Spirits are an important part of the holiday season for many and our Island boasts many wonderful wineries and cideries to explore. But at a time when the apples and grapes are resting for winter, one blossoming group is squeezing out new ways to spoil your senses by inviting visitors indoors.
Merridale Ciderworks is hosting its first-annual selection of “Field To Table” dinners this year, every Saturday evening until Dec. 17. And while the dinners are reservation-only with just a few weekends left, those searching for a romantic way to bring in the holiday season need look no further than the jaunt up-Island to Cobble Hill for a chance to indulge.
“We stay very busy throughout the summer, and do a tremendous number of weddings then, so this is our chance to do something with our locals,” says owner Janet Docherty, who is chair of the Wine Islands Vintners Association. “It’s also a chance for us to celebrate our neighbours, and our chef gets to highlight what he can really do. It’s a nice opportunity to bring everyone inside.”
Each dinner experience offers an exquisite meal crafted by Merridale’s head chef Dave Woolfall and guests, with spirit pairings from local vintners, brewers and artisans. But be sure to come on an empty stomach and designate a driver ahead of time — the three-course meals (and three-course drink selections) are generously served.
For those who can hardly wait for dinner, show up early on select Saturdays to watch the pressing of the apples, and pass the time by sampling the array of Merridale crafted ciders. You can also peruse the store, deli and art displays, showcasing Cowichan Valley works.
While Merridale has been around for nearly 20 years, Docherty and husband Rick Pipes purchased the cidery 12 years ago, though it’s within the last five years that the company has taken off in popularity. Plenty of Islanders still don’t realize their local cidery hosts a number of events including tours, tastings, walks, weddings, parties and even spa treatments at the farm on Merridale Road. And while the group is already famous for its ciders and brandies, at the Dec. 10 dinner Merridale will be releasing its own take on another popular spirit — “Frizz,” a carbonated, 40-proof vodka product made from apples and sold in champagne bottles with re-sealable corks.
If you can’t make it in time for dinner (which starts each Saturday promptly at 5:30 p.m.), you might make the weekly Sunday brunches (10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), or pop into the Cider House (10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week) or bistro (noon to 3 p.m., Monday to Saturday).
“When we first bought [Merridale], it was this tiny little building and its cider business was run out of a coat cupboard in the store,” says Docherty. “We first focused on the cider itself, then spent time developing the store and bistro. Now, there is so much going on. People really ought to come out.” M
“Field to Table” dinners range from $39 to $69, and can be reserved by visiting merridalecider.com, or calling 250-743-4293.