Potter’s Craft Cider Has a New “Tasting Chapel”
We connected with Tim Edmond and Dan Potter, the founders from Potter’s Craft Cider, as they get ready to launch their new tasting “Chapel” at Neve Hall, and they gave us a really terrific history lesson on both their company and the new location. Grand opening is Saturday, November 16th.
Potter’s Craft Cider uses local apples and traditional, handmade methods to create a dry, Virginia cider of superior taste and impeccable quality. We source both heirloom and contemporary cider apples from orchards and farms throughout Albemarle and Nelson counties and the Shenandoah Valley, with our goal to extract as much aroma, flavor, and individual character from each apple varietal as possible. Our cider making principles are based on a time-honored approach, yet we borrow ideas and influence from the beer, wine, and hard spirits producers that we admire. We believe in consistent, controlled experimentation to perfect our craft while continually trying different yeasts, aging methods, and fruit or herb infusions to develop complex, flavorful, yet approachable ciders.
Origins: The Long Version
Tim and Dan met as undergrads at Princeton University and quickly bonded over shared passions for the outdoors, Frisbee-golf, bowling, Neil Young and, most importantly, brewing and drinking good beer. Before long, we were brewing in dormitory kitchens together, sharing our beers with a cohort of willing taste-testers.
After graduation, Dan started work as an environmental engineer in Durham, North Carolina, while Tim ended up working in finance in nearby Charlotte. We’d work desk jobs all week and meet on the weekends in Charlotte, Durham, or at a cabin in the Black Mountains to escape the grind, brew beer, kick around ideas, share books, and generally try to figure out how we could live the Good Life.
Dan moved to Richmond, Virginia to live and work at historic Tuckahoe Plantation. This 640-acre working farm overlooking the James River offered a unique chance to pursue his growing interest in local food systems and sustainability. Meanwhile, around the same time, Tim landed in Washington DC, just a short drive up I-95 from all that was happening at Tuckahoe.
In addition to hands-on education in sustainable agriculture, Tuckahoe presented an opportunity for us to expand our brewing horizons. We planted a quarter-acre hop-yard and sowed several acres of 2- and 6-row malting barleys. We had grand visions of creating a farmhouse brewery, a revival of Tuckahoe’s historic roots in the modern-day. We also saw the possibility to brew a more sustainable beer by producing all of our own ingredients, unlike most beers made with hops and barley from the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, or Europe. Nature had other plans, however: the barley fields flooded that winter, wiping out the entire crop. It was an eye-opening introduction to farming in the real world.
But providence opened other doors, as it often does when least expected, in the form of a single 5-gallon carboy of cider. Tuckahoe had been sourcing apples from Henley’s Orchard in Crozet and pressing sweet cider for the farmer’s market. So, in the fall of 2009, Dan set aside a carboy to ferment like any good homebrewer. This one lonely carboy sat quietly working, half-forgotten in a chilly corner of Dan’s shared cabin quarter. In the darkening days of November, the yeast finally settled out. Dan kegged and carbonated the cider before pouring his first glass. The cider was a revelation: unlike anything he’d tasted before, it was golden and effervescent with a complex flavor and crisp, dry finish. The alcoholic-meets-acidic bite was mellowed by the golden fruit flavors of late summer and early fall. All of his preconceived notions of hard cider were demolished on the spot. Tim immediately got a phone call: “THIS is what we should be making!”
Dry, tart, and drinkable, that first batch barely lasted until Thanksgiving as growlers were siphoned off for family and friends and the rest was wiped out in a single night of revelry at Tuckahoe. But it wasn’t long before more cider was bubbling away—this time under closer scrutiny from the cidermakers.
After wrangling permits and other necessities, we entered the harvest season with newfound direction and new flavors to explore. Throughout autumn and into winter, we fermented batch after small batch using every kind of apple we could get our hands-on. Tim wore out the road between Richmond and DC as we made hundreds of 5- and 15-gallon test runs—closely-tracked experiments with different apple blends and yeasts—in a quest for our ideal cider. We made over 1,500 gallons that season using a small, hydraulic rack-and-cloth press that Dan pieced together. There were many late nights and early mornings, and a lot of hand-hauling apples, carboys, and kegs. But we quickly learned that’s just the way of life for a cidermaker during the production season.
After a full season of experimentation in a tiny Tuckahoe kitchen, by spring we were ready to take the plunge and go for it in earnest. We began searching for a place near Charlottesville to move the cidery. In a stroke of good-fortune, we found a former horse veterinary clinic in nearby Free Union, 15 minutes outside of town. A working horse farm with jaw-dropping views of the Blue Ridge mountains, friendly people, and a laid-back atmosphere, we knew that Wildair Farm was a perfect fit from the start.
So, in June of 2011, Tim said goodbye to DC and Dan picked his agricultural ambitions up out of Richmond. We met in the middle, finding a new home and a supportive community of like-minded folks in the heart of Virginia apple country. Surrounded by small farmers, family orchards, and local producers, we immediately felt an uncommon sense of place. We met people who cared deeply about who produced their food and drink, what went into it, and where the ingredients came from.
Throughout the rest of the summer, we renovated the space at Wildair to become our new cidery. Without the support of outside investment, the two of us performed the work ourselves and slowly but surely re-shaped the old clinic to fit our needs. By August, we were bringing our first cider samples to local Cville touchstones such as Beer Run, Blue Mountain Brewery, and the Local. The positive reaction we received to our pilot batches, now matured for several months, gave us a confidence boost as we landed our first official sales in the fall.
2012 – 2014
Once sales began to pick up, we continued our slow, organic growth as a business throughout the next several years. We put down literal roots in Albemarle County, planting the first block of our own orchard in the spring of 2012. We also began building out the Potter’s team, hiring Andy Hannas in 2013 as our full-time cidermaker. With Andy’s culinary and agricultural background and aptitude for scientific experimentation, our cider repertoire expanded. Enter the Sapling Series: smaller-format bottled ciders incorporating various fruits, hops, and botanicals that showcased new flavors and aromas as we pushed the envelope for what Virginia craft cider could be. Our distribution-focused business model solidifed as we expanded our sales territory, self-distributing throughout Charlottesville and Richmond and expanding into northern Virginia and DC via Hop and Wine Beverage in 2014. As we become more in demand around central VA, we also explored different concepts for establishing a retail presence, setting up a regular tasting room outside of Greenwood Gourmet on weekends in addition to renovating a retro Airstream trailer for use as a (very funky) mobile tasting room.
Business boomed through these years as demand outgrew our ability to self-distribute. By the fall of 2017, we turned over wholesale distribution entirely to external distributors, which also meant an enlarged distribution footprint. Potter’s was soon available in bars, restaurants, and stores in Maryland by the spring of 2017. Hand in hand with our sales growth, our retail model soon required a more permanent (and weather-proof) home where our fans could reliably find and enjoy Potter’s. Inspiration struck one evening following a pizza dinner at Lampo when Tim and Dan walked past neighboring art gallery The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative and noticed how the prime-location spot was dark and quiet on a Saturday night. What a missed opportunity, they thought…or maybe, perhaps it’s the perfect opportunity—for Potter’s! Soon the collaboration was underway, and The Bridge became host to Potter’s new weekend tasting room. This central downtown location still brings in locals and tourists alike, catering to artsy Belmont residents, thirsty weekend revelers, and Lampo waiting-list spillover.
2018 saw a new format for packaging our cider, one that made serving, drinking, and toting Potter’s to trails, rivers, and parties much easier: cans. Canning began in May 2018 with the execution of the Bloom series, a seasonal rotation of fruit-forward ciders designed to circle around the calendar year. In addition to being offered only in cans (and on draft), the colorful, abstract-botanical labels further separated the Bloom series as a vibrant, adventurous new offering. As sales growth pushed distribution into North and South Carolina, a nearby opportunity arose for an even bigger kind of growth—a permanent, solo Potter’s tasting room. When Dan and Tim checked out a historical property in Albemarle County at the recommendation of a friend—a stone Episcopalian mission church built in 1924 named Neve Hall, later inhabited by a renowned artist and his family for decades—they saw enormous potential amid the crumbling plaster walls, stone facade, and sloped forest setting. They purchased the residence (along with 19 acres and a second residence down the hill) in early 2018, with a bit of financial funding from state and local grants, and began renovating the unique space for their long-awaited permanent retail home.
This year has been nonstop reimagination, renovation, and re-reimagination of Neve Hall as it has transformed into a stunning representation of its earliest, yet most modern, state. The soaring ceilings and stone walls now usher in tons of light from new windows and skylights, while a timber-framed mezzanine and soapstone-topped bar make use of natural resources sourced directly from or surrounding the property. A collection of found artwork from the home’s former keepers waits in a grassy knoll to one day be converted to a visitor-friendly sculpture garden. To accompany this massive physical achievement, we’ve kept up the sales front by expanding distribution one more time into Tennessee, and by designing a new website that can accommodate direct-to-consumer online sales.
It has been a continuous process of growth and learning as each new season brings new lessons and excitement. Every year we follow our passion for experimentation as we pull in ideas from both the beer and wine communities in central Virginia and beyond while staying true to the roots of Virginia cider. It’s been a fun ride that continues to evolve, and we feel very lucky that we’re able to do what we do every day.
History of Neve Hall
Began in 1923 and finished in 1924, Neve Hall was built for (and named after) Frederick W. Neve, an Anglican clergyman from Kent, England who came to Albemarle County in 1888 to accomplish foreign mission work. Neve became minister to two Episcopalian churches—St. Paul’s in Ivy and Greenwood Parish, now Emannual Episcopal—in 1888, and within twelve years his parish grew to four churches throughout the western part of the county. Beginning around 1900, Neve focused on spreading religion and education to the remote areas of the Ragged Mountains of Albemarle and the surrounding Blue Ridge. At this time, only 1 in 10 children who lived in these isolated “hills and hollers” attended school. Additionally, since the nation’s oldest and largest apple brandy distillery, Laird’s, resided in the heart of this region, the Episcopalian’s mission was in part driven to eradicate the perceived rampant alcoholism of the “mountain folk.”
Over the course of the next thirty years, Reverend F.W. Neve went on to establish missions, churches, and schools throughout the Blue Ridge. By 1913, the Archdiocese of the Blue Ridge included 38 locations of mission work throughout Albemarle, Augusta, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Page, Rockingham, and Shenandoah counties, according to “Our Mountain Work,” Neve’s newsletter to his supporters. One of Neve’s strongest advocates and close friend was Lady Astor (Nancy Witcher Langhorne), the first female member of the British Parliament, who’s family owned nearby Mirador estate.
Since these constructions were built out of whatever materials the mission could afford—namely, wood—many churches were quickly destroyed by fires. By the time construction began on Neve Hall in 1923, the Archdiocese was using stone to build its churches. The unusual stone that makes up the walls of Neve Hall is “Albemarle speckled granite,” and was quarried from the property surrounding the building itself. Prominent architect Eugene Bradbury was selected to design and build the stone chapel and manse (the attached residence) for the Archdeacon of the Blue Ridge to occupy directly.
By the 1930s, Neve’s mountain mission work began drawing to a close due to a series of changes: improvements in both roads and public education allowed a larger number of rural citizens access to schools; the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 ended the temperance movement and the church’s urgent need to eradicate backwoods drinking; and the government’s land purchase to create Shenandoah National Park forced a large number of mountain residents to leave the more remote reaches of the Archdiocese’s scope.
Neve Hall itself was deconsecrated in the 1940s. Not much is known about its ownership or use for the next 20 years, although there are rumors that it was known as a house of ill repute (scandal!).
In 1966, artist James Hagan and his wife, Erla, purchased Neve Hall and its surrounding acreage to use as their personal residence. A prolific sculptor, painter, and graphic designer, Jim was a professor in the McIntire Department of Art at the University of Virginia from 1963 to 2001. He founded the department’s sculpture and new media concentrations, among many other professional accolades. Jim and Erla raised their three children (Adam, Sasha, and Mara) at Neve Hall, turning the run-down stone church into a unique, eclectic home where walls contained faces, straight lines were avoided, and parties of legend took place throughout the expansive outdoor patios.
After a year-long battle with cancer, Jim died in 2008. An artist of national acclaim, Hagan’s sculpture is still exhibited in many places, including the National Gallery in Washington, DC. And one day in the future, Hagan’s work will also be exhibited in the sculpture garden at Potter’s tasting room. Wha wha, you ask? That’s right: to honor the legacy of the Hagans and the creative energy and spirit they poured into this space, we plan to create a formal home for the volume of “found” sculpture we’ve discovered on the property. Visitors to the tasting room will one day be able to wander through these intriguing fragments and unusual works, alongside a curated collection of Hagan’s work generously shared with us by his remaining family.
With Erla’s passing in 2016, the Hagan children began looking for new owners for Neve Hall. David Atwell, co-owner of Greenwood Grocery and a mutual friend of the Hagan Family, introduced us to the property and it was love at first sight. We were captivated by the character of the building, the expansive property, access and proximity to Charlottesville, as well as the creative and artistic vibes imbued by the Hagans. Enter Potter’s Craft Cider. After purchasing the home and surrounding 19 acres, we received grant funding from The Commonwealth of Virginia through the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, which was matched with local grant funds from Albemarle County and the County Economic Development Authority. The entire scope of the Potter’s expansion at Neve Hall includes the renovation of the chapel and manse for use as a tasting room, building a new cider production facility (and relocating the current facility from Free Union), and establishing an on-site apple orchard.