A SWEET SUCCESS STORY
Sean Myles really knows his apples. In his main gig as a researcher with the Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture, Myles manages an orchard in Kentville that grows 1,000 apple varieties. Annapolis Cider Company is a side hustle Myles owns with his wife, Gina Haverstock, the woman he fell for in university, and changed the direction of his life. How they came to own a cidery in Wolfville is a sweet story.
Let’s start with the heroine of this tale.
Haverstock grew up in Cape Breton, in a family where wine just wasn’t a thing. “We had the odd bottle of Baby Duck or Cold Duck at Christmas or Thanksgiving, but that was the only exposure to wine we had, and to put it frankly, that’s barely even wine,” she says. The family had a cottage in the valley that backed onto Jost Winery though, and Haverstock spent a summer working there as she was studying for her MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), convinced she wanted to be a doctor.
“I knew nothing about wine, but became fascinated with the whole idea of it. My boss at the time was Hans Christian Jost. He noticed that I had an interest and made an off-the-cuff suggestion that I take a sommelier course in Halifax, which I did,” says Haverstock, “Then the next year he said, well, if you’re so interested in wine why don’t you check out the Brock courses.” Off she headed to Brock University in St Catharines, ON, majoring in viticulture and oenology—the study of the science behind grape growing and winemaking.
Then came training and internships in far-flung places, with Haverstock hoping she’d have an opportunity to work in Nova Scotia. “But the wine industry was a lot smaller back then, there were eight wineries at most,” she says, “Fortunately, Hans Christian was keeping an eye on what I was doing, and we were always in contact. In 2006 he offered me the job of winemaker at his new winery, Gaspereau Vineyards, which had opened two years earlier. It was a natural fit.” Haverstock is still at Gaspereau, working full-time, raising two kids, and putting time into their cidery on the side.
At the same time, the hero of our tale was pursuing his own dreams, studying the human genome. Myles and Haverstock first met as undergrads in the science library at St Thomas University in Fredericton, his hometown. “Ours is a super nerdy love story, we’d go for walks and talk about biochemistry,” he says.
Before settling in Wolfville, the pair lived independently in the UK, Ontario, Germany, Austria, France, New Zealand, and the US. “We spent a lot of time apart in the 11 year period before we actually managed to get married and settle down in Wolfville,” explains Myles. “At one point we were living on opposite sides of Germany, with me doing my PhD in human genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and Gina doing her wine apprenticeship at Georg Breuer Winery in Rheingau.”
While in Germany, the pair would do weekend bike tours of local wine regions, and Myles realized if they were going to be together, something had to change. “If I wanted to keep chasing after this woman, it might be handy if I switched gears in my research and moved from humans to grapes,” he says, “So, I did a postdoc in grapes at Cornell University. By that time, Gina was already here starting her job.” And with Myles’ job at Dalhousie, our protagonists finally found themselves with jobs they loved in the same town.
DECIDING ON CIDER
Myles and Haverstock had always wanted to create something together and thought about opening a winery or brewery of their own. But they soon noticed the local cider industry was starting to grow and the apple drink seemed like the perfect way to combine their skills and knowledge. “I work on apples, Gina works on fermentation, and we both share a passion for the local food movement,” says Myles. “We almost exclusively eat things that are grown around us, and we really believe that it is the key to rural economic sustainability. If everybody just ate stuff that was growing around them, we’d have a booming economy, and that would solve a lot of our rural economic woes.”
Cider was also something they knew they could have fun with. “We definitely draw a lot of inspiration from the wineries, the way that we make cider is quite a fussy winemaking style. We do long, cold fermentations and we’re very careful about the fruit and very careful about what we’re doing, but at the same time we draw inspiration from the craft beer industry in the sense that we can be really creative,” says Myles. When you visit the cidery, you’ll always find classic sweet and dry ciders, alongside one they call Something Different.
Head cider-maker Melanie Eelman continually creates unique taste combinations for the Something Different line, which has featured combinations from peach and sea salt to Muscat mojito—a cider infused with muscat grape skins and lime, and Earl Blue—infused with Earl Grey tea and blueberry juice (one of their most popular varieties). “We’ve lived in places where doing that with wine would be sacrilegious, you don’t go mixing pinot noir with Earl Grey tea!” says Myles, “There’s something about this new world craft beer approach that’s really liberating.”
Keeping things fresh and fun is important—Eelman has a PhD in chemistry and “really great palette,” says Myles, so enjoys the challenge of coming up with fresh flavours. “Besides,” he says, “If you’re making the same two products over and over, you know, you might as well be making ketchup.”
Although they’ve been creating these inventive ciders for three years, the couple still gets excited when Eelman sets up trials. “We bounce off ideas, but Melanie definitely drives the ship, and I’m just a sounding board at best now. I’ll come down to the cellar with Melanie and will taste through, and we’ll say should that have a little more acidity, is that missing something?” Haverstock explains, “We will talk about kind of the specifics, and Sean will come down and try all five and say, “I like them all, they’re all good!’”
Because giving back to the community was always part of the business plan, every time someone buys a refill of the Something Different cider, the company donates 50c to a local charity (a new charity is chosen to accompany each new flavour). They’ve donated an impressive $30,000 since they began. “One of my favourite parts of the job is going out and driving these checks out to people,” says Myles. “Because a $1,000 check to some of these organizations is huge.”
Being able to create a successful business like this in Wolfville brings a lot of joy to the couple. “We feel so fortunate to live here,” Haverstock says, “We have a lot of wonderful things here, and if we can give a little back at the very least then we feel we are going in the right direction.”
STRIVING FOR BETTER, NOT BIGGER
Giving up their jobs to start a business was never part of the plan, and consequently, the first few years were pretty busy (the Annapolis Cider Company celebrated their third birthday in April). “Both of our employers were super supportive because they want to see this stuff happen. Dalhousie University said that this was within the mandate of the university, and especially the faculty of agriculture, to be stimulating growth in the agricultural sector. Devonian Coast, who Gina works for [the owners of Jost, Gaspereau, and now Mercator Vineyards] were also very supportive and said, ‘We need more of this, absolutely,’” explains Myles.
What they’ve created has undoubtedly had an impact on the local economy. Besides providing jobs and giving visitors another great reason to come to Wolfville, they buy more than a million Annapolis Valley apples every year, have them pressed into juice nearby, then fermented right at the cidery.
You can buy one of the Annapolis Cider Company products at the NSLC, and you’ll find their cider on tap in private stores and a few choice locations throughout the province, but the majority of sales are still made via their tasting room in the heart Wolfville. “That is pretty well our entire business,” Myles says, “There are enough people coming to the Valley and to Wolfville who are looking for an experience, and there are enough people from our local community who support us for us to make a go of this.” That said, their online sales are growing fast (you can order directly through their website, drinkannapolis.ca).
Haverstock and Myles have obviously created something that consumers want, but they are perfectly happy keeping the business the size it is. “We always say that growth is not a strategy, it just has to be a by-product of striving to be remarkable,” Myles says, “We’re happy where we are, and it’s really got to come as a unanimous kind of push from everybody within the company. We’re constantly looking at all the different options, but we don’t move quickly. We take things slow and steady.” With no desire to give up their day jobs, the pair assembled a dedicated team to manage daily operations—allowing them to be more hands-off.
“That’s part of the luxury of it being a side hustle for us, but also the fact that we’re listening carefully to what our team wants. If the teams all fired up about doing something, then it’s very likely we would go ahead and try to push towards that,” says Myles, “We want to create the conditions in this organization that make it possible for the people who work within it to enjoy this journey with us, that’s the most important part.”
Haverstock agrees, “Absolutely. Our cider maker, our general manager, and our production head all have families, so you know we are all in the same boat. We want to have quality time with our families, and we want to have love in our job so that we live good and balanced lives. That’s really the most important thing.”