Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore toasted Bold Rock Cidery founders John Washburn and Brain Shanks Nov. 13 for completing their new bottling and tasting facility just south of Nellysford, which was the kick-off location for Virginia Cider Week this year. Washburn dubbed the lofty timber-framed space “the chapel of apple.”
“We lock freshness in a bottle,” said Shanks. “The foam on the top of Bold Rock ciders raises aromas in cider,” he explained.
“We are crushing apples year-round,” he said. “They are kept in controlled air storage (which takes oxygen out of the air) until needed. The model here is seven days a week, all year round. It’s all working in a cycle. The best way to keep an apple is in its skin or in a bottle.”
Shanks, from New Zealand, began investigating hard cider when he had a bad apple crop. He’s now an internationally recognized authority on cidermaking.
“This is an industry thing,” said Shanks. Local apple growers who supply Bold Rock also turned out for the occasion.
“It’s a celebration of Virginia and its apples and the growth of the cider market,” said Shanks. “All the things here are conductive to cider. We have a history of cidermaking that goes back 200 years. But a new age of pioneers—the Sheltons [Chuck and Charlotte, the founders of Albemarle Ciderworks]—have brought it back again.” He emphasized the knowledge that is built up in family businesses that survive for generations, such as the Chiles family’s orchards.
“We have a good climate for apple growing. We’ve got U.Va. and Virginia Tech. Cider is going to grow. More and more shelf space is being devoted to it. It appeals to men and to women, to women more than beer. We can mix it with the very best craft beers. It’s got a long way to go. It has a 200-year history and it’s got that future ahead.”
Haymore said agriculture—farming and forestry—is Virginia’s largest industry, earning more than $70 billion per year and creating 400,000 jobs.
“Our goal is to expand markets,” said Haymore, who has served as secretary for seven years. “We want Virginia to be the East Coast capitol for ag exports.”
He said Virginia was the second state in the country to recognize the hard cider industry.
“It’s had incredible growth, 240 percent growth in production since 2009.” He said the region from Amherst County to Winchester has “a great future” in apple growing.
Nelson County is becoming the “alcohol capitol” of the state, he said, with its boom in breweries, cideries, distilleries and wineries.
Bold Rock has become the largest cider brand in the mid-Atlantic, Washburn said. They now have a manager who attends only to serving grocery store chains. Bold Rock produces four varieties of cider and now caps 19,000 bottles a day.