A few months ago I did a tour of the Cowichan Valley and surrounding areas on Vancouver Island. During that tour, one of our stops was the Merridale Estate Cidery, photo of which I just rediscovered in my iPhoto album. The Cidery was a beautiful place and since it’s definitely worthy of coverage, here’s what I took away from our visit.
Janet Docherty and Rick Pipes purchased Merridale and its 20 acres of cider apples in 2000 from its founder who started it the cidery in 1990. When you arrive you can take a self-guided tour that has step-by-step information signs along the property. Our group was lucky enough to have Janet show us around and explained the cider process.
The apples at Merridale came from England, France and Germany and are not exposed to pesticides or herbicides. The trees do however get pollinated thanks to a large population of honey bees that are kept on the property.
Unused pomace (which is left after the apple juice is squeezed) is given to local farmers to use as feed or compost since it is high in fiber. Apples that are unusable in the cider are still put to use, making spa products and vinegar reductions.
Throughout the year, the cider is moved around from the pressing process, fermentation, and bottled in small quantities. Janet told us they use the term, “bottling on demand” to ensure the freshest tasting cider. Once the cider is ready for bottling, Merridale uses plastic bottles to avoid further fermentation. The result is a crisp, carbonated cider, that is shipped directly from the cidery or moved to a location in Vancouver where they can then distribute the product.
The cidery itself is on a gorgeous plot of land which they open up for weddings and dining. The wood-burning oven on the back porch is perfect for pizzas, pies and other baked goods served in their bistro. Janet and her husband also have a small brandihouse around back where they ferment and distill the cider in a contraption that looks as though it’s straight out of Willy Wonka’s factory. They also have a spa which uses apple products sourced from the land.
The brandy and the cider is served inside or outside on their back porch, over-looking the orchards. We had samples of at least half a dozen ciders poured directly into hand-made glasses that Janet literally went around the world and back to find.
Here are some of the tasting notes:
Cidre Normandie: Oaked and aged – 12%. “No sweetness afterwards, there’s no residual sugars. It’s dry but goes well with rich or salty foods.”
Scrumpy: Oaked and aged – 11%. “It’s a combination of crabapple and cider apple. Goes well with salty foods or goat cheese.”
Merri Cherri: 6% – Made with black current, sour cherries and raspberries, what Janet called a “cider sangria”.
Cyser: Aged – 10%. “Made with honey from the bees on the property, it goes great with curry and is served at Vij’s in Vancouver.”
You can view a complete list of products here.
The brandies were rich and viscous like ice wines. Some finished with a smooth hazelnut flavour while the apple Oh de Vie (at a bold 40% alcohol) is a potent base for a fruity martini.
There are dozens of establishments on Vancouver Island and in the Victoria area that serve Merridale Cider and several in the Lower Mainland. In Vancouver you can find their cider in places like the Raincity Grill, Vij’s (as previously noted), Oâ€™Doulâ€™s, the Shangri-La Hotel, and Zin on Robson Street. You can also purchase Merridale products at many local private wine stores or
BC Liquor private liquor stores.
It was at Merridale that I found out about the Wine Islands association and tour as well. I had never even considered apple cider as a meal pairing until I the pleasure of visiting Sea Cider in Saanichton earlier this summer and now also Merridale. The cider business on Vancouver Island may be small at present, but it’s got a golden and delicious future.
Disclosure: As with each stop on our Tourism BC tour of the Cowichan Valley, none of the journalists and freelancers were paid by Tourism BC or the establishments to write about any of their experiences. The hope with these types of trips is that we can be exposed to some great places and products, and that we’ll each go back to our own publications and outlets and write about what we think our readers would enjoy. Our tour and tastings were complimentary but self-guided tours at Merridale start at $4, guided tours are $5.