A Ray of Wilds Sonshine
By Ray Hunt
I think it’s time for a PA Wilds Hooky Day!
“Hooky days” started way back in California when I ran a small advertising agency in the San Francisco Bay Area. For years I worked just about every day, but managed to make time to learn how to make wine through weekend extension courses offered through UC Davis. It was at my first class that I met Jim Rickards, a grape grower in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma. Jim and his wife Eliza own a 65-acre vineyard just north of the Dry Creek appellation, and started their own winery several years ago. But way back when work got hectic, Jim would say, “Come on up for a Hooky Day.” I’d drive 100 miles north, we’d meet, walk the vineyards, sip some wine, talk about the harvest, different thoughts on small-scale winemaking, and then grab lunch and a beer down at the local smokehouse. Indescribable memories and therapy. There aren’t many people lucky enough to have this experience, and it’s never been lost to me.
Some months ago my friend and writing contact at the PA Wilds, Britt Madera, and I started a conversation about a novel enterprise about to launch in Kane, PA, in the heart of the PA Wilds. Britt shared that the Wilds Sonshine Factory is a unique destination on several fronts, primarily for their signature product line – distilled spirits made from sunflower seeds, but also for the Factory’s push on educating visitors on some of the region’s outdoor resources that have tattooed this region in the PA Wilds for generations.
Image: A sunflower display inside the educational building of the Wilds Sonshine Factory
Britt had been there on a tour and tasting and shared her spectacular visit, not only for the spirits but also for the Factory’s emphasis on PA agriculture, the Sonshine distilled products, and the timber and agriculture legacy of this stunning region at the Factory’s Education Center gallery. After our conversations, I felt compelled to create a new Hooky Day experience here in north central PA Wilds!
When the time was right, I reached out to Taylor McConnell, the operational wizard behind the Factory, and her husband, Kory, the artisan responsible for creating the spirits that are the mainstay. I wanted to get the scoop on this amazing destination in the PA Wilds and maybe help to extend their story. My friendly phone call with Taylor gets me on the calendar for an early winter visit, and I’m excited…
When I pull up I am greeted by both Kory and Taylor. I step inside a big and modern facility, and we immediately engage in a warm conversation about the genesis of the Wilds Sonshine Factory and all of the heavy lifting that’s taken place to become a legitimate commercial business.
The endeavor started in 2014 as a sketch on a bar napkin when investor Dave Conklin and crew scribbled out a plan to plant a sunflower plot in Kane. Over the next few years the idea for a distilled spirits business gelled, and in 2018 property was purchased.
Image: Taylor and Kory at the entrance of the Wilds Sonshine Factory
A year later Dave Conklin met Ta Enos, founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, brainstorming ideas which ultimately led to the development of this landmark in the Wilds. A destination to learn about the region, it’s natural treasures, and a memorable outing for the entire family.
A few things about this amazing destination:
- The tasting table in the main room is 43.5 feet long – and it is the longest table made from one plane of wood in the world!
- The mixture of “oatmeal” of sunflower seeds and shells has been cooked and then is fermented for 7 days
- Then processed from condensed material into liquid
- Product produced from 100% sunflowers – both seeds and shells
- There are several products that can appeal to a wide range of tasters:
- Original – it’s clean, a good mixer, kind of like vodka, finishes with a clean taste
- 814 Black Cherry – candied finish with a pleasant bouquet
- Blue Raspberry – pretty color, candied flavor, clean finish
- Pink Lemonade – Like a lemon drop martini, tart, citrusy, clean finish
Image: A couple bottles of Sonshine, a distilled product made from sunflowers
This beautiful facility functions as a distillery, gift shop, education center and entertainment stop. The tasting area bar boasts being the longest table made from a single piece of wood, in the world at 43.5 feet in length. It was crafted from a 205-year-old-hemlock tree carefully harvested from a stand near Cook Forest. It’s magnificent.
Image: The 43.5 foot tasting table produced from a single hemlock over 200 years old
The spirits are made here in the distillery. Sunflowers (seeds and hulls) are mixed with water and placed in a “cooker” where enzymes and sugar are added and cook for about two hours. The resulting “mash” is put in a still and heated to over 170 degrees. The vapor condenses back into liquid and the magic is created.
The Factory was created by the work of local contractors, and the Education Center there showcases Pennsylvania’s natural resources and agriculture – timber, water, and agricultural products. It is absolutely amazing. There’s also entertainment and tours of the facility and Education Center. A beautiful gift shop offers a wide variety of artistic items, from wooden bowls and candles to t-shirts, beautiful photographic prints (Kory is a very talented nature photographer) to jewelry and items for anyone and everyone. And all made by the gifted hands of Pennsylvania artisans.
Wilds Sonshine Factory
3480 Route 6 West
Kane, PA 16735
Image: The Sonshine still
About the Author
Ray Hunt is a freelance writer and avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys fly fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking and outdoor activities in the PA Wilds. He is a member of the Diablo Valley Fly Fishing Club (DVFF), the PA Outdoor Writers Association (POWA), Trout Unlimited (TU), and lives in Clearfield County and works in the media industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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