It’s crunch time. Just a few short weeks until we get the keys to our new building. We’re scrambling to get ready. Our checking account has begun its free fall as we start purchasing equipment and supplies. It feels like financial bungee jumping, and aside from looking at a spreadsheet with some numbers we put together, we have no way of knowing if the bungee cord is the right length or if it will be strong enough.
We’re not thrill seekers. We don’t like stress. We don’t like uncertainty. In a rare moment of having time to talk (while the kids were passed out in the back seat of the car) Marie and I recently discussed the question of “why are we doing this?”
The short answer we came to can be best summed up with an old Mark Twain quote: “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”
What follows below is the longer answer. It is a list of 7 reasons why we decided to start a cider business in the first place and why we’re still driven to make it happen:
1. The Dream of Farming
Farming is in everyone’s DNA. Even if modern life has uprooted most of us from our farming heritage, we still crave a connection to the land and the food we eat. Marie and I craved it so much that we went to graduate school to study Agroecology (that’s where we met). We studied agriculture inside and out, but we ended up working in office jobs where we never quite felt complete. Unfortunately, getting into farming and making a living off of it is incredibly difficult. Starting very small was the only feasible option, so we bought a few acres and started planting an orchard.
2. A Fascination with Fermentation
When Marie and I first started dating, about 10 years ago, one of the first things we did together was to make a dandelion wine. It was terrible. It didn’t stop us from continuing to ferment things in the years that followed. We fermented everything that we could make boozy. We even lugged our apple press all the way to Africa with us when I was working at USAID. We experimented with mangos, pineapples, baobab seeds, wild fruits, local honey, local herbs, and more. Some experiments came out brilliantly. Some were only useful as marinade. Some got poured down the drain.
3. Discovering Cider
Our first truly successful fermentation was a cider. It was like a light champagne, dry and crisp with a hint of farmhouse funk hovering over a golden drink that still had apple essence at its core. Marie’s uncle, a bonafide sommelier, told us that it was good, and we were emboldened to explore more. We read books and endlessly experimented, learning with each new batch. The deep historical roots of cider captivated us and gave us hope for a fruitful future of rediscovery. As growers, makers, fermenters, and experimenters, we were eager to be on the cutting edge of cider’s renewed growth. If you visit our Single Varietal Cider Evaluations you’ll see that we take cider experimentation very seriously.
4. Building a Better Beverage Business
We love wine and craft beer, but the majority of the raw materials grown for Wisconsin’s wineries and craft breweries are coming from out of state. We wanted to build a beverage business that connected us to the land. We didn’t want to just be locally made; we wanted to be locally grown. Wisconsin is home to over 1,000 orchards, most of which are quite small. Many of these orchards grown an interesting mix of apples, beyond what we typically see on the grocery store shelf. By working with several local orchards, we’re able to craft unique ciders that capture the flavors of the land, that exemplify apple varietal characteristics, and that bring out the personality of each orchard.
5. We’re Tree Huggers
As cider makers, we’re able to use fruit that might otherwise go to waste because it isn’t pretty enough for the grocery store shelf. We’re able to grow fruit and work with orchards with less reliance on spraying. We also like the fact that apple trees are a perennial crop that provides year round ground cover. As cider makers, we feel like our work aligns with our tree hugger values.
6. Being Part of a Vibrant Rural Community and Economy
We’re proud to say that (at the time of writing) we have sourced apples from 19 different Wisconsin farms. Most ciders that you find in the store are made with apple juice concentrate, often coming from overseas. Not ours. We hand pick most of our apples ourselves, and the rest we buy directly from local growers. Each orchard we work with is different, and we’ve met some new friends and learned a lot along the way. So far there have been more apples out there than we can pick or purchase, so we should have room for growth. The money stays in the local community, and as such, it moves us just a little closer to the vibrant and diversified agricultural economy that we would like to see thrive here in Southwest Wisconsin.
7. The Challenge
Settling into a job where someone else told us what to do and gave us a steady paycheck would have been a lot easier than starting our own business. We’ve known that for a long time. I recently stumbled upon a letter that Marie wrote to me back in early 2014 when I was finishing out my contract in Malawi before joining her back home. She wrote about making our dreams come true. She said how she could be happy working a regular job, but then she added how “I think we would both be much happier in a situation where we run our own jobs and lives. Do what makes us happy instead of making due.”
So here we are, stressed out and spending borrowed money. We’re out on a limb. Here’s hoping we find the fruit we’re looking for.