Bold Rock Cider's Brian Shanks, Albemarle Ciderworks' Anne Shelton, and Blue Bee Cider's Courtney Mailey.
Hard cider is big business, and Governor Bob McDonnell has made that official, declaring November 9-18 the first Virginia Cider Week.
Hard cider has become big business. How big? Vermont based Woodchuck Cider, the country's biggest producer, was purchased this week by Dublin-based cider giant C&C Group for a whopping $305 million. Woodchuck's Vermont Hard Cider brand, according to the company, reported a $10 million profit last year, and that is expected to leap to $15 million this year.
On Thursday, October 25, at Brookville Restaurant on the Downtown Mall, Virginia hard cider makers had a lot to celebrate as well, as Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore was on hand to deliver a proclamation from Gov. Bob McDonnell declaring November 9-18, 2012 as the first Virginia Cider Week.
"We want to use the bully pulpit of government to help this industry," said Haymore, who admitted that he had been heavily preoccupied with apples lately. "We want to get Virginia on the cider map higher than it already is."
In addition to promoting the newly fermented Virginia hard cider industry, Haymore said he was preparing to make a trip to Cuba to work on some contracts for apple exports.
"People don't realize this," says Haymore, "but apples from places like Carter Mountain Orchard are shipped all over the world."
As Foggy Ridge Cider owner Diane Flynt pointed out, this was only the second such gubernatorial cider proclamation to have been made in the country, and in light of the successes of so many wineries and breweries in this area, hard cider makers may be close behind. In addition to Foggy Ridge, located south of Roanoke, in attendance were Potter's Craft Cider in Free Union, Albemarle Ciderworks of North Garden, Bold Rock Hard Cider in Nelson County, Castle Hill Cider in Keswick, Old Hill Cider in Timberville, and upstart new venture Blue Bee Cider in Richmond.
As Bold Rock Hard Cider co-owner Brian Shanks points out, hard cider's popularity has to do with the cachet of its history and that it's a nice compromise between beer and wine. Indeed, hard cider was the drink of choice in Colonial America, and its production was an integral part of most communities. Later, beer and wine-drinking immigrants influenced tastes and cider fell from favor, but the stuff has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. As a reporter notes, drinking wine or beer at 11am on a Thursday would probably be asking for trouble, but the lighter, refreshing consistency of hard cider seems right for the occasion. Still, the stuff packs a wallop.
Shanks knows a little something about promoting hard cider. A native of New Zealand, he began making hard cider in the late 1980s after a cyclone ripped through his apple orchard, leaving him with mountains of damaged apples he couldn't sell. After a trip to Britain to learn the secrets of cider making, he returned and produced about 5,000 liters of the stuff, but New Zealanders, who favored beer and liquor, were slow to embrace it. But Shanks kept at it. Today, he's recognized as the father of cider production in New Zealand, and at its height his cidery produced 20,000 liters a day. He has since become an internationally recognized expert on making and promoting hard cider, and his fortuitous partnership with his friend John Washburn, who lured Shanks to his farm in Lovingston, is a lucky thing for us.
"It's like starting all over again," says Shanks, clearly happy to be getting back to his roots and getting his hands dirty.
For more information about the events surrounding Virginia Cider Week, you can visit ciderweekva.com.