Delta Neat

Island distillery thrives on home-grown ingredients

By Gabrielle Myers
July 2024

At Victoria Island Farms and Sabbatical Distillery & Tasting Room, where Delta crops have grown since 1964, farm to fork blossoms into distilled spirits.

Guests sample blueberry lemon vodka, single-malt whisky, straight bourbon and Sabado gin, all made with botanicals, corn, blueberries and citrus from this historic farm.

Sabbatical is the first distillery in San Joaquin County since prohibition. Founded by Danny Leonard and Jack Zech, the company builds on the agricultural roots of Zech’s family, which has owned Victoria Island Farms for generations.

Victoria Island Farms was one of the largest producers of asparagus, with 1,000 acres in production. Global competition and production costs forced the farm to diversify.

The farm and distillery stand on Victoria Island, a 7,000-acre patch in the San Joaquin Delta. With a system of levees, canals and pumps, Victoria Island uses Delta water to feed diverse crops before replenishing the watershed.

The farm continues to grow asparagus, tomatoes, almonds, island wheat, barley and alfalfa. Sabbatical’s tasting room occupies the old asparagus processing facility.

The blueberry orchard provides picking opportunities for visitors for five or so weeks in May and June. Unpicked blueberries infuse the distillery’s flavored vodka and other spirits.

When I visited, I could see and hear thousands of bees near the blueberry blossoms, buzzing in the coming season. Their honey is sold in the distillery, along with organic pistachios raised by neighboring Nichols Farm.

Leonard and Zech, who met at UC San Diego, developed their signature spirits after lengthy training and experimentation. The pair played with white and yellow non-GMO corn varieties. Next, they plan to try Texas blue corn.

Sabbatical’s Sabado gin is made from 13 farm-raised botanicals, including juniper berries, sarsaparilla, angelica, chamomile, rose petals, coriander, blueberries, dehydrated lemon, grapefruit and orange peels.

When I visited, Leonard held up a bag filled with thick cuts of lemon rinds. He described the process of distilling gin that won a double gold award in the World Spirits Competition in 2022.

Blueberry lemon vodka is part of the Island Harvest Series. The two primary fruits come from the farm’s orchards. Lemon vodka, reminiscent of Italian limoncello, offers a bright depth and citrus aroma.

What distinguishes the series is the vapor extraction of citrus essences and infusion of peels. Leonard explains how “fruit sediment is left in and not filtered out” to impart an intense lemon flavor.

Sabbatical employs sustainable practices by spreading out distillery byproducts, such as mash and stems, into the fields. The distillery uses electric stills and solar panels.

When asked about plans for Sabbatical, Leonard says he and Zeck would like “to expand the space to offer more year-round, farm-to-bottle experiences and grow more crops throughout the year.”

They also hope to partner with UC Davis and offer learning and educational pathways.

Visit Sabbatical most Saturdays or by appointment. For information, visit

Gabrielle Myers can be reached at Her latest book of poetry, “Break Self: Feed,” is available for $20.99 from Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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