Sean Myles & Gina Haverstock have been involved with Annapolis Valley food and beverages for years.
They moved to the valley in 2007, with Gina — the inspiration for Gina’s Red, sold at NSLC — working as the winemaker at Gaspereau Vineyards. Myles himself works for Dalhousie University in Kentville, N.S., with a focus on apple breeding.
It was their love of wine, beer and apples that bore their business, the Annapolis Cider Company.
“We always kind of had that entrepreneurial itch. We saw wineries cropping up and benefiting Wolfville, and then we saw the craft beer movement explode. We felt uniquely suited to start something,” said Myles.
“To do cider made a lot of sense because of my research and understanding of the apple supply chain. My wife’s expertise in fermentation was also a key factor.”
The two began looking for a little space, as cider was the fastest-growing local product at the NSLC.
“In April 2016, we opened our doors. We had spent two or three years visiting all the production facilities we could in Atlantic Canada, and even out west in Oregon,” he said. “We felt we were well-equipped to head into the market, and got a tiny space downtown.”
The cidery is different, in that they believe in the premium nature of the brand.
“Increasingly, we feel confident saying ‘no’ as opportunities present themselves. We could put our product in a 500 ml package to compete with others in volume, but that doesn’t speak to the nature of our brand or our relationship with our customers,” he said.
“Our ultra-premium product stands out, and we package in a 750 ml bottle. We’re a wine-like product, and we love to focus on what makes us different.”
About half of the cider sold at the NSLC, according to Myles, is made up of Nova Scotian ciders.
“We have a stronghold on cider here, and cider sales are growing faster than craft beer and local wine,” he says.
However, while wine and beer present enormous markets, Myles says cider is still “a relatively small pie.”
“In total for 2017, cider sales were $10 million, wine was $87 million and beer was $280 million. So, with about half of this cider being produced in Nova Scotia, our local cider industry is capturing a huge portion of the overall cider industry. Craft beer makes up only about 5% of beer sales and Nova Scotia wine makes up less than 10% of wine sales, but their pies are huge compared to ours. For example, beer sales are 28 times greater than cider.”
While they moved forward in 2016, the couple had been considering this business since 2014, when Ray Ivany’s report, Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians, was released.
The report called for a number of goals to be set by 2024, including growing local business start-ups and increasing exports.
“We were constantly hearing about it in the news. Ivany was saying ‘this isn’t a choice for Nova Scotia. It’s something we need to do to continue living here,’ ” he said.
“It propelled us from feeling the cidery was something we could perhaps do to something we felt obliged to do. There was a social responsibility attached to it.”
He said focusing on their business through the Ivany report’s recommendations was hugely helpful.
“It’s a lens through which we can view activities and what we’re doing. If you read the report, and come to visit our business, you see we represent the report. We are buying local product for our cider-making, it’s value-added, and we’re in a small Nova Scotia town employing young, educated people,” he said.
“We’re a rural town with premium product for export. We check all the boxes. This is a way to provide us extra motivation to be exceptional and excel. It provides a justification for a lot of what we do, and we can remind ourselves that our mission and vision should align with the report.”
Myles says he’s learned a whole lot in the last 18 months, and that the business needs to be about individuals.
“We have turned our focus from production, packaging and labelling to the people who make up our business. We are working on HR management and trying to become an exceptional employer,” he said.
“We are learning to operate in a respectful manner and the way we feel our employees deserve. We are made of people. You can hit all of your Key Performance Indicators and have big net revenues, but you cannot have a great business without peace in the workplace. We are diligent in ensuring we never have a workplace that’s full of tension and conflict.”
They have 12 employees, five of whom work full-time, and they’re ready to tell their customers each day why they’re different.
“While many industrial ciders are made in two weeks, we ferment at low temperatures for six. That way we retain nice apple aromatics. We carbonate at low levels, and let the fruit speak for itself. We don’t sweeten with sugar, but use fresh juice,” he said.
“We want to make sure these things are highlighted, and our relatively higher cost reflects how different we are. We sit on a thin piece of the industry and are confident in the premium product.”
Myles calls Wolfville the “epicentre” of the local food movement.
“We have the Devour Film Festival, the best farmer’s market, and a unique agricultural region. We are surrounded increasingly by beautiful wineries, making this a destination to experience agriculture. We are committed to local and value-added, and we see so many good things for the future here,” he said.
“The threat of political interference in this is always there, as are changes in policy. But we’ve got nothing but support so far. There are numerous social and economic benefits to the agricultural industries around us. The growth and positivity is contagious.”
He said their belief in eating and drinking local has pushed their cidery forward.
“We are firm believers that eating local is key to rural economic sustainability. We think if everyone got involved, we’d experience a tremendous economic boom in rural Nova Scotia. We are happy to be a part of all this,” he said.
“People are catching on, and we have nothing but good things to say about selling the Wolfville brand, making our drinks right here in our town, and following the Ivany report. We are totally happy with our situation and what we’re doing.”
By Jordan Parker