Taking the Plunge | Craft Beverage Industry | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Christine Kelley and Tom Falzone had accumulated nearly 20,000 skydives between them when they decided to take a very different kind of leap together—a leap into the sangria business.

Kelley, a mom of three, was working as a teacher when she and a friend decided to find something to break the monotony that can come with parenthood—they decided on jumping out of an airplane.

“We have super busy lives, but they’re all consumed by children,” she says. “It was just one of those spontaneous things that we thought about. [My friend] hated it and never jumped again and I absolutely loved it and was completely hooked the moment we left the airplane.” Kelley went on to jump 350 times in her first year. Skydiving is also how she met her partner and Freefall Sangria co-founder Tom Falzone, the head coach of West Point’s parachute team and a professional skydiver who started in 1986.

Kelley’s teaching job was getting in the way of skydiving, so she left and started her own web development business, which allowed her to work from home and set her own schedule. She also started running the cafe at Skydive the Ranch in Gardiner, where she would serve homemade sangria at the end of the day.

“Everybody jumped all day and at the end we all drank sangria. And it started to become pretty popular at the drop zone,” she says. “I traveled from drop zone to drop zone. So we started bringing it to other drop zones and they started to love it.”

Through word of mouth, people they didn’t know started to ask about their sangria, and they soon realized they needed to make a decision. “We started to see that we may have something and it just kind of took on a life of its own. It wasn’t in my life plan at all,” she says. “It’s just a baptism by fire and there’s moments where you say ‘I’m‘ crazy, why are we doing this?’”

Together, Kelley and Falzone launched Freefall Sangria in May of 2017 with a red. By popular demand, the company introduced a white this past summer.

Their sangrias are New York products through and through, with grapes and fruits grown in the Hudson Valley, with the exception of the orange juice in their red—”A little bit of Florida sunshine,” Kelley says—and the pineapple and mango in their white. They are made without artificial sweeteners that can make a bottled sangria “sickly sweet.”

“It presents more like a cocktail, I would say,”Kelley says. In fact, the company includes several recommended cocktail recipes on its website with names like “Put Me In, Coach,” which calls for the addition of vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, and blackberries, or “The Relationship,” (named because it “starts off sweet and burns at the end.”) that includes vodka, chambord, jalapeno syrup, and muddled jalapeno.

Freefall Sangria is 30 proof and fortified with brandy. For comparison, a sangria that was making its rounds on the Internet last year for being extremely strong contains 13.9 percent alcohol—which is just shy of 28 proof.

While they’re fully in harvest season at the moment, the Freefall employees—there are about 12—have been busy promoting their products around the region. “You have event after event, show after show. We travel all over the place pouring at harvest festivals, wine festivals, craft festivals,” Kelley says over the phone, while packing up the car to head to yet another event in Albany. “Sometimes we have two or three shows in a day. I’m pounding the pavement. If I could clone myself I would.”

Kelley says her and Falzone sometimes can’t believe that their situation is real and that it all could spawn from a homemade drink. “A group of us skydivers used to get drunk with it, and now everyone does,” Kelley says. “It's pretty amazing.”

Freefall Sangria is available for purchase in several hundred stores around New York and New Jersey.

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