. Use windfall or excess fruits, if you are lucky enough to have them.

Combine 1 cup chopped fruit with 1 cup sugar and a handful of chopped herbs and any spices you want to add in a quart-sized Mason jar. 

Shake vigorously and place in the refrigerator to macerate for 3–5 days,  shaking again every so often.  

Strain the macerated fruit. 

Mix 1 cup vinegar into the strained fruit liquid.

Chill shrub until ready to use. Shrubs will keep for up to six months in the refrigerator. 

Use in cocktails or add to sparkling water or regular water for a non-alcoholic treat.

Tucker Taylor, Director of Culinary Gardens at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens

“It all starts with the soil. Nothing beats using hyper fresh herbs in your drinks.”


Grow what you like to eat and use in cocktails. It doesn’t matter if you have a farm, a raised bed garden, or only have room for small containers or pots. Start with good organic soil. Trial and error is the only way to learn.

Choose a variety of common, as well as more exotic specialty herbs.

Add a few edible flowers to your garden. They attract beneficial insects while growing and provide bold color to your cocktails.

Herbal Scraps with Nissa Pierson 

“Herbal odds and ends in cocktails make for a sustainable and waste free summer.”

Absolutely every bit of fresh herbs can be used in making herbal cocktail ingredients: herbal shrubs, mixers, infusions, tonics, bitters, etc. Be creative, test, play and don’t be afraid to “Google it!”


Use green stems from leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro to make herbal syrups.  Think Vodka Strawberry Parsley Stem Cooler.
Infuse essence into your booze with flowering herbs.  Imagine Thai Basil-Infused Vodka Cucumber Lemonade.
Herbs have roots, use them.  Conjure up Cilantro Root Mango Shrub. 

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