Three entrepreneurs hope to put Mancos on the map in the hard cider industry this year.
Earlier this year, Sam Perry, Neal Wight and Joe Buckel rented a space in the former La Plata Millworks cabinet shop on 141 Main St., hoping to turn it into a cidery and tasting room. Their company, Outlier Sellers, LLC, will start producing hard cider and a variety of wines in time for harvest season this fall.
Although some of their grapes and apples will be imported from other states, Perry said he wants the cider to reflect Montezuma County’s unique orchard varieties.
All three men have backgrounds in fruit fermentation. Perry has had a long career in the apple industry and works at Ancient Harvest Ranch near Mancos, which is home to a large heirloom orchard. Wight and Buckel both come from the wine business. Buckel is the head winemaker at Sutcliffe Vineyards in McElmo Canyon, and he also owns Buckel Family Wines. He plans to sell some of his wines at the cidery. Wight said he grew up in northern California’s wine country, and helped grow grapes there for much of his life before moving to Mancos to join the project last year.
When it opens, Outlier Sellers will be the culmination of about three years of work. It has taken the group that long to settle on a good cider variety and acquire all the equipment they need, Perry said. But he believes the final product will benefit the community.
“We got interested because we just saw all these old orchards around the county … and there’s a ton of fruit that just falls to the ground every year,” he said. “We started brainstorming about how we could put it to use.”
Apple orchards were once a large part of Montezuma County’s agricultural economy, and groups like the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project have worked for years to preserve the heirloom apple varieties that were once plentiful in the area. Perry said he hopes a local cidery will help “revitalize” the industry.
He and the other two owners are in the process of moving apple presses, fermentation tanks and other equipment into their new space. They already have about 2,000 gallons of cider that will be ready to sell as soon as they open, but their goal is to be able to ferment at least 10,000 gallons at a time.
The trio plan to start bottling and selling the product by October. But their bar and tasting room is still several months away from opening. Perry, Wight and Buckel want to turn the former cabinet workshop into a bar and renovate the outside of the building, which overlooks the Mancos River, to accommodate outdoor seating.
Outlier’s main product will be called Fenceline Hard Cider. Perry said the name came about because apple varieties tend to be most genetically diverse near fence lines, where they’re “closer to their wild relatives.” Wight said that genetic diversity makes them perfect for cider, even if they don’t taste as good by themselves.
“It adds a lot of components to the cider,” he said.
Perry said Fenceline won’t be as sweet as other popular brands of hard cider, but he expects customers to like it, especially in Southwest Colorado, where local cideries are scarce. All three Outlier owners said their neighbors in Mancos seem as excited about the project as they are.
“The feedback from the people I’ve talked to is that they’re excited to have a place to come and hang out – a local cidery,” Buckel said.
While the three said they have a lot of remodeling to do before Outliers becomes a place where people can “hang out,” Perry said he believes it’ll be open by the end of the year.