By Rick VanSickle
It is the culmination of dream, a seemingly impossible dream of owning a cidery and apple orchards in Ontario and throwing open the doors for the first time to paying customers.
That day was today for Chris Haworth and his wife Amy Robson (top photo). On a brilliant spring day in Carlisle, the dream became reality.
“I had no idea people would show up,” said an exhausted but beaming Haworth this morning shortly after the 10 a.m. opening of Somerset Orchards and Farm Store. “Once that first person walked in, I said ‘we did it, we finally did it.’ ”
It’s been a long and winding road for the couple. In 2008, while Haworth was executive chef at Spencer’s at the Waterfront in Burlington, the apple seed was planted in his mind. He was going to open a cidery. He did not know how, he did not know when, but it was going to happen.
It gnawed at Haworth as he prepared gourmet meals for the beautiful people of Burlington: “My true love came to me … on a trip to the County Cider Company (in Prince Edward County). We were overlooking Waupoos Island, sipping cider, eating a pizza and loving life,” he says. “That’s when the idea came into my head. Cider started consuming my life.”
He went home one night and told his wife Amy he was quitting his job and jumping headfirst into the fledgling Ontario craft cider industry.
I first met Haworth when he was the chef at Spencer’s and quickly discovered his cider affliction. He held two cider dinners that were exquisite affairs and proved to all who attended that cider is a diverse and interesting libation that pairs brilliantly with myriad foods. His passion was evident.
When he told me one day that he had quit his job and was chasing his dream, I wasn’t that surprised, he had been inching closer and closer to making the leap since first meeting him. It didn’t take him long to source Ontario-grown apples and bottle his first cider, a dry, crisp, fruity style made from a combination of Ontario apples including Cortland, golden Russet, McIntosh, Empire, and Northern Spy that he called West Avenue Spy Cider. It was met with success from the beginning, populating taps in the trendiest pubs and bars in Toronto and beyond.
Next, he leased new digs in Hamilton, and started cranking out an ocean of ciders in myriad styles and Haworth quickly developed a following for his ciders that were only available at bars or restaurants on tap or in bottles.
Then came the purchase of what he now calls
Somerset Orchards in Carlisle, set on a picturesque 75 acres and home to 16 acres of heritage, heirloom, cider and pear trees. With over 100 varieties of apples and 10 varieties of pears, the new tasting and retail facility is fully stocked with bottle-conditioned ciders, a selection of various ciders in bottle and on tap to try and a growler program that let’s visitors go home with fresh cider in re-fillable jugs.
As well, Haworth and Robson sell fresh farm produce, seasonal fruit pies, French quiche, and hand made sausage rolls.
It is a gorgeous property surrounded by apple orchards, fields, gardens, donkeys, goats, sheep and plenty of space to sip cider outside on picnic tables under the warm spring and summer sun.
In another building, a working cidery is being slowly transferred from the Hamilton facility, while the barrel room is already piled high with Haworth’s signature range of oak barrels, mainly used oak from Niagara wine country that gives many of his ciders their complexity and depth.
It is simply a magical place and one that anyone can experience every day of the week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Thanksgiving. There is still a work to be done and the couple is hoping it will all be wrapped up for the grand opening in July.
Best of all, for cider lovers like me, you don’t have to drive all the way to a pub in Toronto for one of those delicious ciders he makes. They have them all right there on site.