A couple of weeks ago, Chris Schmidt emailed me during a break on his motorcycle trip through Northern Spain, which, unbeknownst to many Americans, has outstanding cider.
“The English are like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re the cider kings,'” he explains. “Meanwhile, Spain blows them out of the water on quantity. But it’s all very subdued in Spain.”
Schmidt started Tod Creek Craft Cider on his farm north of Victoria, British Columbia, becoming Vancouver Island’s third craft cidermaker. Five years ago, he started dabbling in cidermaking, developing a business plan and rehabbing the rundown dairy farm and the 9,000-square-foot barn.
“Basically I have a hunk of land I run my construction company off,” Schmidt says. “I wanted to do something else with the farm and I looked at everything from truffles to blueberries to medicinal marijuana. I settled on cider because I drink a lot of cider and from a business perspective it made the most sense for the property. I’m more entrepreneurial than cider geek.”
Schmidt received a license to start selling his cider in the spring of 2014. He still runs his construction company too. “That’s actually what pays the mortgage,” he says with a chuckle.
He’s also converted the former cow pastures into an orchard and now has three acres of dwarf-style, cider variety apples. Schmidt says the miniature trees serve several purposes: they grow faster, are easier to pick from because they stay short and are easy to replace if they die. He estimates he has 1,300 trees planted currently, with another 2,000 going in later this year. The Victoria apples are all smaller, bittersweet fruit, full of flavor nuances; Schmidt leases acreage in sunnier Kelowna, where he grows larger, sweeter, dessert-style apples.
Schmidt says his apples are grown without chemicals and fertilizers when possible, though he says paying for an official organic certification is too pricey for his small operation.
Just a few days ago, Schmidt got his tasting license approved. But don’t expect him to build anything fancy, as you’d associate with a winery. Instead, his emphasis is on being a working farm first, tourist attraction second. He’ll model any tasting area after the decidedly no-frills spaces in England and France. “They’re literally in the grungy part of the barn,” he says. “You’re going to be drinking straight out of the vat.”
Tod Creek offers a range of ciders, from a triple-hopped cider to blueberry and vanilla versions to an off-dry cider in a can. “I wanted to make a cider that would fill the void between what Merridale and Sea Cider are doing,” he says, referring to his fellow Vancouver Island cideries. “In finding my place in the market, I also didn’t want to be a fancy wine,and I didn’t want to be cheap sugary stuff.”
Schmidt’s future plans include an ice cider, apple wine with higher alcohol content, a port-style cider and, of course, Spanish-style sour ciders similar to the ones he tasted on his motorcycle trip.