Even if you’ve never visited the Cowichan Valley, you may already be familiar with the name Merridale. Set in a picturesque orchard in rural Cobble Hill, Merridale has become a Cowichan institution, known primarily for our wide selection of artisanal, made-on-the-premises ciders and more recently, spirits. How the company rose to where it is today is an interesting story, or at least we think so.
Our farm was planted by Al Piggot in the early 1980s. In fact, Merridale Ciderworks obtained one of the first estate winery licenses on Vancouver Island in 1990. The growth of Merridale as a destination, however, began in 1999 when Janet Docherty and Rick Pipes purchased the property. They started with a little renovation to the tasting room while Rick travelled to the US and the UK to learn everything he could about the science of distilling and fermenting. The building and addition of memorable experiences has not stopped since. Merridale at the farm is now home to an al fresco eatery, lounge, store, brick oven bakery, cidery, distillery, and vinegar shack. Further landscaping of the property also allowed for the addition of a pond, gazebo and two well-appointed yurts, creating a new reason to visit Merridale: weddings.
To say the least, it’s been an eventful two decades at Merridale and the team is very proud of how everything has turned out. Equal to the quality of the products are the people who work at Merridale. From the administrative staff and front of house team, to the people who work in the cidery, orchard and distillery, we’re an extended family that feels blessed to call Cowichan home.
Our Farming Practices
For more than 30 years now, and well before “artisanal” became de rigueur, Merridale has remained ahead of the curve when it comes to farming practices. Located on just 20 acres, we will always be a boutique producer and as such, we’re able to give each of our trees extra care and attention. We are proud that our practices are consciously aligned with our core values. We are also proud to show off our farm and orchard. We encourage you to join us for the day, or just a long leisurely stroll. We have self-guided tours of our cellar, orchard walks, and a fun entertaining hunt for the kids.
In our opinion, you need world-class fruit to make a world-class beverage! So our orchards were planted with this in mind. “Sustainability” is another fashionable term that isn’t just a buzzword here. At Merridale we make a point of conserving water by not watering in the hottest months and we never use herbicides or pesticides – just earth-friendly fertilizers. If you see the odd bee buzzing about here, don’t worry, they’re with us and they’re friendly. We encourage these wild local pollinators by providing homes for them throughout the orchard. Due to all of our efforts to remain artisanal and sustainable, it made sense to partner with the BC chapter of Économusée, an international organization that encourages artisans and farmers, and promotes sustainable communities.
We have taken scion and bud wood from our trees and planted on other orchards, too. We work with other like-minded farmers in the Cowichan region. This allows us to control the production of our apples and has allowed us to expand our production steadily over the past 20 years. We are currently in the planning stages of planting another 10,000 trees in a prime growing region in the Southern Similkameen to ensure a steady supply for another 20 years. We believe in the mantra that it takes quality fruit to make quality cider and spirits.