I get asked all the time, why Fennville? I have a whole bunch of answers. First, of course, is the apples. I knew from the start we wanted to plant Virtue where the apples are, on the West Coast of Michigan. I call it the Cider Coast. All the best cider regions in Europe are on a coast, SW England, Normandy, Asturias in Spain, because of the rain, just like us. We have many great local family apple growers: the Raaks from Dutchman Orchards, the Phelps at Gold Coast Farms and Overhiser, who have been there growing apples since the 1850s. They all grow a wide variety of apples, lots of McIntosh and Northern Spy and many others that we like for our cider.
Next, is the location. I was based in Chicago so I couldn’t really go north of Holland, despite all the great orchards on The Ridge and all the way up to Leelanau, because I would be making round trips some days. We looked in Berrien, Van Buren and Allegan Counties. We knew we could get not only local Michigan support, but get Chicago to visit us as well. That was important.
Third, it’s a great community. Really special. Salt of the Earth is such an anchor for the Southwest Michigan food, drink and music scene. That bread. Plus, their partners built our Cider House for us; great guys. Crane’s Orchard has been in Fennville forever, and they have been very supportive. In fact they make cider now too. Crane’s is my mother’s favorite, and I grew up going there every summer. Of course, there’s Fenn Valley, they helped us in so many ways. The Welsch Family set a great example how to not just run a great business, but be a big part of the community.
When I was growing up, the best time of the year was the two weeks at the end of the summer my family spent at the beach towns of South Haven and Saugatuck. As I got into the craft beer business, I would come to visit breweries in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Goose Island Beer did well in Michigan, but it was tough to sell against the locals. Drinkers are very loyal to the Mitten State. Even as I got into the food scene, going to the same Farmer’s Markets as my Chicago chef buddies, they were getting most of their fruit from Michigan. It was destiny.
For all those reasons, we felt Fennville was the place for what we wanted to do at Virtue Cider. We built a couple of barns, filled them with barrels and tanks and started making cider. Those locals influence everything we do, from the apples we use, to the music we book, to how we do our tasting and tours. We have learned from some of the best. Now we’ve added more locals on the staff too, super nice, energetic, smart people who make our cider, take great care of our customers and run our farm. We are right between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo and only a couple hours from Chicago, we get more visitors every month. So, Fennville is Virtue Cider’s home. We love it here.
Gregory Hall founded Virtue Cider in 2011. He is known for his 20-year tenure as brewmaster at the Goose Island Beer Company, having won 14 consecutive Great American Beer Festival medals and pioneered bourbon barrel-aged beer with Bourbon County Stout. In the spring of 2011, Hall left Goose Island and embarked on a two-month pilgrimage to study the craft of cider, touring and tasting at top cidermakers in England and France. He brought his extensive experience and innovative style to launch Virtue Cider in Fennville, Michigan. Virtue Cider exists to expand and elevate one’s experience around cider, bringing the best craft cider to a market full of industrial-made cider.