A 160-acre organic hard apple cider tasting room, ciderworks, apple ranch and distillery in Sonora’s Apple Hill is slated to open this fall.
Indigeny Reserve owners Jay and Judy Watson and their son, Joe, operate the verdant 20,000-apple-tree ranch that boasts 53 varieties, including 10,000 organic Honeycrisp apple trees, along with Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Red Roam apples.
The ranch was certified organic in 2008 and is a supporter of the Slow Foods movement.
The tasting room and facility is refurbished in oak and cedar from the Watson’s property on Kewin Mill Road, part of the former Abbott Apple Ranch.
The Watson’s purchased the Apple Hill property in 2005 and started work on the production facility in 2007. Apples were first planted on the property in 1909.
The operation employs 14 full- and part-time employees, Jay Watson said on a recent tour of the former apple storage barn.
They plan to employ up to 25 people from the community, and the operation thus far has included 28 local contractors, Indigeny media information said.
The building, designed by Cooper Kessel, of Sonora, includes 18 foot double-copper pot stills, an oak-barrel aging chamber, a research and development lab and apple processing equipment.
Indigeny Reserve will produce organic hard apple cider, brandy and vodka. Internationally known hard cider maker Peter Mitchell, of England, consulted on the equipment, production and development, Jay Watson said.
The brandy is aged two to five years in re-used oak Jack Daniels Whiskey barrels.
The word, “Indigeny” comes from “indigenous,” and means to occur naturally and “reserve,” means “consecrated,” Indigeny press information said.
The name reflects the mission to “celebrate, share and renew nature’s bounty for generations to come,” Indigeny press information said.
Visitors, upon opening in September or October, will be able to view the seasonal crush, the tasting bar and gift shop.
“We’re trying to understand the environment and stay green,” Watson recently told city and county officials on a tour of the facility.
The operation promotes eco-friendly practices including milling lumber from trees on site, rechargeable batteries for equipment, solar mass heating and cooling, green standard lighting systems, use of green and reusable packaging, strict organic growing processes, reclaiming water and operating 10 wind machines to control orchard temperatures.
“We have zero waste of our product,” Watson said, explaining leftover apple pieces are fed to nearby cattle.
The aluminum bottles planned for use in the hard cider are reusable, Watson said.
They hope to produce 2 million bottles a year, Watson said.
The reserve is working to market its product, but it must produce 50,000 cases for a retailer to even send a truck, he said.
“We hope to be a fairly large operation in the area,” Watson said.
Indigeny Reserve eventually will offer programs in sustainable living, outdoor education for students and will serve as a venue for children’s performing arts and other community programs, its media information said.
A portion of the apples grown will go to Organic Foods for Hungry Kids, a nonprofit that gives food to children in Northern California and Northern Nevada, Jay Watson said.
There will also be a 3.5-acre community garden to support the program, Judy Watson said.
Because of winter frost, the Watson’s plan to purchase apples this year.
Normally a tree will produce 110 pounds of apples but because of the frost, this year’s harvest was only 10 to 13 pounds a tree, Watson said.
The reserve also plans to sell apples locally.
“We’ll figure it out. Right now we’re going to push the marketing, push the volume and get it out to stores,” Watson said.