The Deep Roots of Creek & Gully Cider

Five generations of farmers, undesirable apples, and the road trip that began Creek & Gully Cider.

by | Aug 24, 2020 | Food + Drink

Gurleen and Devinder Maan discuss how they keep the farm in the family.

Annelise Simonsen walks down a row of apple trees, cider in hand, a tiny grey cat in tow. She points out the poison ivy weaving around the trunks of the trees that make a path to the property edge – a sharp cliff with an unforgettable view of Lake Okanagan shimmering in the sunlight. It is beautiful, idyllic, and very, very hot. 

Simonsen is from a family of farmers that runs five generations deep. They have a long history on the Naramata Bench growing certified organic apples on their 55 acres of land long before being certified became a thing. However, Simonsen is adamant that she’s not a farmer. She’s a cider maker, and co-owner of the ‘low intervention’ cidery, Creek & Gully, which she runs with her friend turned sister-in-law Kaleigh Jorgenson. 

“My father, my brother, my partner all work on the farm, but I like to say that Kaleigh and I are just a little bit smarter and a little bit paler,” said Simonsen. “I love farming, and I know a lot about it through osmosis, and I really respect it, but I don’t think I’m capable of it, besides the sunburns, it’s just very hard physical labour. There are so many trials and tribulations.”

Strawberries from Maan Farms

Photo Credit | Abby Wiseman

Ugly Fruit, Pretty Cider

Creek & Gully is a ‘natural’ or ‘non-intervention’ cidery, which essentially means they do as little to mess with the cider as possible, relying on the natural yeast of the fruit to do the work. ‘Intervention’ can mean adding yeast, sulphur, fining agents, and even filtering through fish bladders (“There’s a lot of weird ways to filter.”).  Many ‘natural’ winemakers will use some of these options when things start to go south, but for the most part, they try to let nature run its course. 

For Simonsen, the hands-off approach to cider making is an extension of the fruit that she has available to her through the family farm where she and Jorgensen purchase C-grade or ‘ugly’ fruit for the cider. 

“Our goal is to be the sustainable baby partner to our farm because we use fruit that has a blemish on it or is too big or too small,” said Simonsen, “It’s kind of our attempt at reducing the amount of food waste we would have, while also paying a really positive and sustainable price for that food.”

There is an added benefit to using ugly fruit, due to mother nature roughing it up, it’s built more defences, which makes for a more tannic and complex end product. It’s also a way to help the farm overcome what Simonsen calls “trend barriers.”

“Last year we got a message from our packing house saying they weren’t taking any yellow apples. That’s most of our apples or at least 40 percent,” said Jorgenson. “You have to appease these powers, or else you are stuck on your product, and your product has a shelf life – a short one.”

Replanting is expensive, and it would take 3 to 5 years for the trees to be ready for production. The cidery gave the family some leeway in making that big decision, and, in the meantime, the family found a new packing house. 

As a result, most of the ciders are replete with yellow apples – like their Century cider, made with Jonagold, Dolgo Crab Apples, and Red Delicious apples planted by Simonsen’s great-great-grandfather 106 years ago.

Photo Credit | Abby Wiseman

The Roadtrip That Started Creek & Gully

Doing a tasting in her much cooler tasting room with a high vaulted ceiling and rows upon rows of cider-filled bottles resting upside down on racks, Simonsen pours tasting after tasting of delicious and hazy ciders that range in hue from gold to pink. She intertwines well-rehearsed tasting notes with candid commentary on her journey from being an art history major in Victoria to owning a cidery.

Opting out of the family business, Simonsen worked as a pastry chef at Joy Road Catering, where she met Jorgenson. During breaks from school, she returned to Naramata, and the two made small batches of cider. 

Simonsen and Jorgenson took a trip down to Washington to take a cider-making course, and on the way back, they hatched a plan to start a cidery.

Being realistic about the cost of starting a cidery, compounded by the reality of the hefty student debt load both carry, they knew they had to get Simonsen’s organic apple loving parents on board, which they did. 

Simonsen’s dad became the third partner in the business. They solidified the business plan, had all the meetings, endured the underlying sexism. (“One of the bankers even congratulated my dad on the business plan, even when we were the ones answering all the questions.”) Then they had to figure out what cider they wanted to make, and, ultimately, how to make it large scale. 

“We definitely thought about making a cider with sugar and just selling it to our restaurant connections. After a couple of conversations, we realized that what we wanted to drink was Bella sparkling wine,” said Simonsen with a laugh. “That is still true.”

So they went down the road to Bella to glean information from owner Jay Drysdale and frequented Reddit, Youtube, and any other source that could guide them.

Some things went right, some things went wrong, and some things that went wrong went right. Take their popular “Sparkle” cider with the pretty pink label and effervescent bubbles. It is fruity, floral, and a little bit funky, but it’s also a mistake. 

We had 16 thousand litres of juice, and we only had 14 thousand litres of tank space, so we put it in a bin to top ferment. A floor started to develop, which is a surface yeast that’s sort of a protective barrier against harmful bacteria, and it can bring out off flavours,” said Simonsen. “We kind of panicked, but we kept trying it, and we kept liking it, so we went with it.”

It’s been their most popular cider to date.

Photo Credit | Abby Wiseman

Expect the Unexpected

Not all challenges in their first year have to do with the business. 

Simonsen thought she could do her part working remotely from Victoria, but reality sank in. 

“I was living in there up until about two months after starting the business, and I fully thought I could do it from Victoria,” said Jorgensen. “What a mistake.”

Now she’s in the tasting room most days, especially since Jorgensen had Jorgenson welcomed her first child a few months ago, ushering in the sixth generation of Simonsen farmers. Being the resident cider maker meant that the two had to pivot on their plans. 

“Kaleigh, being pregnant, couldn’t clean the tank or try the ciders, and when COVID hit, we politely kicked her out and told her to go on her mat leave,” said Simonsen. 

Now Jorgenson works from home on the marketing side of things, and they hired on former assistant winemaker of Joie Farm, Alyssa Hubert, to take over cider production. 

They are set to release several new ciders, and Creek & Gully is showing up on more shelves and more menus around the province.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last year, but I’ve never been a person who learns through schooling. I learn by doing.” 

Check out the new lineup at Creek & Gully. 

 

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Excellent work. Well done you. Bravo.

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