Bold Rock Cider opens in Nelson County

Article from The News and Advance.

Bold Rock Cider began flowing a few weeks ago, adding a new destination to wet your whistle along Virginia 151 in Nelson County.

"We're over the moon," said John Washburn, a co-founder of Bold Rock Cider. "We are so excited. We have butterflies every day lately."

Distribution began the first week in June. It is sold at area stores and will come to Lynchburg in September.

Tours and tastings at the cidery began June 30, despite the power outage, and will be held every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Having a cidery was a recent dream of Washburn's. He bought the Nellysford land 25 years ago, planning to retire on it. But while living on his farm in New Zealand he heard about how the Rockfish Valley was developing and decided to join in the action.

In August 2009, he and his wife contemplated which beverage complemented the area's already existing wine and beer market. Hard apple cider was the answer. They were sold after researching it and reading an article about how the cider market will rocket in the United States over the next decade. His research led him to Brian Shanks, one of the top cider makers in the world, who also was living in New Zealand.

"Cider is in a huge growth at the moment and we're confident it will double," said Shanks, a Bold Rock Cider co-founder.

After Washburn tried Shanks' cider and the two flew to Virginia to see the farm, a partnership was born.

Shanks, who spoke about cider on television shows and was the head of cider innovation for Great Britain, was awarded a visa so he could work in the U.S. and has been here since October.

Shanks worked on the cidery's two blends - Virginia Apple, a light, bubbly, fragrant green apple cider, and Virginia Draft, a slightly heavier, more bodied cider with clear apple tones - for a few weeks, perfecting the flavor, color, aroma, acid balance and tannin balance.

"He wanted to have it be even better than the ciders produced in the past so Virginians could be proud," Washburn said. "Brian always says, 'We're doing this in Virginia with Virginia apples.'"

Thousands of local apples will be used annually in cider production.

"We would like to use as many Nelson County apples as possible in the future," Washburn said.

One of the benefits to Virginia apples is they've been growing in the area for over 200 years and the art of growing has been perfected over that time, Shanks said.

"The climate, the land and whole environment are just conducive to growing apples," Shanks said.

He compared it to grapes, which are a new Virginia crop that growers are still experimenting with.

Another aspect of local apples the owners enjoy is that people are able to see where the apples, and thus cider, come from.

"We want people to enjoy drinking in the scenery," Washburn said.

Apples aren't the only local thing. The tap handles were carved from a cherry tree on the farm and assembled in Lynchburg, where the rocks and steel logo were also made.

The apple skins are sent to a Nelson County pork business, which Washburn plans to use as a supplier once the pub is operational.

Even the company's name draws on a local influence. It was inspired by Black Rock Mountain, a feature in the farm's viewshed. Washburn said they wanted a strong name for their product and arrived at Bold Rock Cider.

"We liked the phrase 'Our bold ciders rock,'" Washburn said.

The cider has been well received among customers and distributors alike. People have begun calling Washburn and Shanks to see if they can sell the cider at their restaurant, tavern or festival. The cidery sold out of its six kegs at a recent beer festival in northern Virginia.

"There are many, many matters when you start up a business, especially an alcohol-providing business, but the excitement and enthusiasm we have experienced has buoyed us up," Washburn said.

He said the hardest part of starting the business has been ensuring they are following the very thorough federal and state laws.

The two production and packing barns were completed in May 2012, 10 months after construction began. The 1,500-square-foot barn houses the fermenting and bottling part. The 2,400-square-foot barn houses the tasting and juicing part.

Apples are squeezed in the juicers in one building. The juice then travels through a pipe to the other building, where it sits in one of six 14-feet tall fermentation tanks for 17 to 21 days. The cider is then bottled and brought back over to the first building for tastings, purchase and shipments.

Bold Rock Cider opens in Nelson County

Shanks said the target output is 60,000 cases annually, or 500,000 liters.

Cider production at the new facilities created six full-time and six part-time jobs.

In the fall, construction will begin on the 11,000-square-foot rustic cider barn where the pub will be located. Designs for the pub depict floor-to-ceiling windows and hundreds of exposed oak beams. The building will also have thousands of old hand-made bricks from a demolished building. It is expected to be completed in Fall 2013, Washburn said.

Washburn said he has already started thinking about the menu, which he describes as Southern comfort food with a cider twist, like the cider-marinated brown-sugar-glazed pork chops.

The pub will create 30 jobs for the area, Washburn said.

New ciders are also in development. The newest will be Crimson Ridge, which is more like an apple wine. It has a seven percent alcohol content, compared to the 4.7 percent the two current ciders have.

He said he hopes they are able to provide an enjoyable product.

"If our project is creative and in harmony with this rural mountain environment and that families are happy coming to this agri-tourism site, we'll feel very fulfilled," Washburn said.

Shanks said he hoped they were able to contribute to the local scene and cider market as a whole.

"I think when we initially looked at the project, our goal was to capture a significant part of the United States' hard cider market, but also had something a little bit different in the local culture and economy of Virginia and Nelson County," he said. "The area has a lot of wineries and breweries. We think our cider is a little different and will blend in and make the area a more interesting place."


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