A Food & Travel Blog

Springtime and Cider on Vancouver Island

21/04/2014 | By

It’s hard to believe that it has been almost 12 months since I was last in Canada. As we begin to slide (albeit very slowly here in Adelaide) into the cooler months of autumn, those in the northern hemisphere are rejoicing the return of the sun and enjoying the fresh, bright greens and fragrant blossoms of spring.

In May of last year, while my family shivered and huddled around the fire, I was relishing the mild, sunny days of the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island and spending some time visiting some exceptional local food producers. One of these was Merridale Ciderworks, a labour of love that has become a significant tourism destination on Vancouver Island.

The existing cider orchard was bought from the original orchardist in 2000 by Rick Pipes and Janet Docherty, who had a feeling they could add something extra to the growing British Columbia wine industry. Keen to stay in the region and to build a profitable family business, this couple embarked on a learning curve that included significant renovations and extensions, making Merridale a unique tourist destination as well as a popular (and gorgeous) venue for weddings and other events.

Merridale Ciderworks has been producing all natural apple ciders in Cobble Hill since 1989 and started making craft spirits in 2007. In June 2013 Merridale was accredited by the Province as BC’s first Craft Distillery. All of Merridale’s cider and spirits are made from 100% BC grown fruits, fermented and distilled on the farm and most grown in their orchard in the Cowichan Valley without the use of pesticides or herbicides. Most notably, the apples grown are heritage varieties of cider apples originally grown in England and France for their superior cider characteristics.

Merridale has consistently produced award-winning craft ciders and are now recognised for their distilled products, too. At the recent American Distilling Association 8th Annual competition, Merridale Artisan Distillery brandies were awarded Best in Class, Gold and Silver against competition from all over North America.

Not content with just producing award-winning beverages, Rick and Janet have expanded their premises significantly. Visitors to Merridale can enjoy tastings of the award-winning ciders in their popular cider flight and then relax in the charming bistro which offers a menu of local, seasonal foods and breads and pizzas baked in their own wood oven. The bistro has become a popular spot for functions of various kinds and, if you can’t quite bring yourself to leave after the party, they also offer accommodation in the form of stunningly appointed yurts tucked away in beautifully landscaped gardens.

Merridale is a significant example of what can be done with a tourist destination. I couldn’t help but think about the breathtaking views which some of our local Adelaide Hills apple orchards have and wished for something similar to be developed up here. Any takers, folks?

From Merridale, I headed off to visit another local producer whom I had been particularly keen to catch up with. I had “met” Andrew Shepherd of the Vancouver Island Salt Company about 10 months earlier in the wonderful world of Twitter. I had seen his product on the shelves of Edible Canada 12 months before, but can’t quite remember how or why we started chatting as, on the surface, it seemed we had nothing at all in common. So you can imagine my surprise to discover that Andrew and his wife not only knew about what a great city Adelaide is, but had actually lived here for about 12 months before heading home to start their family.

After working all around the world (including Adelaide) as a chef, Andrew decided it was time for a change, originally taking to the water with buckets to hand-harvest the sea water in order to produce sustainable, hand-crafted, artisan salts. As word got around about his exceptional product the romance of hauling buckets of sea water home by hand wore off and Andrew now uses more efficient methods of harvesting, but still prides himself on producing a sustainable product. In fact, by using 99.5% recycled bio fuel, Andrew’s production officially boasts a carbon negative footprint. Andrew’s Vancouver Island Salt Company now produces an all-natural, unrefined range of smoked, infused and gourmet Canadian sea salts which are enjoyed by both home cooks and professional chefs.

When I first held a packet of his salt in my hand over two years ago in that store on Granville Island, it never occurred to me for one single second that 12 moths later I’d be chatting to him in his front room. And that’s why I love social media!

Merridale Ciderworks can be found at

1230 Merridale Road
Cobble Hill, B.C. V0R 1L0

Their cider bar and bistro are open seven days a week .

While on Vancouver Island Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Victoria.

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  1. Fran @ G'day Souffle'
    21/04/2014

    Amanda, I have never heard of smoked sea salt before, but that’s something I’ll definitely have to explore in my ‘culinary explorations.’ Several years ago, we went to the art markets at Granville Island and I’m still wearing the sun hat that I bought there!

  2. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef
    21/04/2014

    That is SO cool that you met on Twitter and then went 10,000 miles and met him in person. The cider place shows what a little thought and planning can do when you turn your business into a destination.

  3. Kate
    22/04/2014

    Bestever trip I bet !!

  4. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    22/04/2014

    I used some of the Vancouver Salt company salt in my dishes today! I also have one of their lovely wooden boxes. They’ve got such an interesting story.

  5. My Kitchen Stories
    22/04/2014

    Twitter is pretty incredible isn’t it. This was a great view of Vancouver Island . Yes I want to go

  6. Hotly Spiced
    23/04/2014

    Social media certainly has its good points. Before I started blogging I never thought I’d actually make friends and build relationships from it. Vancouver certainly is beautiful in the Spring. I keep hearing about the excellent fresh produce the city makes and about businesses such as the cider business and the salt business that make the most of what Vancouver has to offer. Lovely tour, Amanda xx

  7. InTolerant Chef
    23/04/2014

    It looks so pretty indeed! How nice to meet up in person too 🙂

  8. Anna Johnston
    24/04/2014

    Holy Smokes… Sign me up now, I want in on this action. So pretty, I really want to visit.
    Yep, love social media, its brilliant meeting like minded folk who become great friends. Its the best! 🙂

  9. Fiona @TIFFIN bite sized food adventures
    05/05/2014

    Lovely piece Amanda. I might actually make it to Vancouver Island one day as we have distant family there. I’ll be bookmarking this (as I do with many of your travel pieces) for future reference.