Just two hours ago I hurried our phone call to a close. We were discussing a potential market opportunity for my farm’s produce. I quickly determined that Tiny Farm Duluth doesn’t have capacity for anything new right now, and while wading through the awkward, “How are you doing?” stage of the call, Mehgan offhandedly mentioned that they’ve been selling their orchard’s hard cider in area liquor stores for a while now…
Are you kidding? I had no idea, thus betraying our status as acquaintances. This adventure was exactly what I needed! I pummeled her with rapid-fire questions, got off that call, and prepared to head out the door. It’s something like a -30 windchill today beneath a bright sun. I probably should be skiing, as all the cool people are, but you experience frostbite of your membrum virile whilst skiing the furthest reaches of the Lester Park ski trails and get back to me on that. This was exactly what I needed!
I strapped on the same sheepskin hat that I rhapsodized about last time, donned the face mask, and walked the half-mile to Lakeside Liquors like a crazy person: arms swinging wildly, head bobbing in that intense forward motion, look of determination on my face. A bright sun with a bit of a breeze at my back, the exercise felt great. Newly flush with cash following an $800 check from a painting sold out in Palm Springs, I felt a bit free to splurge on the fruits of my new friend’s land.
There are three varieties. They’re pretty doggone expensive at $10.99. Unable to decide, I split the difference and hustled out of there with two of ’em. I’m just so proud of Mehgan and her husband for making this happen. I was out at their gorgeous farm some time ago for a book club meeting (ah, small gatherings. Doesn’t that sound nice?), and I thought this dream of launching a small cidery was some distant dream. I COULDN’T HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG!!!! Isn’t it marvelous to be mistaken? Oh, how I love it. Unlike school when right answers on a test are important, an incorrect assumption in real life is curiosity’s gateway. And, oh how deep this rabbit hole promises to go!
I’m so excited for ordinary, local people, with whom I might someday gather and break bread and liberally enjoy their handcrafted libations in tall glasses, when they go far out on the proverbial limb and do—NO, FREAKING ACCOMPLISH—great things.
Oh my gosh, the fruit of the land is so much sweeter when you know the maker.
Ironically in this case, Mehgan and her husband (what the heck is his name?) only craft dry ciders. Why is that? I have no idea. I pressed her on it, but her love for dry was notable. No point pushing her now, so I made a mental note. This summer, on some gorgeous day, I’ll tour the property while peppering them with all sorts of personal questions, and finally sit down somewhere amidst that splendid scene, as the sun dips down below the horizon, and enjoy a taste test whilst their flock of sheep nibble at the grass and weeds at the foot of their apple trees. Canosia Grove is the only local cidery I’m aware of that handcrafts the whole thing from, “Branch to bottle.” They’ve invested painstaking years in their property, and into apple trees that will dictate many of the terms of their lives going forward. As someone who recently planted a whopping three fruit trees on my property, and finds the process somewhat mysterious—frankly, I suck at the whole orchard thing—I find this incredible. The couple has invested about a hundred grand into the business to get things up to snuff with the demanding permitting process and whatnot. How many of us are willing to go through that? Not me. That’s for dang sure. While the operation isn’t exactly profitable yet, they are blessed with a sort of oil well on the property:
That’s a cell tower beside their century-old barn. Darn thing pays for their business loan all year long! Who the heck knew that was possible? The pressure this takes off the business is bloody immense. Mehgan works a day job and her husband (named Bob, ascertained after a quick text) works part time. I get the sense that they could coast along just fine if it weren’t for the cidery, orchard, Icelandic sheep, bees, chickens, etc, etc. It’s all about the lifestyle they’re enjoying with their kids (ages 7 and 9), and perfecting their craft.
Mehgan and Bob are stereotypical experts in their craft, in the sense that they are devoted to permaculture—choreographing a cooperation with the land, sort of a dance with intermingling parts involving bees, chickens, sheep, the orchard, and more—but they are absolutely terrible at marketing! I pushed and pushed her during our short call to simply tell her story. Really, it’s freaking fantastic. How many people do you know who are willing to go through all this work? Even the act of starting a cidery places somebody out on the lunatic fringe, but most of those folks are hauling in truckloads of apples. These people bloody graft the trees that eventually, AFTER YEARS OF FAILURE, finally produce the apples, which, once again have been pollinated by their own bees (yummy honey, by the way), and have Icelandic sheep grazing beneath them as their chosen method of vegetation control, and then, only then after all this crazy work that’ll never even hope to pay anything near what they make through conventional employment, ferments for three weeks, culminates in a 3-month aging process prior to bottling. It’s all freaking alchemy. Mystery. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Isn’t this beautiful? Reflect on how much work went into this single glass.
It could bring a guy to tears, but I’m a tough old bastard.
This is worth celebrating. $10.99 is quite expensive. Upper edges of sanity, in fact. Over time, with efficiencies, I’m confident they’ll bring the cost down a bit. An occasional shelling out of such coin in recognition of expertise that is completely foreign and outside my reach, beautiful in every way (visually, aromatically, sensually), is well worth the expense. And so, Mehgan and Bobby boy, I tip the hat to you. Well done! I drank the entire bottle of Vermilion tonight. It was delicious. My enjoyment of it greatly exceeded the $10.99 investment, and I so look forward to becoming friends.
Ah, friendship. Remember that, dear friends? Winter will recede. Soon we shall gather and celebrate. You all have so many talents and gifts that mystify me. Where do such passions come from? God himself, I think.