FARGO - For Ethan and Breezee Hennings, opening a cidery in North Dakota was something they had hoped to do since moving back to the area in 2011.
Their dream became a reality with the December 2017 opening of Wild Terra, 6 12th St. N. – making the Hennings’ business the second cidery in North Dakota. Cottonwood Cider House opened near Ayr, N.D., in August 2017.
But Wild Terra needs some help from people across the state to keep the dream alive, a result of winemaking rules that require an increasing percentage of the raw ingredients behind the drink to be grown in the state.
That's why the Hennings are now making a statewide pitch: Give us your apples so we can keep the doors open and taps flowing.
Creating cider is similar to brewing beer. In his article "The Lazy Man's Guide to Making Homemade Hard Cider," author Drew Prindle says with the right tools, preparing a batch of hard cider can be done in just a single weekend.
"You basically just get yourself some fresh apple juice (either by mashing the apples yourself, or buying pre-squeezed juice)," Prindle writes. "Add some champagne yeast, then wait for a couple weeks for everything to ferment."
Brewing a batch of delicious hard cider may not be a difficult thing to do; however, one thing it does require is a lot of apples.
North Dakota defines wine as an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting agricultural products containing natural or added sugar. Although the hard cider they produce may not always be sweet, Wild Terra produces a beverage made from apples, a fruit containing natural sugar, and is therefore considered a domestic winery.
"It's the same if you make wine or cider," Ethan Hennings says. "It's either grapes or apples - it doesn't matter as far as the state or federal government is concerned."
It's like comparing apples to oranges in some ways, but the technicality has put Wild Terra in a potential pickle.
North Dakota's domestic winery guidelines cite Century Code 5-01-17(1), which "provides that the percentage of ingredients by volume, excluding water, of wine produced by a domestic winery which must be grown and produced in North Dakota must be at least 10 percent in the second year of licensure, 20 percent in the third year of licensure, 30 percent in the fourth year of licensure, 40 percent in the fifth year of licensure and 51 percent in the sixth and subsequent years of licensure."
This means that by the sixth year of operation, Wild Terra's locally made cider must contain at least 51 percent local, North Dakota-grown ingredients. The problem, according to Hennings, is the state currently lacks a commercial apple orchard where a business like his could buy a regular supply for fermentation.
"There are a lot of apples, and they grow really well in North Dakota," Hennings says. "It's just historically, nobody ever started an orchard. We started up this business kind of shooting in the dark."
Hennings says it takes roughly four to five years to get a crop off a newly planted apple tree. However, the crop harvested from those young trees still wouldn't be enough. It takes seven to 10 years for apple trees to mature enough to produce a crop suitable for creating cider.
That's where the North Dakota public comes in.
Asking for help
Wild Terra is looking for any and all apples, from anywhere in North Dakota, to turn into cider.
"We are going back to legislation," Hennings says about efforts to amend state law through the Legislature. "We went last session and got really close to amending the law, so we are going back. However, if it doesn't happen, well we need every apple we can find."
Hennings says Wild Terra's first goal is to find the fruit.
"There are certainly varieties that are more sought-after for cider-making than others," he says. "Beggars can't be choosers. I am just looking for what fruit is out there and how much. As long as they're not on the ground, rotting, cut open or anything, we will take them."
He and his wife also hope to create an authentically North Dakotan product.
"We have some unique varieties (of apples) in the Upper Midwest region that may not be used in other ciders," he says. "I want to show people in the community there can be a cider made from North Dakota apples."
One bushel of apples weighs in around 40 pounds. Once it's pressed, that 40-pound bushel will produce just 3 gallons of apple juice. Depending on the tree and the maturity level, one tree could grow anywhere from 6 to 20 bushels.
Hennings says apple donations will most definitely be rewarded.
"If people pick them and bring them in, for every bushel, we are offering a growler plus a fill," Hennings says. "If they have their own growler, we will give them a comparable gift card, or if they have several bushels, we will give them cash or a gift card."
It's only possible to eat so many apples in one season, and once all the pies and sauce are made, he hopes locals might consider bringing the rest to be turned into cider.
Anyone interested in helping out can email the Hennings at email@example.com.