Our story is the story of two friends, Tim Edmond and Dan Potter. The short version is that we are college buddies who shared a love of home-brewing beer, which chance and good fortune transformed into a passion for craft cider. Our path to cider-making was roundabout, but cider embodied the perfect confluence of our interests in agriculture, fermentation, experimentation and discovery. Our journeys and backgrounds have given us unique perspectives that influence our approach to cider-making, from the apples that we use to the way that we choose to do business. We continue to be excited by the sense of what is undiscovered – there are still so many apple varieties, yeast strains, and styles of ciders to explore. We’ve had a lot of help along the way with strong support from family, friends, and the Charlottesville community, for which we are deeply appreciative. If you’d like to hear our full story, then please, grab a glass and read on.
Tim and Dan met as undergrads at Princeton University and quickly bonded over shared passions for the outdoors, Frisbee-golf, bowling, Neil Young and, most importantly, brewing and drinking good beer. Before long, we were brewing in dormitory kitchens together, sharing our beers with a cohort of willing taste-testers.
After graduation in 2007, Dan started work as an environmental engineer in Durham, North Carolina, while Tim ended up working in finance in nearby Charlotte. We’d work desk jobs all week and meet on the weekends in Charlotte, Durham or at a cabin in the Black Mountains of North Carolina to escape the grind, brew beer, kick around ideas, share books, and generally try and figure out how we could find a way to live the Good Life. As for so many home-brewers, brewing began to take over our lives, and it was not uncommon for one of us to get a phone call along the lines of, “Dude, you HAVE to try this oak aged Belgian Triple I just made.” (Or, the less common, “Whoah, this brett beer I tried to brew tastes like freshly poured asphalt – come take some off my hands!”)
In the summer of 2009, after two years at a desk and in the field, Dan moved to Richmond, Virginia to live and work at historic Tuckahoe Plantation. This 640-acre working farm overlooking the James River offered a unique chance to pursue his growing interest in local food systems and sustainability. At Tuckahoe, Dan helped with rotationally-grazed grass-fed beef, pastured chickens, beekeeping, market gardening and other farm operations. He also started a biodiesel project on the farm, planting canola for the seed oil, which could be converted to run tractors and other equipment. The overarching goal was to make a modern version of the plantation as a self-sustaining agricultural island, free from off-farm inputs. Meanwhile, around the same time, Tim landed in Washington DC, just a short drive up I-95 from Richmond and all that was happening at Tuckahoe
In addition to a hands-on education in sustainable agriculture, Tuckahoe presented an opportunity for us to expand our brewing horizons. We planted a ¼ acre hop-yard and sowed several acres of 2- and 6-row malting barleys. We had grand visions of creating a farmhouse brewery, a revival of Tuckahoe’s historic roots in the modern day. We also saw the possibility to brew a more sustainable beer by producing all of our own ingredients, unlike most beers made with hops and barley from the Midwest, Pacific Northwest or Europe. Nature had other plans however, and the barley fields flooded that winter, wiping out the entire crop (along with the canola for biodiesel). It was an eye-opening introduction to farming in the real world.
But providence opened other doors, as it often does when least expected, this time in the form of a single 5-gallon carboy of cider. It came about this way: Tuckahoe had been sourcing apples from Henley’s Orchard in Crozet and pressing sweet cider for the farmer’s market. So, like any good home-brewer, Dan set aside a carboy to ferment in the Fall of 2009. This one lonely carboy sat quietly working, half-forgotten in a chilly corner of Dan’s shared cabin quarters throughout October and into November. Weeks later, in the darkening days of November, the yeast finally settled out. Dan kegged and carbonated the cider before pouring his first glass. The cider was a revelation, unlike anything he’d tasted before. It was golden and effervescent with a complex flavor and crisp dry finish. A blend of alcoholic and acidic bite mellowed by the golden fruit flavors of late Summer and early Fall. All of his preconceived notions of hard cider were demolished on the spot. Tim immediately got one of those phone calls, “THIS is what we should be making!”
Dry, tart, and drinkable, that first batch barely lasted until Thanksgiving as growlers were siphoned off for family and friends and the rest was wiped out in a single night of revelry at Tuckahoe. But it wasn’t long before more cider was bubbling away – this time under closer scrutiny from the cider-makers.
After wrangling permits and other necessities over the following spring and summer, we entered the 2010 harvest season with newfound direction and new flavors to explore. Throughout the late Fall and into the winter, we fermented batch after small batch using every kind of apple we could get our hands on. Tim wore out the road between Richmond and DC as we made hundreds of 5 and 15 gallon test runs, closely-tracked experiments with different apple blends and different yeasts, in a quest for our ideal cider. In all, we made over 1,500 gallons that season using a small hydraulic rack and cloth press that Dan pieced together. There were many late nights and early mornings, and a lot of hand-hauling apples, carboys and kegs, but we quickly learned that is just the way of life for a cider-maker during production season.
After a full season of experimentation in a tiny kitchen at Tuckahoe, we decided we were ready to take the plunge and go for it in earnest. In the spring of 2011, we began searching for a place near Charlottesville to move the cidery. In a stroke of good-fortune, we found a former horse veterinary clinic in nearby Free Union, 15 minutes outside of town. A working horse farm with jaw-dropping views of the Blue Ridge mountains, friendly people, and a laid-back atmosphere, we knew that Wildair Farm was a perfect fit from the start. The prior clinic’s surgery rooms and office space were perfect for our needs and we could see the potential as soon as we walked in the door.
So, in June of 2011, Tim said goodbye to DC and Dan picked up his agricultural ambitions from Richmond and transplanted them in the hills outside of Charlottesville. We met in the middle, finding a new home and a supportive community of like-minded folks in the heart of Virginia apple country. Surrounded by small farmers, family orchards, and local producers, we immediately felt an uncommon sense of place. We met people who cared deeply about who produced their food and drink, what went into it, and where the ingredients came from.
Throughout the rest of the summer, we renovated the space at Wildair to become our new cidery. Without the support of outside investment, the two of us performed the work ourselves and slowly but surely re-shaped the old clinic to fit our needs. By the end of the summer in 2011, we were bringing our first cider samples to local Cville touchstones such as Beer Run, Blue Mountain Brewery and the Local. The positive reaction we received to our pilot batches, now matured for several months, gave us a boost in confidence and we had our first official sales that Fall of 2011.
Since then, we’ve continued our slow, steady organic growth as a business. We’ve begun putting down literal roots in the Charlottesville area, planting the first block of our own orchard in the spring of 2012. It has been a continuous process of growth and learning as each new season brings new lessons and excitement. Every year we follow our passion for experimentation as we pull in ideas from both the beer and wine communities in central Virginia and beyond, while staying true to the roots of Virginia cider. We feel very lucky that we’re able to do what we do every day. It’s been a fun ride that continues to evolve. Keep a close eye on our Blog for the latest updates as we pursue new ciders and new projects (like our Airstream tasting room!). Please reach out to us with any questions, comments or other feedback, we’d love to hear what you think and any ideas you have. Thanks for visiting! -Tim and Dan