Bold Rock Cider opens tasting room in Nelson County
In the midst of Virginia’s recent craft-brewery boom, one company in Nelson County has made a name for itself for making hard cider instead of beer.
A slight detour on the Brew Ridge Trail — a map connecting six breweries near Charlottesville — brings visitors to the home of Bold Rock Hard Cider in Nellysford. A new tasting room there allows them to see the cider production process firsthand — from apples being crushed to the bottling of the cider. “We wanted people to really understand hard cider,” says Brian Shanks, Bold Rock’s president and cidermaster.
Bold Rock is the brainchild of John Washburn, its chairman and CEO, who has a background in psychology. He decided to get into the hard cider business in 2010 after he saw a number of craft breweries pop up around his Nellysford farm, now Bold Rock’s headquarters. The number of craft breweries in Virginia has more than doubled in the past five years. There currently are 10 hard cideries operating in the commonwealth, according to the Virginia Tourism Corp.
“I just saw an opportunity for another beverage,” Washburn says. He started researching hard cider and a Google search led him to Shanks, an acclaimed cider consultant from New Zealand. Shanks visited Nellysford several times to see if the idea of launching a hard cider business in the area was feasible.
“What we found was something quite unique,” Shanks recalls, pointing to the fact that apples have been grown in the area for 200 years. “The attraction of that — plus the growing cider market, plus the locality — it was very easy to shake hands with John and [say], let’s do this thing, let’s make it happen.”
Bold Rock started in 2012 with three employees: Washburn; his wife, Robin; and Shanks. Today, the company employs about 40 people, roughly 34 of whom are full-time. That first year, Shanks and Washburn thought they would sell 8,000 cases of cider, but instead they sold 100,000. Today, Bold Rock produces 200,000 cases of cider annually and distributes from North Carolina to Pennsylvania.
Some of those customers now are showing up in the cidery’s tasting room, which opened in September. The $5 million, 12,000-square-foot tasting room has a glass window through which visitors can see Bold Rock’s production process.
The tasting room offers Bold Rock’s ciders, which include Virginia Draft, Virginia Apple, Crimson Ridge and its new pear cider, which was scheduled for release in November. Light food pairings, such as soft pretzels and sliced meats and cheeses, also are available. Other features include a back deck with a view of the Rockfish River and a stage area for live music.
The barnlike building housing the tasting room will look familiar to Bold Rock customers. It is based on a design by Architect Robin Meyer that appears on Bold Rock bottles.