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February 6, 2023, 12:33 pm Advertisments

 

Meet The Merchants

 

 

Cider House Rules

 

Rachel Bolongaro

Today we are talking with RACEHL BOLONGARO the co-owner of the Fraser Valley’s firs full production cidery. Welcome RACHEL. Your accent (British) belies you are not originally from these parts. How did your travels bring you to the Langley area?

We came over from Britain in 1998. Faced with a move to London that we really weren’t looking forward to, we opened a copy of Yachting World one day, saw a picture of Desolation Sound and said “lets go there instead!”. Three months later our landed immigrant cards had arrived, we’d sold our house, the dog got put in a travel crate and we were on a flight to Vancouver. We’ve never looked back since arriving in Canada but ironically we still haven’t made it to Desolation Sound!

When did you actually open the Fraser Valley Cider Company?


We opened May 23rd 2016 but we have been working on our project since mid 2013 and bought the farm in March 2014.

I seem to remember reading recently cider is rapidly increasing in popularity. Can you provide any insight or confirmation into this phenomenon?

Yes - many different sources point to cider being the fastest growing beverage sector in north america and craft cider is a big part of that. There is a huge craft cider scene in Portland and Seattle and it seems to be tracking up the West Coast - similar to the surge in craft beer 5 years ago.

 

Now for something completely different. How did you go from a career in engineering to a rural farm in South Langley brewing and bottling your cider creations?

I’d been an engineer for 20 years and although I enjoyed the hands on aspect of it, I was being increasingly channeled into more administrative tasks as my career progressed. Plus I felt that sitting at a desk all day was slowly killing me! I looked forward to the next 20 years and couldn’t see myself doing more of the same. Instead I made a list of what I enjoyed, batch production (in my past as a chemical engineer I made pharmaceuticals!), growing things in my garden, creating things and home winemaking and brewing. I visited some cideries on Vancouver Island, really enjoyed the experience and saw a gap on the Mainland for a similar “back to the orchard experience”. Thus a project was born!

You have explained to me you took a course in cider production in Seattle. Tell our readers about that experience.

It was an amazing week long experience with 20 other cider makers - both novice and professional. The course was taught by an instructor from the UK who is himself an award winning cider maker. We started each day with cider appreciation. By 10am the atmosphere in the room was very convivial! We did a course of lectures that covered all aspects of the cider making process, talked about business and marketing, how to set up a production facility and everything we would need to know. This was supplemented by laboratory work and practical cider making - we all came home with a jug of cider - and workshops on orchard management. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on an educational course (some of the engineering ones can be a bit dry!)

How many different ciders do you create and where did you get your recipes from?


We currently have five different ciders. Bone Dry, House Cider, Rosy, Elderflower and Honey. My recipes come from several years of experimentation with apple types and yeasts. I try them out on family and friends and have had many fun “focus groups!”. We were told on our course to make cider that your customers like, not necessarily what you like (although you have to be proud of the product). I got a lot of feedback from friends I can trust to give me the straight goods! I think that was key in developing our range of ciders which have been very well received by the customers. We focus more on dry ciders since that seems to be a gap in the market right now with the commercial varieties. However we hope there is something for everyone within our range of ciders.

Sean & Rachel Bologaro & staffer Miki Dawson

With a twinkle in your eye you say you are living out your mid-life crisis ha ha. Was there another option when you decided “something” had to change in your life?

My husband Sean has always been very supportive and has encouraged me in all my (sometimes crazy) decisions. One thing I did think about was going to art school. A keen artist in my youth, my parents were reluctant to support the art school option when university came around. Don’t tell them but I think they made the right decision!

You are located in the heart of Langley wine country. Was this by chance of did you actively seek out your current location?

We did see this as an asset when we purchased our farm however we totally under-estimated how helpful this would be in getting our business off the ground. Our winery neighbours, Township 7, Domaine de Chaberton, Backyard and Vista D’oro have been so welcoming and supportive. They share their knowledge and resources with us and are always sending customers to their wineries our way as well. Their staff often drop by for after works drinks too (we open later than they do). This was something I didn’t anticipate - we now have a great circle of new friends!

Do you produce your cider from your own orchard?

We have 4 acres of heritage english and french cider apples planted - 27 different varieties. These trees will start to bear next year and then we’ll be introducing a more traditional english style cider into our line-up. Right now we lease land in the Okanagan and our partner farm sends us some apples to tide us over.

Is it safe to say growing up in England cider was more commonplace than it was/is in North America?

Yes - cider is a huge part of English culture. Its as much about tradition and heritage as it is about a drink. We really missed that and the whole english pub scene when we came to Canada. Cider has been produced in the UK since the Norman conquest of 1066. In the 1700’s it was common as a farm worker to receive part of your wages in cider. The farms that made good cider got their pick of the labourers. When this was abolished in the early 1800’s and farmers were forced to pay in money instead there was a riot. Not by the farmers though but by the workers!

Two things that instantly set you apart from other liquor vendors?

1. Your logo has a rooster.

Yes Rocky the rooster! He has nothing to do with cider but we find him very appealing. We have been long time chicken keepers so I suppose there is a connection there. One reason for including him and the farm scene on our logo is we wanted to emphasize our link to the countryside and the fact that we are an active farm, not just a production facility.

Your cider is bottled in a very unique vessel.

Yes our bottles come all the way from Germany. They need to be a special design to withstand the high pressures generated in our pasteurization process. They also look just great on our shelves and the customers seem to like them too. I know quite a few have been repurposed to hold olive oil, dish soap and kambucha!

Are the bottles recyclable?

Yes we take them back at the cidery and clean them for re-use. Its nice to be able to reduce that carbon footprint a little. Of course you can recycle them through the usual channels as well.

I noticed in the back of your warehouse you have quite the water treatment area. How and why did you have to add a private water treatment plant?

We had water quality issues with our well water (higher than mandated arsenic levels due to natural groundwater conditions). We always knew that we would have to treat the water but in discussions with our health authority the scale of the treatment system ended up being greater than we at first envisage. The treatment system produces top quality reverse osmosis water now.

Anyone that has started up a business knows that costs can run away from the original budget. What was/is your secret to keeping the costs of setting up Fraser Valley Cider?

It was important to get a really good cost estimate put together and include a healthy contingency. Even knowing our final budget we made sure we still had some excess borrowing capacity in case of the unexpected. Only having 90% of the money guarantees 100% failure of the project. We tracked costs carefully and made savings where we could. We put a lot of sweat equity into the project and made most of our own equipment to keep costs down. Towards the end of the project we cut out some of those “nice to have” items to keep within our budget. Anything we did include in the project though we made sure was 100% what we wanted it to be - build your last cidery first! Our engineering background came in really handy when it came to project managing the whole job.

You are holding a very special event coming up at the cider on Saturday August 20th. What do you have planned?

Yes its our first big event at the cidery! We have local chef Adrian Beaty coming out and he is creating us a special cider and apple sausage! We’re using pasture raised pork and other produce from our friends at Laurica Farm (the best sausage and bacon on the planet!). Chef Adrian has got a delicious menu planned out which he’ll be cooking completely on the barbecue. We have live music from James Devon - spanish and brazilian style guitar playing, we’ll get the fire pit going and of course they’ll be lots of cider! Tickets are limited to 60 and we’re selling them at the cidery and on-line at Eventbrite at a cost of $35. They’re selling fast and we’re looking forward to a really fun evening.

If anyone is interested in trying your cider and can’t make it out to the cidery where else is your cider currently available?

We sell at White Rock and Langley Farmers market and have just started selling at Broadway International Wine Shop in Kitsilano. Our cider is also served at the Orchard and The Sea cider bar in Gastown. I don’t think we’ll be selling too much more off-site this year. We have trouble keeping our own shelves stocked but we have plans to expand production next year.

 

 

(clcik here for location and more information on the Fraser Valley Cider Company)

 

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