Rob’s path to that goal wasn’t a straight one, though. Before starting Wyndfall in late 2014, Rob worked for the National Parks Service and United States Department of Agriculture. He traveled all over the U.S., tasked with jobs like getting dropped from helicopters onto mountains in Alaska to collect soil samples (with a shotgun, in case of bears). After a few years, he returned to Minnesota and took a job at the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Jordan. But being at a desk all day didn’t sit well with Rob, so when, in 2014, he got an offer to launch a cidery in La Crescent, he quit his job, sold his house, and put everything he had into Wyndfall Cyder. He released his first cider in spring 2015.
“It was pretty crazy,” he says, looking back at his decision. “I was 35 then and moved onto the orchard. I was living with interns and was like, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’” He laughs. “If I’d known the way it was going to go, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I’m glad I was ignorant enough to not know what I was getting into. I’m glad I did it.”
In 2015, his first full season, the unpredictability of the cider-making business became painfully clear to Rob when a hail storm damaged the majority of the orchard’s crop. The apples were too ugly to sell, but fortunately were still viable as juice for the cider. “I learned more about making cider and the whole process in that first year than I did in the previous 10 years combined,” Rob says. “It’s pretty risky, jumping into things like that, but it’s working out.”
This year’s crop at Minnesota Harvest looks good so far, and Rob is feeling confident about his production scale. In addition to his ciders—Root River, a semi-sweet raspberry cider; Homesteader, a semi-dry hopped cider; and Driftless Dry, an English brut-style cider—Rob will also be making a private-label cider for Minnesota Harvest. They just purchased a bottler, and hope to buy more equipment soon.
For now, Rob is concentrating on getting his new system down and locking in a consistent product. “You’re taking a product that’s variable every year—the juice and the sugars in the apples are going to be different every year based on the crop—and massaging it into something in which it’s best represented,” he says. “Who knows how long it will take. You’re trying it all the time, waiting until it’s right. It’s a taste thing. That’s what I really love about it.”
As the cider industry gains momentum and consumers become more educated on what high-quality cider tastes like (versus the sweeter, mass-consumption ciders that have long dominated the U.S. market), Rob hopes to help catch Minnesota’s cider scene up with those of Washington state, the East Coast, and Britain. “I just want to keep striving to improve the quality of what we can make here,” he says. “Hopefully soon we’ll be producing some of the best ciders in the country, from Minnesota-grown cider apples.”
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