Eric and Jackie Gichner enjoy a good martini, but when they went looking for a pre-made, premium vodka-based version at the store, they soon realized such a beverage didn’t exist. “There was nothing on the shelves that was a ‘true’ cocktail like you would get from a bartender,” explains Jackie. “They were all either malts or wine-based, which if you want a real martini you want vodka. They were all weak. If I want a martini, I want a strong martini – like I would get at a bar.”
So Eric and Jackie decided to be the ones to introduce this type of martini to the market. There was one little problem – they had no experience in the liquor industry. Eric had studied finance at Arizona State University and was working as a trader for the Chicago Board of Trade and Jackie was an event planner.
“The biggest surprise was just how difficult the whole process was,” says Jackie. “I know nothing is easy. But it was every single thing – every single thing was a challenge.” From the threads on the cap and how much space there is at the top of the bottle to negotiating where your shelf space is going to be in a store, everything is more complex when it comes to selling spirits.
The liquor industry’s many laws and regulations, in combination with state liquor laws and individual store rules, presents a challenge to those attempting to produce and sell alcohol. Getting liquor on the shelves is a multi-step process. First, they send their bottles to a small distillery in St. Louis, where their recipes are developed and their martinis are bottled. From there, the product gets shipped to a distributor who in turn sells it to retailers. This three-tier system is something that was put in place after Prohibition and is the standard method of how spirits are marketed today. “You can’t just pitch it like a regular product – it has to go through so many different people,” says Jackie.
After overcoming these obstacles and putting more than three years into research and development, the Gichners launched Vitani in 2015. Thankfully, coming up with the name was a much easier process – Eric and Jackie picked two letters from each one of their children’s names: David, Taylor and Dani.
They also worked on coming up with a cocktail brand. “Our whole purpose is to create what you would get from a bartender – when there is no bartender,” explains Jackie. This branding also included coming up with sleek and original packaging, which was recyclable but not made of glass so consumers could take it to the pool, beach, boat or concert venues. They chose aluminum which has the advantage of chilling five times faster than glass and staying cold longer. It also has a longer shelf life. “You can open it and shut it and drink it again in two weeks, it’s not like wine that goes bad,” says Jackie.
Vitani martinis are available in five flavors: Dirty, Cosmo, Citrus-Ginger, Elderpear and Cucumber. “The Cosmo is hands down the best seller, then the Dirty – if people drink dirty martinis, then they love it because it is pretty spot on,” explains Jackie. The Elderpear (flavored with pear, honey and elderflower) is popular due to its sweetness, while the Citrus-Ginger attracts those looking for something more tart and refreshing. The Cucumber Martini won a silver medal at the San Francisco International Spirits Competition in 2015. The martinis come in a 250-milliliter single-serving size and also 750 milliliters for those who want to share their beverage.
They often do demonstrations at the stores that carry Vitani, so that people can try it and realize that it is a “real” drink. Eric and Jackie are currently researching other flavors and toying with the thought of introducing other beverages to the Vitani line. “The biggest obstacle is getting it out there,” says Jackie, but she knows one thing is easy, “We have something that appeals to everyone’s taste.”
Vitani can be found at AJ’s Fine Foods stores; on the menu at resort locations including The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, Boulders Resort & Spa, Hotel Valley Ho and The Phoenician Resort; and while hitting the links at Desert Mountain Club, Country Club at DC Ranch, Quintero Golf Club, and Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia. For more information, visit drinkvitani.com.