An orchard walk, a cider tasting and faeries at Merridale Cidery & Distillery
in Vancouver Island’s scenic Cowichan Valley
The scenic rolling hills of the Cowichan Valley thirty minutes north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia are known for organic farms, local food and award-winning wineries. And a cidery. Merridale Cidery & Distillery is an apple orchard, a craft cider maker, a small batch distillery and a wedding and event venue. It made for a pleasant stop on the day trip my sister and I made to the Cowichan Valley.
Cider starts in the orchard. Merridale uses 18 varieties of apples grown in British Columbia in their assorted ciders, 9 of which are grown in their own orchards. Merridale uses sustainable farming practices without herbicides or pesticides. The Orchard Walk is an uneven, natural hiking trail through Merridale’s orchard. There are over 3500 apple trees grown using organic practices.
Behind the Ciderhouse, in a lovely landscaped area, is an outdoor tent which can be booked for weddings or other events. The indoor restaurant area is available for moving the reception indoors. On other parts of the property, we found a few more unusual displays.
Cider and brandy tastings are available in the tasting room for a fee ($ 4 or $5). Unlike some wineries where the tasting fee is waived if you buy a bottle of wine, the tasting fee applies regardless of what you buy. The fee is donated to a charity. Each month a different charity is the recipient. The tasting fees on the day of my visit went to Canucks Autism Network.
Merridale ciders are made from 100% juice and only the first pressing is used. The juice is fermented slowly and naturally. There are two cider sampling options in the tasting room: New World Cider and Old World Cider. The New World cider is described as easy drinking and fruit forward. The Old World cider is made in the European style with deeper, more complex flavours. My sister and I ordered one New World Cider tasting and one Old World Cider tasting and shared, so we could each have a small taste of all the ciders on offer. Although I’ve never been a great fan of cider, there were a few I liked. I hadn’t realized how many versions of cider there are and how different they can taste from each other. Maybe I could become a cider fan.
New World Ciders:
House: A effervescent style cider made from a blend of English cider apples, this is one of Merridale’s best sellers.
House Dry: A drier version of the House, it tasted a bit like white wine.
Merri Berri: This is made with a blend of local apples fermented slowly, then blended with B.C. black currant, cherry and raspberry juices. It was not as sweet as I would have expected for a fruit blend. I could imagine sipping it outside on a nice summer afternoon. (It is only available from spring to fall)
Winter Apple: This cider is fortified with brandy. Our tasting guide said it has been described as “apple pie in a glass”. It did taste like apple pie. A nice dessert cider.
Old World Ciders:
Scrumpy: A strong oaky blend of sharp crab apples and tannic cider apples. It is Merridale’s strongest cider and is a little cloudier in colour than the others. I found this one too sharp for my taste.
Traditional: This English-style cider is another of Merridale’s best sellers. It has a nice balanced flavour.
Cyser: This award-winning cider is a blend of aromatic cider apples and wildflower honey from Merridale’s own orchard.
Pomme Oh!: A cider fortified with brandy. It has a honey forward taste and an apple finish. Another nice dessert cider. I couldn’t decide which I liked better – the Pomme Oh! or the Winter Apple.
Merridale also makes brandy, gin and vodka, all made entirely from B.C. fruit. Brandy tastings are available at the tasting bar, but not gin or vodka tasting. A flight of 3 “mini” versions of signature cocktails can be ordered in the lounge or bistro.
A store attached to the tasting rooms sells a variety of crafts and local food specialties. And Merridale’s own products, which includes cider vinegar in addition to its alcoholic products.
Deep into the Orchard Walk are a series are faerie gardens and signs about faeries.
Do you know how to spot faeries? Faeries are most easily seen when you don’t look directly at them. It may help if you soft-focus your eyes, look straight ahead and concentrate on your peripheral vision.
Merridale Cider & Distillery is located in the Cobble Hill area of Cowichan Valley. It is open daily. Hours vary by season. Check their events calendar for special events.
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Doreen PendgracsNovember 7, 2016 at 3:07 pm
It’s great fun to visit a venue such as this, isn’t it, Donna? I’m not the biggest fan of cider, but I know that actually being there and learning all about the process makes one much more inclined to buy and enjoy the product. It’s far too long since I’ve been to the Cowichan Valley. Definitely time to return …
Donna JankeNovember 11, 2016 at 7:49 am
Doreen, it was fun. I haven’t been the biggest fan of cider either, but I did like some of the ones I tasted here.
JohannaNovember 7, 2016 at 5:57 pm
Merridale Cidery looks like such a pretty place, and that there’s cider too – what a bonus! I love cider – such a refreshing drink. We have a wonderful cidery in a town down south from us, with a lovely outside garden in amongst the trees. but a smaller venture than Merridale. Loved your photos too 🙂
Donna JankeNovember 11, 2016 at 7:50 am
Thanks Johanna. Merridale is a pretty place.
suzannestavertNovember 7, 2016 at 8:06 pm
I love cider and we just discovered it fairly recently. Our adult kids love it. Your photo of the abundant apple tree was my favorite!
Donna JankeNovember 11, 2016 at 7:51 am
Suzanne, that photo is a favourite of mine too.
Karen WarrenNovember 8, 2016 at 1:00 am
I’d love to visit a New World cider garden like Merridale. I was interested in the fairy garden – my husband reckons he once saw fairies after drinking cider!
Donna JankeNovember 11, 2016 at 7:54 am
Karen, I love fairy gardens so really enjoyed that part of Merridale. Your husband is amusing – I can well imagine a few drinks of strong cider making it easier to spot the fairies!
Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To GoNovember 10, 2016 at 4:00 am
Love the faerie gardens and the possibility of a sighting. 🙂 I guess I hadn’t realized either that there were so many versions of ciders but if sounds like you discovered that you like the taste. The Merri Berri sounds good to me but (I love a good, mouth puckering, tart taste) I think I’d like a sip of the Scrumy. Sounds like a fun way to spend the day! Anita
Donna JankeNovember 11, 2016 at 7:57 am
Anita, I hadn’t realized how many varieties there were either. The Scrumpy was not my favourite, but everyone’s tastes are different.
Jeri Walker (@JeriWB)November 11, 2016 at 4:11 pm
The grounds of Merridale Cider & Distillery look like a lot of fun. I always love an element of whimsy. I’ve been branching out into ciders lately too, so it’s always good to be able to add a few more facts to my knowledge base.
Donna JankeNovember 16, 2016 at 12:40 pm
Jeri, Merridale Cider is a good place to learn more about cider.
Sabrina QuairoliNovember 13, 2016 at 7:18 pm
What a beautiful winery! Merridale ciders sounds like s fun place to visit.
Donna JankeNovember 14, 2016 at 8:33 am
Sabrina, it was fun.
Catarina AlexonNovember 14, 2016 at 4:52 am
Looks like a wonderful place and I love cider!
Donna JankeNovember 14, 2016 at 8:34 am
Catrina, as a cider-lover you’d probably enjoy the sampling and selecting a personal favourite.
Susan Cooper/findingourwaynow.comNovember 14, 2016 at 9:58 am
Hi Donna, what beautiful grounds. Just like visiting a winery. The old still from Prohibited erase sounds be facing to see. love a good cider so I’m sure I’d enjoy the Merridale Cidery a lot. Fun!
Donna JankeNovember 16, 2016 at 12:42 pm
Susan, it is very much like a winery. And it is listed on the Cowichan Valley wine trail.
PhoeniciaNovember 14, 2016 at 12:47 pm
Cider has an acquired taste. I used to drink apple cider on occasion some years back. I am blown away by the vast amount of land. You guys have more than enough to share with us here in little England!
The views are breathtaking.
Donna JankeNovember 16, 2016 at 12:44 pm
Phoenicia, you’ve reminded me how I used to be struck by all the space we had whenever I returned from a visit to England.
Jeannette PaladinoNovember 14, 2016 at 7:13 pm
Donna — what beautiful photos and I very much enjoyed your description of the various apple ciders. I rarely drink apple cider, although I do like it. It just hasn’t been on my radar screen. May be time to try it again.
Donna JankeNovember 16, 2016 at 12:46 pm
Thanks Jeannette. Cider seems to be more prevalent in some places than others. I never realized how much variation in taste there can be from one to another, so I will be more open to trying ciders in the future.
heraldmartyNovember 16, 2016 at 2:51 am
Oh this looks wonderful Donna! It’s been ages since I’ve been to Vancouver, or a winery for that matter. I understand there are at least 3 wineries around the Eugene area so you’ve inspired me to get out and explore them. Thanks!
Donna JankeNovember 16, 2016 at 12:47 pm
Marquita, we get busy with our day-to-day life and forget about some of the delights we can explore close to home. Enjoy your winery visits.
EmilyNovember 16, 2016 at 3:04 am
I am not a big fan of cider either but it seems like there are a few flavours I might like to try. And the faerie garden! As a young girl, I wrote to the ‘faeries; (aka my mum) so I think I would have really loved to see it in real life!
Donna JankeNovember 16, 2016 at 12:49 pm
Emily, I’m sure you’d love the faerie garden. Did the “faeries” (aka your mum) write you back?
Sushmita Thakare JainNovember 17, 2016 at 3:35 am
Donna thanks for sharing info of an amazing place to visit, will definitely love to visit it sometime if anyone from my friends visit the region will definitely share regarding it.
Donna JankeNovember 18, 2016 at 5:50 pm
William RushoNovember 18, 2016 at 8:44 am
We have some of these in upstate NY. There is nothing better then walking into them, smelling the apples, eating an apple flavored doughnut with some cider. Makes me homesick.
Thanks for sharing.
Donna JankeNovember 18, 2016 at 5:51 pm
William, I don’t think I’ve ever had an apple flavoured doughnut, never mind alongside cider. Something to try someday!
AndyNovember 19, 2016 at 10:36 pm
I can’t recall ever having had cider before; if it’s like wine, then I probably wouldn’t like it. I’ve noted previously that I’m a beer drinker, and I’m sure that the Merridale Cidery & Distillery has its fair share of beer-drinking visitors, so why not offer an Apple Ale? Apples and beer may sound like an odd combination but I have no doubt that a skilled brewer could pull it off. (I think of Samuel Adams’ Cherry Wheat, which is a good beer for a hot summer night.)
Donna JankeNovember 22, 2016 at 11:36 am
Andy, I don’t think cider is at all like wine. The House Dry was the first cider I’ve tasted that had a bit of similarity to wine. Beer making is an art on its own. Although Merridale doesn’t make beer there must be a craft brewer someone who has put apples in ale.