“Traditional Cider Re-Interpreted.” That’s one of the first things to jump out on the very modern, very visually-appealing Tieton Cider Works website. And, it is one of the first things to stand out about owner Craig Campbell. You instantly know he’s a man who likes to dig into a project, poke at it until he figures out how it works, and then reinterpret it to make it better. And, that’s just what he’s done during a career that involves at least three distinct roles. Craig’s career started off “traditional” enough: Boy’s granddad farms. Boy’s dad farms. Boy loves farming and decides to farm like dad and granddad. His grandfather kicked off the tradition in the late 1920s after irrigation districts were developed in the Yakima Valley: In 1902, the United States Congress passed the Reclamation Act, paving the way for federally funded dam and irrigation projects and making the desertous land ripe for agriculture. His father followed suit, studying horticulture at Washington State University and becoming a successful farmer and teacher to his son.
With cherries, pears, apricots, and of course apples in his blood—and a profound respect for the science involved in sustaining an orchard—Craig was a shoe-in to earn a horticulture degree from Washington State. But, when he graduated, Craig’s dad encouraged him to look outside of just growing produce. The young farmer moved to the San Francisco Bay area to learn the supply side of produce from a cousin who owned a fruit distribution company. After two years, Craig and two partners struck out to start CDS Distributing, Inc., which has now been open for 36 years. The company primarily sources fruit for retail, wholesale, and export customers in Northern Calif.
While he grew CDS, Craig continued to grow the family farm, Harmony Orchards, in Tieton, Wash., located 18 miles from Yakima. There on 350 acres, he and his wife organically farm for the fresh market seven varieties of apples, three varieties of pears, and three varieties of late harvest apricots.
Perpetually one to discover, learn and reinvent, Craig recently carved out yet another role for himself in the produce world—and one about which he is clearly passionate. In 2007, a friend took a class at Cornell on how to make cider. She was also involved in marketing organic produce and started talking to Craig about planting cider trees and making hard cider. The inception of “just an idea” was when Craig planted three acres of cider trees in 2008. Now, in 2013, he has 55 acres—six acres of Perry, or cider, pears and 49 acres of “bittersweet, bittersharp” cider apples.
Tieton Cider Works is a “craft cidery,” according to Craig. Its niche is that of a craft brewery versus a giant mass-beer producer. Like planting a vineyard for wine, the company uses only quality ingredients that produce the best flavor profiles for its ten distinct products. As he points out, “Any apple can be fermented, but a traditional grocery store apple would not have the needed complexity of flavor of our cider apples.” The tannic, “bittersweet, bittersharp” apples he strives to perfect for his cider, conversely, would not be good to eat, but they are perfect for products ranging from dry English style to French and American styles (the “American-style” Wild Washington blend is a semi-dry). Dry hop-infused and cherry blends are very popular, and the apricot blend is currently Tieton’s top seller. All ten are described in detail on the website at http://www.tietonciderworks.com/tieton/tieton-our-cider.
Craig points out that the term “cider” anywhere other than the United States automatically implies alcohol. Only here do we have to distinguish “hard cider.” He is obviously a cider expert and respects the process of making it, which takes three weeks for fermentation and anywhere from one month to one year for the aging process. He has learned the business carefully and with the eye of a scientist, that horticulture degree and advice from his dad continuing to serve him well.
Wife Sharon is the yen to his yang in the business. With a background in the design industry, she is responsible for marketing the Tieton brand and products, including the stylish, user-friendly website. The two live in Seattle, run the farm in Tieton 150 miles from there, and manage to juggle everything when Craig goes to the Bay Area every six weeks to check on CDS in person. Typically, CDS duties fill his morning, while farming and cider fill his afternoons.
Craig brings up the dramatic changes in the apple industry, particularly higher yields from innovative trellis systems, and points out that clearly this is still an industry very much grounded in science. He is pleased, he says, that his horticulture degree has been so helpful in his successes through the years. “Traditional, reinvented,” would aptly describe him. A man who likes to work on new things—new horticulture designs, new tree plots. His company has been a pioneer in growing commercial cider trees. As he says, “Something new keeps it fun!”
Connect with Tieton Cider Works: https://www.facebook.com/tietonciderworks