We were there during the potato harvest, which happens just once each year. Unlike grain distilleries and other potato vodkas like Blue Ice from Idaho, Chopin distills all their potatoes into vodka (and other alcohol products) over a two-month period at harvest time, kicked off with a VIP party at the distillery. I'm not sure yet why they need to process everything all at once whereas other distilleries can spread this throughout the year (the pesticide-free potatoes spoil fast, they say, but do American potatoes last that much longer? Is it the type of potatoes or the pesticides?) (update: see answer in comments). They process 10 million pounds of potatoes during this period, running the distillery 24 hours a day.
It's rare on visits like this to see actual product coming into the distillery, so I was thrilled to see the potatoes move from the yard, into the distillery, and down the wash chute into the boiler. We had little time to see everything, so I was running behind Tad Dorda, president of Chopin, asking three questions for every sentence he spit out. I am a drink nerd, after all.
The potatoes are a special variety unlike what we get at the grocery store, of high starch content that turns to liquid mush quickly. They're then cooled and fermented for three days before hitting the still to turn them from potato beer into potato vodka. Of the four column still, the first one is made of copper and the other three of steel. As is usually the case, the first column separates out the solids, which are then sold as animal feed afterwards. (I think, but am not sure, that it's unusual for them to be placed into the top of the column and making their way to the bottom of it, rather than bottom-up.)
They're particularly proud of the first-distillation vodka produced, and we were supposed to do a taste test of others one-time distilled but didn't have time. That was a bummer. They store some of this distillate for future scientific study at the nearby potato institute to see how the makeup of each year's potato crops effects the outcome of the vodka.