Sierra Cider was molded out of the love and desire to live in the Sierra Foothills, to grow apple trees, and spend free time enjoying the many wonders of the Yosemite area. The owners, Dave and Beth Lancaster, share this as they develop their cider business.
Dave and Beth married in 2003. That same year Dave’s family trust needed to sell property, which was comprised of an old apple orchard and a small home in Mariposa. The sale of Beth’s home along with their combined savings gave them the opportunity to buy the Mariposa property. The land that Dave had spent years working on and the lure of the most beautiful outdoor recreation area became a reality for them.
Dave and Beth spent several years trying to maintain the old orchard with all its rugged beauty. Unfortunately the trees had moved beyond their prime and had become a source for pests and disease. It was a losing battle. Then one beautiful day after biking around a lake, they stopped at their favorite pub and decided to try a local cider. This was not your sweet “wine-cooler” type; this one had complexity and character. The cider idea was born.
Having rose colored glasses on, they moved forward with a basic plan of putting in a new orchard that would bring back the wonderful flavor of apples specifically grown for cider. They knew the land needed work before new trees could be planted. After the old trees were removed and the land was re-graded to drain properly, soil amendments were added and cover crops were planted. The local deer population thought this was wonderful, so the next project was putting in an eight-foot deer fence. A well was drilled; pump installed & an electrical supply line brought in and an irrigation system put in. Wow! What were they thinking! Keep in mind all the research and the manual labor to do most of this was done by Dave, Beth, their children and some wonderful friends.
They continued to move forward with the to-do list and then the BIG day arrived in November 2009, time to plant 800 trees. With family, friends and a hope to finish in 8 days they put on their work clothes and became a unified team. Two and a half days later the 800th tree was planted. Thanksgiving that year was the best ever.
Of course, when you feel you’ve accomplished some major hurdles, the rose colored glasses must be removed to see all the other projects that need to be done. Living and working full time jobs 2 ½ hours from Mariposa and being a weekend warrior was taking its toll. It was time for Dave to retire. So, in August 2010 he became a full time farmer. Due to the economy Beth continued to work in Folsom, near Sacramento.
With all the care of a loving parent, Dave tended the new trees using biological and sustainable farming practices. Work by day and research by night, Dave gained a new insight into the 24/7 of a farmer’s life. Beth continued her job in Folsom and spent most of her weekends working on the orchard.
In the fall of 2011 the architectural plans for the cider barn were drawn up. Of course the design elements, location and orientation for solar had been a few years in the decision making process. They had to figure out what equipment would be necessary to process, ferment, bottle, and store the hard cider. The barn had to be large enough not only to house these uses, but a lab for cider evaluations, a secure room for cased cider, and the irrigation controls.
December 2011 brought the pouring of the cider barn pad with the structure starting spring 2012. Our friend and neighbor, a retired contractor, offered to help build the barn. Did I mention Lowell is 77 years young and an inspiration for staying in shape? Dave & Beth’s lives became absorbed with the amount of work necessary to stay on schedule to build a 40 by 50 foot two story barn. By September of that year the basic structure with roof and walls was completed. Realizing their limitations, they hired a contractor in the spring of 2013 to work on the interior.
Then a momentous day arrived, July 19, 2013 three years after Dave’s retirement, Beth retires and becomes a full time farmer! They both continued to work along side the barn construction contractor’s crew and by the spring of 2014 they saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Now it was finish-work to do, purchase/install the cider equipment, and prepare for the 2014 apple harvest. That fall, along with family & friends they did their first juicing that produced a thousand gallons of juice. While the juice fermented they continued working with TTB, ABC, State Health Department and the different regulatory agencies to bring the finished product to market.