Spirit Tree Estate Cidery opened its doors in September 2009. Much like an apple tree in the orchard, the idea for the Cidery was planted many years before it first blossomed.
Let’s take a look back at how it all began…
Thomas Wilson, owner and operator of Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, grew up on his family farm in Caledon on Dixie Road near King Street. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, because his father and grandfather both had a farm and apple orchard. As a fourth-generation farmer, Tom learned from a very early age about farming and grew up to run the family’s Pick-Your-Own & Farm Shop.
In 2002, he married Nicole Judge, a local girl from Cheltenham. Although the Pick-Your-Own & Farm Shop was flourishing, the couple wanted a more sustainable business that was less dependant of the weather. That is when the seeds for Spirit Tree were first planted.
A passion for food and cider
Over the next few years, Tom and Nicole took their passion for good food to new levels and started enrolling in pastry courses. They took an introductory course at George Brown College and then went on to enroll in Le Cordon Bleu Chef School in Ottawa. They spent their holidays learning about traditional cider making in England and journeyed to Paris to complete an intensive one-week course in bread making at the famous Le Cordon Bleu Chef School.
Tom Wilson & Nicole Judge – 10 years ago
They visited bakeries all over Paris and fell in love with the quality of bread in France. They started dreaming about how they could bring their artisan know-how and old-world techniques home to create a high-end cidery and bistro serving artisan foods, unlike anything Caledon had ever seen.
Planting the orchard
In 2004, Tom decided to sell his grandfather’s farm and the couple began the search for the perfect property for their new idea. They wanted a spot that was easily accessible to the urban crowd, but with a picturesque view of the Caledon Hills. They eventually settled on 46 acres of land on Boston Mills Road, the current property for Spirit Tree.
The land had previously only been used to grow hay, but the soil proved to be perfect for growing apples. In the spring of 2005, along with the help of family and friends, they started planting whips, year-old unbranched tree shoots that would eventually grow into full apple trees.
In the first year, they planted 2,500 apple trees by hand. They wanted to establish the orchard before they started digging for the proposed building. In each year that followed, they planted more trees and more varieties. Today, there are over 6,400 trees and 47 varieties of apples on the property.
Slamming on the brakes
Their original dream was to open the cidery and bakery in 2006, but bureaucratic red tape delayed their dreams. When Tom first approached the Niagara Escarpment Commission with his idea of opening a cidery, he was immediately shut down.
Due to its location, Tom had to get approval from not only the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC), but the Town of Caledon and the Credit Valley Conservation (CVC). Each with its own concerns for the project moving forward, their dream of opening in 2006 came to a complete halt.
After a huge investment in time and money to meet the demands of the NEC and CVC, Tom and Nicole were given the green light and were able to open the doors to Spirit Tree in September of 2009.
When they opened however, they did not have the full licence to manufacture hard cider, so they were only able to sell their non-alcoholic sweet cider. The Bistro was also limited in what it could offer, so it opened as a café, serving just soup and sandwiches.
It wasn’t until a full year later in 2010, were they permitted to sell their first hard cider – traditional Pub Cider…now called Draught Cider.
What’s in a name?
The name Spirit Tree was also a long time in the making.
As Tom and Nicole became experts in traditional cider making, they learned about “wassailing” – an ancient English tradition. The ceremony of wassailing included singing and toasting the trees in an orchard. The purpose was to awaken the apple trees and scare away evil spirits to ensure the health of the trees, in the hopes they will provide a good harvest.
So, the name “Spirit Tree” paid homage to the ancient tradition of wassailing but was also a play-on-words to the fact that cider is an alcoholic drink or ‘spirit’ from trees.