Big trucks move the earth just up the road from the current Woodchuck Cidery in Middlebury. The new 100,000-square-foot facility will include a warehouse, office space and a visitor's center. Plans have been in the works for four years for this company, which has seen some tough times.
"We went through a rocky road from 2000 to 2003, literally on the verge of bankruptcy. We were losing $300,000 a month. It just did not look like it was going to survive," said Brett Williams, president and CEO of Woodchuck.
They did survive, and thrive. Williams gives all the credit to Woodchuck's employees. Which is why when the company was sold to Ireland's C & C Group earlier this year for over $300 million, he insisted the new company go ahead with the plans to build the new cidery in Middlebury.
"It was absolutely a requirement to build the cidery and maintain all the jobs if it sold to a large brewer," Williams said.
Brett Williams' mother, Marlene, has been his executive assistant for the past nine years, and plans to retire once the new cidery is complete.
"It's so exciting," she said. "I am glad I have dark glasses on so no one can see the tears."
Brett Williams is quick to point out while the hard cider market is strong overseas; it has a long way to go in the United States.
"We have to temper our enthusiasm. The entire cider segment is only three-tenths of 1 percent of the beer category. In places like Ireland it goes as high as 15 percent. I don't know if it will get there in the U.S.," Williams said. "But if we can get to just 1 percent of beer, we will all be very happy."
Williams measures his company's growth in the marketplace this way-- he says they went from invisible to tiny, and he hopes someday to get to small.
But this new cidery is big for the town of Middlebury because it grows the grand list and tax base, and creates new jobs. A project made possible in part due to the town's infrastructure.
"In the early 2000s, the town took the bold step of creating an oversized wastewater treatment facility. We have some of the best water in the country and the facilities to deliver those essential components to agribusiness and food processors," said Kathleen Ramsay, the town manager in Middlebury.
Meanwhile, at least locally at Two Brother's Tavern, hard cider is being sold on tap alongside beer. Bartender Andy Buxton says 10 years ago people were skeptical. Not now.
"Nowadays, 15 percent if not more of our total alcohol sales is cider," Buxton said.
While Woodchuck lays deeper roots in Vermont, the hope is beer and wine drinkers will branch out and try their Hard Cider.
That project is scheduled to be complete by spring 2014.
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