Laura and Wes Cherry of Dragon’s Head Cider moved to Vashon Island in 2010 with the dream of planting an orchard and starting a cidery. Six years later, Dragon’s Head Farm is now home to over 3,000 cider fruit trees and their production facility. They’ll be helping us kick off 2017 right this January as our featured cidermaker all month long. Make sure to make your way in to taste this incredible cider and learn more about their cider philosophy below.
What inspired you to start making cider?
Cider making is essentially the same as wine making except with apples instead of grapes. This is actually relevant to our inspiration, because many many years ago Wes was traveling in Europe with college friends to celebrate OctoberFest and drink beer. What he found instead was that he didn’t care that much for the beer, but the European ciders that he accidentally discovered were far more appealing to his palate! Many years later, we both found a great deal of inspiration from the chapter on the apple in Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire. Our original attempts at making cider were on our kitchen counter in gallon glass jugs. What started as a hobby, became somewhat of an obsession in short order. And then about 8 years ago, we had some very intentional life planning conversations that led us to our current path. Through these late night conversations, we created the vision for Dragon’s Head Cider, and in 2010 we jumped in the deep end, purchasing property on Vashon Island where we could plant an orchard, acquiring our first cider press and tanks, and filing our paperwork for our permits and licensing. We’ve never looked back.
Your operation is quite contained, with all the action happening on the farm – why did you decide to run the business this way. Are there any drawbacks?
We believe strongly in the model that we’ve used to create Dragon’s Head Cider. Start with quality apples, and be particular about the varieties that you’re using. For us, that meant we had to grow some of the apple varieties that we wanted to use, particularly English and French traditional cider apples. These are apples that are really meant for making high quality hard ciders with quite a bit of character and depth of flavor. You would never see these apples in a grocery store or even a farmer’s market. They’re not for fresh eating. And then yes, every aspect of cider making from pressing, through fermentation and bottling happens right here. It’s really about having control over the entire process to ensure quality. We don’t see any drawbacks to doing things this way, except perhaps that it’s a lot of work!
You’ve named your brand after a mythical dragon? Tell me more about this story and why it was such an inspiration.
When we were brainstorming names for our cider company, we spent a lot of time reading historical information about apples, and also some texts and documents around apple mythology. The story behind Dragon’s Head is related to a Greek Myth. Zeus’s wife, Hera, had a garden called the Garden of Hesperides. In her garden she grew golden apples of immortality. And she had a hundred-headed dragon that guarded the garden and the apples for her. That’s where the Dragon’s Head name comes from. We like to think it refers to that guardian of precious things, like golden apples or quality ciders.
Name one cider that changed your life….
That cider in the pub in England many years ago. It was probably Strongbow or some other national brand.
If you could drink one cider for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Neither one of us could possibly pick one cider! It all depends on the season of the year, the meal in front of us, or the people that we’re drinking with. We love the story that different apple varieties or blends of apples can tell through the ciders that they create. If we had to choose just one, it would take away from the whole adventure and we would probably just quit.
What are you doing when you’re not making cider?
We spend time with our son, Quentin, who is 8 years old. In the summer we enjoy being on the water in our boat named, “Wassail”. Laura spends some of her time hanging upside down from aerial silks, or in her garden during the growing season. Wes enjoys welding and metal work, and he’ll be racing a rickshaw across India this Spring to celebrate his 50th birthday. And we find ourselves habitually returning to the Nevada desert for Burning Man every summer.