When Franois Pouliot bought his 10 acre apple orchard in Hemmingford, Qué., in 1994, his neighbours likely wrote him off as another urbanite about to learn a harsh lesson in Farming 101.
He was the orchard’s fourth owner in 12 years, all attracted by the gorgeous property a 45-minute drive south of Montreal and all scared off after learning there’s plenty of pruning, spraying and other tedious chores, but not much money, in the apple business.
“So when I bought it, it was like, ‘oh, here’s another guy from the city,’ ” Pouliot said. “And then in the first year when they saw me picking apples in the snow, they thought, ‘this guy’s really weird.’ “
What could you expect? Pouliot is a filmmaker. Sure, he produced more than 300 music videos and four feature-length films, but a creative vision won’t get a broken-down tractor running or rid you of a spider mite infestation.
However, Pouliot said vision is key to his success. That imagining what’s possible and believing it’s achievable is what made La Face Cachée de la Pomme, or in English, The Hidden Side of the Apple, an international sensation.
Unknown in most of Canada, the cidery has won rave reviews and prestigious international prizes for its apple ice wine. Pouliot and his wife and business partner, visual artist Stéphanie Beaudoin, have seen production soar from 4,500 bottles in 1999 to more than 200,000 per year. The wine is sold in top wine stores and restaurants from Paris to Hong Kong.
With a price tag of $22.85 for a 375 millilitre bottle of Neige, you know this isn’t the sparkling cider sold in six packs.
So how does this vision thing work?
Pouliot contrasts their approach to that of a typical apple producer.
“The apple industry is not doing very well in Canada,” he noted. “So a lot of the apple growers went into cider, thinking that they’re not making money with apples, so they will try making cider.
“Well, making cider is not like growing apples. Most growers sell their best apples to the grocery and they keep the ones which are not so good for making juice and cider. Our attitude is very different; we have the attitude of a winemaker. We keep our best apples and sell the others.”
In fact, Pouliot’s dream was to be a winemaker, planning to replace his apple trees with grape vines, until a winemaker friend showed him how a process called cryoextraction, which is used to make ice wine, could also work for apples. As with grapes, subjecting apples to frigid conditions concentrates the sugars in the fruit and, when done outdoors, creates a rich nectar unlike any other. It’s also a painstaking process that requires five kilograms of apples to produce a 375 mL bottle.
Other wineries can ramble on about sun-drenched vineyards, but at La Face Cachée de la Pomme, they’re talking cold, baby, cold. In Paris or Hong Kong, there’s a wholesome, fresh and exotic appeal to frigid Canada and you won’t find any wine coming from anyplace colder.
Vision helps sustain you when working in the frost, and it certainly helped Pouliot during the four years of effort that led to the cider’s commercial launch.
“For grape (ice wine), you need -8 C or -10 below, but with apple you need -20 or -25,” Pouliot said. “So that makes it pretty unique to Quebec. It’s rare to have a place with temperatures that cold and where you can still grow apples.”
Not surprisingly, the neighbours don’t think Pouliot – who now hires 15 full-time employees, raises 12,000 trees on 20 acres and rents an additional 60 acres – is so weird anymore, and others are following in his footsteps.
“Now there are about 25 or 30 cider makers in Quebec who are making ice cider,” he said. “It’s crazy; there’s like a new one every month.”
While the province has excellent cider makers, Pouliot said, most of the newcomers are finding it difficult to break into the demanding ice cider market.
What gives a guy who started out knowing nothing about apples an advantage over top-notch
Pouliot said it really is the vision thing.
“Our goal is to be considered one of the great wines of the world and all our efforts are focused on that.”
It’s a point to keep in mind as you review your diversification and value-added options. If you can’t bring the same passion to your new enterprise as you do to farming, don’t expect to keep up with the Pouliots of the world.
Glenn Cheater is editor of Canadian Farm Manager, the newsletter of the
Canadian Farm Business Management Council. The newsletter as well as archived columns from this series can be found in the news desk section at www.farmcentre.com. The views stated here are for information only and are not necessarily those of The Western Producer.