New cider facility going up quickly

MIDDLEBURY — Construction has hit a fever pitch on Vermont Hard Cider’s new, 100,000-square-foot headquarters off Middlebury’s Exchange Street, leaving company officials confident the new facility — to feature new office, manufacturing and warehouse space along with a visitors’ center — will be completed as scheduled by next spring or early summer.
“The work has been steady; there have been no real setbacks,” said Nate Formalarie, spokesman for Vermont Hard Cider (VHC).
Site work for the new facility began this past April; a groundbreaking ceremony ensued on May 10. Passersby on Exchange Street have seen almost daily gains on the new cidery this summer. The steel warehouse structure has fully risen and is fully enclosed, according to Formalarie.
“They will soon start laying the concrete floor, in sections,” he said of the warehouse. “Then they will start building the (interior) walls.”
Meanwhile, work on the two-level office building is also humming along. Massive trusses have been installed at the top of the structure.
“We need to get that enclosed, and put up walls,” Formalarie said of the office building.
Workers recently installed the first of 139 timbers that will make up the company’s new “visitor barn,” a building that will include a visitors’ center, tasting area, gift shop and tour center. It will be in keeping with a traditional New England barn design, with Douglas fir timbers that were harvested in the Green Mountains by Bennington-based Vermont Timber Frames.
The main posts stand 20 feet high and each post is 10 inches by 12 inches wide, according to an update blog on the VHC website. The timbers have been pre-made to assemble like a puzzle at the construction site, according to Formalarie. No screws or high-power nail guns will be used in construction of the visitors’ barn. Each timber will be connected by hand, with octagonal wooden dowels hammered through the beams to ensure a tight fit between timbers.
Formalarie anticipates the entire complex will be enclosed by mid-October, thereby allowing interior work to occur under cover during the winter.
“We are super excited,” Formalarie said of the progress made on the project to date. Administrators are able to catch glimpses of construction activities from their temporary offices located next to Vermont Coffee, off Exchange Street. Cider manufacturing continues to proceed unabated at VHC’s current cidery off Pond Lane. That Pond Lane cidery will continue to function even after the new headquarters is completed, due to the growing demand for Woodchuck Hard Cider products.
“To see this project actually happening is creating a buzz around here,” Formalarie said.
Many VHC employees took a break from cider making on Thursday to do some apple picking for charity. For the fourth year in a row, VHC workers picked thousands of pounds of apples at Champlain Orchards in Shoreham as part of the Vermont Foodbank’s “Pick for Your Neighbor Program.” VHC purchased the apples and donated them to the Vermont Foodbank. The company hoped to increase its annual contribution this year to more than 5,000 pounds of apples.
In other recent cider news, U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., recently teamed up to introduce legislation aimed at helping the growing hard cider industry in Vermont and New York. In a statement, they said their CIDER Act — Cider Investment and Development through Excise Tax Reduction Act — would update the federal definition of hard cider to meet current market expectations and manufacturing practices.
Specifically, the Schumer-Leahy CIDER Act would raise the allowable levels of carbonation in hard ciders; align the alcohol content standard with the natural sugar content of apples; make U.S. standards consistent with European standards, which would increase the opportunity to expand U.S. exports; and allow pears to be part of the manufacturing process, which would help to develop the emerging pear and berry cider market.
Under current federal law, the definition of hard cider only allows up to 7 percent alcohol by volume before it is taxed at the higher rate of wine, and only a certain level of carbonation before it is taxed at the even higher rate of sparkling wine. Market research shows that cider consumers today expect and prefer a higher level of carbonation, similar to that of most beer. In addition, many small, craft cider producers who rely on natural raw materials often have little ability to predict and control the precise alcohol content or carbonation levels of their products, according to Leahy.
“Vermont is closely associated with the booming market for hard cider, and this is a great opportunity to help cider and apple producers in Vermont meet the growing demand from coast to coast,” Leahy said, through a press release. “Boosting cider production would create new economic opportunities for local cider manufacturers like the Vermont Hard Cider Company in Middlebury, while opening new markets for local apple producers throughout Vermont. This fits our strategy for expanding value-added agriculture in Vermont, which is a key building block for Vermont’s emerging markets and economy.”
Bret Williams, president and CEO of VHC, was pleased to see the bill introduced.
“The hard cider industry is poised for real growth both here in Vermont and across the country,” Williams said. “These proposed changes will allow Vermont cider makers to fully realize that potential, bringing solid economic growth to the Vermont landscape. It will bolster Vermont’s role as a national leader in hard cider, just as it is in craft beer, cheese, and ice cream. We again thank Sens. Leahy and Schumer for taking the lead on this effort, and we look forward to working with them to get the CIDER Act passed.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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