Cider Series: Bold Rock

Posted on December 18, 2013 by


When it comes to local cideries, it’s hard to ignore the emergence of Bold Rock on the popular and scenic Route 151 in Nelson County, also known as “Brew Ridge Trail.” Bold Rock has grown from one man’s curiosity into a household name in just a little more than three years.


John Washburn has owned the 50-acre farm that is home to Bold Rock since the mid-1980s, but didn’t really have a solid plan of what to do with the land. Once wineries and microbreweries began popping up nearby, he pondered transforming the farm into a cidery.

Washburn eventually formed a partnership with Brian Shanks, an award-winning cider maker and consultant from New Zealand.

Washburn and Shanks have now been producing and distributing cider since the summer of 2012. The benefits of Bold Rock’s quick success has led to the construction of a $3 million Cider Barn that will house the majority of the production and several tasting bars.

“It was a necessity,” Washburn said, noting the cidery couldn’t keep up with demand at its present facility. “We want to be producing up there in January or February,” he added.

Bold Rock has cemented itself as one of the region’s most popular ciders and is sure to be spotted at local holiday parties. So, we asked John Washburn and his wife, Robin, to give us a brief history of Bold Rock and answer some questions about the recent emergence of hard cider.

John & Robin Washburn of Bold Rock

Give us a brief history of your cidery.

In 2009, when John Washburn first had the idea to have a cidery on his farm in Nellysford, he envisioned a big barn on a hill overlooking the Rockfish River.  This BOLD plan got real traction after teaming up with business partner and internationally renowned cidermaker, Brian Shanks. In June 2012 they started crafting hard cider using local Virginia apples.  Their first two ciders became so popular that they soon added two more.

Now they have begun construction of the big, cliff side cider barn – the one seen on the label of every bottle of Bold Rock.

This timber frame construction has over 600 hundred oak beams. BOLD.  It will house 30’ tall fermentation vats that hold 6,600 gallons each. The Italian bottling machine will be shifted from its current location to its show place in the new building. Visitors sitting in the comfort of the tasting room drinking a cider will be able to look through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall and watch cider makers at work crafting the next batch of Bold Rock.


“Be Bold. Tread Lightly. Make it Happen.”

As in our two original barns, the emphasis in the new cidery will be on making a world class hard cider and providing a great experience for visitors. We love sharing the Bold Rock story, giving tours and offering tastings of our award-winning hard ciders.  The new building will have a shop and small kitchen with “appletizers” to compliment the ciders. Outdoor terraces with outstanding views of surrounding farmland and the Blue Ridge Mountains will be a great place for visitors to “Drink in the scenery.” Completion of the building is anticipated to be in late Spring 2014.

When and why did you decide to found a cidery here in Virginia? What about Cville and the surrounding area makes it ideal for cider-makers?


John Washburn in Bold Rock’s production facility.

John bought the farm in 1987 because of its natural beauty, having great mountain views and being on the Rockfish River. He held onto it and landscaped it over the years. For 10 years he lived in New Zealand and during that time microbreweries and wineries began popping up near his farm in Nelson County, Virginia. Given Virginia’s rich colonial history of cider making, that apples have long been a major agricultural crop in the state, and the popularity of hard cider in New Zealand, he thought a cidery would be an excellent addition to the area, one that would bridge the gap between wine connoisseur and microbrew enthusiast. After investigating the potential with Brian, they decided to form a partnership and make it happen.

What varietal of apples do you use in your cider? How do varietals affect the end product (from sweet to dry hard cider)?

We use a wide variety of apples to achieve the final blends that make our ciders unique. They may include Albemarle Pippen, Arkansas Black, Braeburn, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, McIntosh, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Rome Beauty and Winesap.

Sweet apples have low tannins and low acidity. They assist in fermentation and increase alcohol percentage. Sharp apples have low sugar and high acidity. They add “bite” to hard cider. Bittersweet apples have high sugar and high tannins. They add interest and complexity.

bold-rock-labelsIn 10 words or less, describe your cider!

Bold Rock Virginia Apple – “Crisp and refreshing”

Bold Rock Virginia Draft – “Smooth and mellow”

Crimson Ridge Vat No. 1 & Crimson Ridge Vintage Dry- “Brings out the very best in Virginia apples”

What are 5 things people don’t know about the cider-making process?

It is both a science and an art. Our cidermakers take the very best of the artisan craft of cider making and blend it with the quality assurance of modern technology to create our award-winning hard ciders.

With another Cider Week VA past us, how would you describe the hard cider revival?

We are bringing hard cider back to its rightful place as the #1 alcoholic beverage in America!

What is your most popular cider?

It seems to be a toss up between Virginia Apple and Virginia Draft.

Suggest one of your ciders for the holiday season ahead. What makes it perfect for the holidays?

Our Crimson Ridge Vat No. 1 was a 2013 Virginia Governor’s Cup winner. This excellent off-dry premium hard cider has a rounded, full-bodied apple taste, making it great for Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas gift, toasting the New Year, and just sharing with friends.

Share a recipe or favorite dish to pair with one of your ciders.

Crimson Ridge Vat No. 1 makes a great mimosa.

Posted in: cheers, Cider Series