Nick Chambers grew up hearing stories about his Italian family’s history—how his great-grandfather, Anthony Carbone, journeyed from Italy to America as a pre-teen and in 1903, founded a successful Denver business importing and selling wine, pasta, olive oil, and other essentials.
But it wasn’t until later—much later, when Chambers was in his early 40s—that those stories really began to resonate and helped an idea start to take shape in his mind. Now, the Carbone family lore is serving as the inspiration for a new distillery and community hub in Mosca, a tiny unincorporated community in Alamosa County not far from the entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Chambers, 44, is renovating a historic, 1930s-era gymnasium in the hopes of launching San Luis Valley Distillery next spring. With the new venture—which will include a tasting room that serves locally sourced fare and sells bottles of wine featuring his family’s historic “Carbone Brand” label—he hopes to not only honor his heritage but also showcase Colorado-grown agricultural products and sustainability practices. Once the distillery is up and running, Chambers plans to make vodka using potatoes, quinoa, and carrots grown in the region; the spirits will bear the San Luis Valley Distillery label (it was formerly called Distilleria del Valle).
Meanwhile, he also partnered with Palisade winery Sauvage Spectrum to create a batch of red wine in bottles bearing the vintage, early 1900s-era label from his great-grandfather and grandfather’s business. After Prohibition ended in 1933, the state awarded their company the first wine and liquor license in Colorado. A. Carbone and Company became “bonded winery No. 1,” a fact that they printed proudly on the old—and now, new—wine bottles. Chambers plans to sell the wine online and at the distillery soon, and he’s also in talks about similar partnerships with other local wineries. “Once I tell them my story—‘Hey, this is liquor license number one in the state of Colorado’—they’re really intrigued, and the story goes a long way,” Chambers says.
Chambers’ great-grandfather Anthony Carbone grew up in Avellino, Italy, where his family owned a vineyard. After his father died, Anthony moved to Boston to live with relatives when he was 11 years old. He eventually became a real estate developer and started a family of his own, complete with five children. He moved to Colorado and, in 1903, founded A. Carbone and Company, an Italian food import and wine blending/distribution business. When Anthony died, his oldest son, John, took over the business, which survived Prohibition, a big fire at the company’s warehouse on Wazee Street, and, according to family legend, even mob threats. At one point, the company was the largest distributor of wine and spirits west of the Mississippi, Chambers says.
The Carbones sold the business in 1953, but held onto the name, which is why Chambers has been able to revitalize the brand. “I am thrilled and just full of joy that he wants to honor our family in the way that he has, and I know if my dad were here, he would be so proud of Nick—and we all are so proud of Nick,” says Chambers’ mother and business partner, Claudia Carbone (the daughter of the late John Carbone).
For Chambers, who works in local food distribution and teaches at Santa Fe Community College, the distillery will also help raise awareness among locals and tourists visiting the sand dunes about the valley’s impressive farmers, growers, and food producers. Chambers also hopes the site will be a model and educational hub for sustainable practices. He plans to incorporate as much renewable energy technology as he can, including solar power, anaerobic food waste digestion, and wood chip gasification.
“To build a distillery and hook it up to propane and electricity was not interesting to me,” says Chambers, who’s also working with his brothers Dave and Mike and nephew JD Kettle on the new venture. “I want it to be a place where we can demonstrate that we can provide heat and power and run a little light commercial operation, and get people to be aware of how energy moves and flows through our lives and how to treat it respectfully. Yeah, we might be serving cocktails on the weekends, but come the weekdays, we might be giving tours to school kids.”
Above all else, he wants the distillery—which was listed on the state’s historic register in September 2020—to be a community gathering place. “We want to do something for everybody,” he says. “Mom and dad and the kids, older and younger drinkers, non-drinkers. We’re going to be a cool hot spot. It’s an experience. Especially in this day and age, the one thing you can’t replicate or put online are experiences. It’ll be a destination.”