All about apples

Nicole Todd (left), Natalie Henze and her son Miles and Todd’s husband, Felix, at Santa Cruz Cider Co.’s tasting barn at Luz Del Valle orchard. The company will soon be moving its production to Watsonville where it will open a tasting room on Hanger Way. — Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian

Cider company to move production to Watsonville, open tasting room

WATSONVILLE — The rich history of apple farming in the Pajaro Valley is not lost on Santa Cruz Cider Co. owner and cidermaker Nicole Todd.

In fact, that history is embedded in everything she does—from the orchard where her company sources its apples to the facility where those crops are pressed. And now, the Santa Cruz Cider Co.’s production of its hard cider will also be coming to Watsonville.

After stumbling upon an abandoned apple orchard on the outskirts of Watsonville, Todd said she was inspired to learn more about apple fermentation. She had recently discovered she had an intolerance to gluten—making her involvement in brewing beer a challenge.

“The catalyst of this whole thing was actually a food allergy,” she said. “I wanted to keep learning about fermentation. Apples were the other way to do that.”

Partnering with husband Felix Todd, sister Natalie Henze and other family members, she formed the Santa Cruz Cider Co. in 2013. The company has been present at Farmers’ Markets across the county, and its product is sold by various local retailers. They’ve also been involved with the annual Open Farm Tours.

On June 4 the Watsonville City Planning Department unanimously approved a plan to allow Santa Cruz Cider Co. to move their production facilities from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, and to open a new tasting room on Hanger Way.

“We are beyond excited,” said Henze. “We can’t wait to share our cider with everyone and keep expanding what we do.”

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Nicole Todd shows off a grove of Gravenstein apple trees at Luz Del Valle orchard, which supplies the Santa Cruz Cider Co. with its apples. — Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian

Luz Del Valle orchard, located just off of Freedom Blvd. on Hames Rd., is where the company sources much of its apples. The 17-acre plot of land has been established since 1880, and is currently owned by Phil and Karell Reader. Karell Reader is from the Silva family—known for a long legacy of apple growing in the region.

The Readers reached out to Santa Cruz Cider Co., offering their orchard as a local apple source. The families grew close and eventually the Todds were invited to buy a house on the Luz Del Valle property. They now work together at managing the orchard.

The Henze family also moved south recently to a property off of Holohan Road in Watsonville.

“We’ve lived all over [Santa Cruz County] but the apples are here,” Henze said. “It makes sense to be here, and it’s such a great community. We love it.”

The tasting room on Hanger Way will share a wall with Elkhorn Slough Brewing Co., and will be down the street from Wargin Wines. This is not far from another new hub of activity at Watsonville Municipal Airport, where businesses such as Beer Mule have recently opened.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Jake Mann of Sam L. Mann & Company, which shares its space in Corralitos with Santa Cruz Cider Co.’s apple press. “It’s historically poetic—a town known for its apple production finally getting its own place to sample cider. It’ll be a great focus point for the community.”

Santa Cruz Cider Co. offers a list of hard ciders each with their own distinct characteristics, from its 2016 Barrel Aged Gravenstien, which placed Silver at a national competition, to its “Wooden Tooth Special” signature cider. Certain blends are available year-round, while others are seasonal. A current favorite of customers is the Strawberry Dry Apple Cider, Todd said.

The company is still waiting on State approval, but is aiming to open the new tasting room by late July. They plan to be open on Fridays, Saturday and Sundays.

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A wide selection of hard ciders will be available to taste soon at Santa Cruz Cider Co.'s new tasting room on Hanger Way. — Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian

“The best part of this job is seeing people enjoy the final product,” said Todd. “We want this to be a comfortable, fun place for people to hang out and enjoy what we do.”

Mann said he’s glad that things have worked out for Santa Cruz Cider Co.

“They are great people, and super hard workers,” Mann said. “In my opinion there’s no one more deserving.”

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On June 23 Santa Cruz Cider Co. will host a Cider Week Tasting at Luz Del Valle orchard, 1875 Hames Rd. The free event will offer tastings and sales of cider. Guests are urged to bring a picnic lunch, and face painting will also be offered. For information on Santa Cruz Cider Co. visit santacruzciderco.com.

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