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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Woodchuck Cider

Slightly removed from the main section of Middlebury sits one of the fastest growing hard cider companies in America. Woodchuck Cider is a Middleburybased company that prides itself on producing the highest quality hard cider with the best and most interesting taste.

Founded by Greg Failing in 1990, the company originated in Proctorsville, Vt. Failing, currently Woodchuck’s senior cider maker, used his expertise and experience as a wine-maker when learning to make cider.

“All I did was go out in the backyard, grab some apples and make them taste good,” he said.

While Failing knows that hard cider is popular in Europe, in America most people think of sweet cider when they hear the word. The key, then, was to create a hard cider that tasted like a sweet cider. Because of Failing’s tenacity and desire to spread the joy of delicious hard cider, the company has grown rapidly since 1990. In fact, in 2007 Woodchuck Cider was the first American cider to sell over a million cases.

Over the past 20 years, Woodchuck Cider has developed a myriad of flavors. The original Amber flavor is still the company’s most popular, but other options include Granny Smith, Pear and a new limited edition, Pumpkin. Bret Williams, the current owner of the company, explained that this flavor was born because one of his employees donated pumpkins from his back yard, as he thought Pumpkin Cider would be a fun twist on the traditional sweet taste.

The process of making cider is almost identical to that of making wine. Woodchuck Cider gathers juice for its cider from six local  apple farms, as well as from others outside the state. Williams said that although the company tries to stay local as possible, they have “outgrown the state”. The demand for cider is too large to only take apples from Vermont. Once the juice is delivered, it is temporarily stored in holding tanks. These tanks are sanitized stainless steel containers that can hold up to 12,000 gallons of apple juice. The juice is then run through a filtration system in order to remove any unwanted substances before the “secret ingredients” are added to give the cider its original flavor. The juice is next moved to fermenting tanks that are kept at around 35 degrees Fahrenheit, as this temperature ensures that the juice is fermented at the right rate. The entire process takes about two weeks, and once the juice is ready, it is moved to another holding tank where it waits to be bottled.

Though much of the cider making process is machine-based, Williams believes all of his employees are vital to the success of the company. The people who work at Woodchuck are actually the most important part of making the cider good. One of Williams’ employees invented a machine that fastens the caps to the bottles. A tube above a container that holds several hundred bottle caps sucks the caps up and places them on the bottles.

Failing said that in each bottle of cider, “there’s a little bit of us.” People in the cidery play a very important role, and Failing believes that they, and only they, make the cider more than just an average cider. Woodchuck boasts an easy-going atmosphere, despite the fact that the company is having trouble meeting the growing demand for its product.

Williams, who first began as the sales representative for the company in 1996, bought Woodchuck in 2003. Currently, the company is the largest winery in New England, and it has plans to keep growing. Although Woodchuck Cider is not the only hard cider company in the country, Williams does believes there is a key difference between Woodchuck and other ciders.

“We’ve been completely dedicated to cider, there’s nothing to distract us,” he said. “We’re a cider company and we’re proud of it.”

While most other companies also make wine and have restaurants on their land, Woodchuck only makes cider. Williams goes so far as to say the cider is more than a beverage.

“It is a union between technology, science and art,” he said.

Despite the company’s growth, employees and managers still look at Woodchuck in the same way. Although the factory is not yet set up for tours, all are welcome to visit the property. Employees are enthusiastic about the product and are excited to talk to visitors about the company.

Williams said the best part about his job is “opening the bottle and getting people to try it.” That philosophy appears to be the key to success, and it is the reason why Woodchuck’s fan base is growing faster than the company.

Woodchuck is also invested in helping the environment. Williams and Failing both believe it is their obligation to help nature, especially considering their entire product is built around apples. Recently, the company decided to plant a tree for every person that became a fan of its cider on Facebook within a two-week period. It also just planted around 10,000 trees to help curb deforestation in California, and plans on becoming a zero landfill company by 2011. This means that Woodchuck will throw nothing away, instead everything, even the paper they print their labels on, will be recycled.

The Woodchuck Cider Company is dedicated to making a drink that tastes good and the company combines talent, hard work, a desire to please customers and a drive to help the world.

“It’s all about the energy you put out,” said Failing, and Woodchuck Cider fully intends on keeping that energy positive.