COVID Economy Brings Upturn in Enterprises for Social and Economic Recovery

Members of the Sonoma State University School of Business and Economics Community Provide Vital New Sources of Sanitizer in Fight Against Pandemic
May 4, 2020
Travis Smith standing next to truck of delivered sanitizer

Travis Smith standing next to truck of delivered sanitizer

What do spirits and hand sanitizer have in common? They require alcohol. 

Three members of the Sonoma State University School of Business and Economics family have responded to the nationwide shortage of hand sanitizer by pivoting production from beverages to hand sanitizer. Sonoma Wine Executive MBA students Jason Somerby of New Alchemy Distilling and Travis Smith of American Winesecrets LLC and Spiritsmith LLC, and Gary Heck, owner of F. Korbel & Bros and Wine Business Institute advisory board chairperson, are utilizing their production facilities to help fight the spread of COVID-19 throughout California. They are producing and donating hand sanitizer to local and government agencies, hospitals, first responders, and other essential businesses such as grocery stores and commercial farming operations.

The generosity and community-mindedness of these leaders and many other people during this pandemic truly speaks to the Sonoma spirit of shared values and entrepreneurship. 

Jason Somerby and his wife, Chandra, ICU manager and ER nurse at Kaiser Permanente and co-partners of New Alchemy Distilling, seeing the enormity of the crisis first-hand and how a shortage of hand sanitizer is affecting frontline staff, pivoted their production to provide a product they never expected to produce, sanitizer. They are employing people who would otherwise be out of work and are able to manufacture a product that is vital for the community in these times. Over 40,000 gallons of sanitizer have been donated to hospitals, pharmacies, police departments, longshoremen, paramedics, and many more. “We are focusing on providing businesses with bulk sanitizer to bottle individually in the type of container they desire. We have been providing various small distilleries the sanitizer so they can package it with their label and sell it under their brand,” said Somerby. New Alchemy Distilling gives small distilleries, which cannot mass produce this type of product, the opportunity to continue operating while supplying their local community with a product that is in high demand.

Travis Smith, director of operations at Winesecrets is also leading his team in the hand sanitizer production space to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus in our regional community. Winesecrets provides advanced winemaking solutions through the newest global technologies and innovations. It primarily produces high-proof grape ethanol that is sold to beverage producers who use it in their wine and spirits production. The ethanol is also sold to other businesses at cut-price for sanitation purposes.

Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith and his team at Winesecrets’ Sebastopol distillery has repurposed their premium grape-derived ethanol to the production of hand sanitizer in-house and working with other producers throughout California. Recently, Winesecrets partnered with Treasury Wine Estates to produce 400 gallons of hand sanitizer for donation to hospitals, clinics, and other first responders in Sonoma and Napa counties. The hand sanitizer is packaged in five-gallon totes accompanied by spray bottles for easy application of the product.

Smith has also pivoted his small distilled spirits plant, Spiritsmith Distilling Company, to draw on its inventory of neutral spirits to produce hand sanitizer and an ethanol-based disinfectant. The hand sanitizer is donated to local businesses that need them but may not be able to afford these ethanol-based products that are available tax-free to hospitals, blood banks, sanitariums, certain pathological laboratories, non-profit clinics, and qualifying educational institutions.

Since late March, F. Korbel & Bros., best known for producing fine California champagne and brandy, has donated close to 50,000 bottles (750ml) of hand sanitizer to Emergency Services Organizations throughout California for distribution to first responders, healthcare facilities and law enforcement in need.  “We are truly honored to do our part in aiding today’s heroes at the front lines of this pandemic and we are extremely proud of our production team for quickly bringing this project to life,” said Gary Heck.

Hand sanitizers from Korbel, Winesecrets, Spiritsmith, and New Alchemy Distilling are produced according to the World Health Organization (WHO) formulation guidelines which call for a blend of neutral spirit, hydrogen peroxide, glycerin, and purified water.

During times of fear and uncertainty, it is easy to be disheartened by a health crisis with no clear end in sight, and yet, here, we are reminded of the kindness of people and the strength of our community when faced with adversity.

For more information about the story or our degrees and certificate programs, please reach out to the Wine Business Institute at or 707-664-3347.