I’d been looking forward to the annual BelleWood Acres Ciderfest for weeks, and I finally got there on Sunday afternoon. When I came in the door I was enveloped in the sweet, fruity smell of fresh apples and the lively sounds of the fiddle and guitar combo of the Gallus Brothers.
I got there just in time for a late lunch, so I made my way through the crowd to the Bistro area. Fresh cider, hard cider, cider cocktails–the beverage menu options seemed endless. It was clear that the heart of this event was an apple orchard farm.
It was easier to choose a sandwich than a beverage. For me, “The Gobbler” was the clear standout. Sliced turkey, apples, fresh bread, veggies, and–the clincher–chipotle apple raspberry sauce. ‘Nough said.
While I waited for the sandwich to be made, I sat down to look around and see what was happening. The country blues sound of the Gallus Brothers had everyone tapping their toes. In fact, I enjoyed watching people come in the door. They would pause for a moment to listen, smile, and then start bobbing and swaying as they crossed the room to see who was playing.
The Gobbler turned out to be as good as it sounded. BelleWood owners Dorie and John Belisle care about sustainability, and the Bistro serves meals in compostable cups and utensils. There’s virtually no waste.
After lunch, I did a slow walking tour of the building. A hard cider bar stretched across the back wall with bright paintings of farm vehicles hanging behind the counters.
In the main room, there was a large bin of apples, and visitors were invited to try to guess the weight. The person with the closest guess would win a prize.
From there to the other end of the room were more bins containing many varieties of large, crisp, brightly colored apples. The front counter offered free slices of each variety so people could taste the differences before deciding what they wanted to take home.
In the back coolers were jugs of freshly pressed apple cider. There were a few other fresh fruits available, too, including the largest Bosc pears I’ve ever seen.
Bakery racks were full of apple pies, apple cookies, and various other apple and fruit pastries, all freshly baked. The fragrance was tantalizing.
In the meeting room, a class about making hard cider was underway. The instructor and the subject were obviously engaging, because people were listening intently.
I headed for the stairs to the art gallery. Just to the side of the stairs were beautiful handcrafted gourds made by Barb Maloney in Ferndale. The exquisite dyed colors and elegant decorations sent me to my first thoughts of a holiday gift list.
In the gallery, the work of three artists were on display. Watercolor paintings by Candace Buethorn interpreted scenes of farms and natural settings. At the other end were mesmerizing constructions made of layers of different woods by Bellingham cabinet maker Jim Holz. Throw pillows with Native American style designs made by Heidi Holz-Ness were the third art offering being featured.
While in the gallery, I spent a few minutes looking through the window into the distillery where BelleWood makes vodka and Eau de Vie in its gleaming copper equipment. Labels were being placed by hand on bottles.
Outdoors were several family play areas and photo locations. Farm tours, pumpkins, and u-pick apples were busy centers of activity.
On my way out, I ran into Dorie Belisle. I asked how she managed to organize so many activities. She said she trusted her employees, that they knew what to do and how to do it.
During peak season BelleWood employed 65 people this year, 20 of whom were seasonal pickers. That’s a lot of jobs created by a family who planted their first apple trees in 1996.
Besides jobs, the Belisle’s family farming and retail operations contribute to the quality of life of a much larger number of people. Hundreds of people took home healthy food, enjoyed good music, and had fun with their friends and loved ones. Thanks, John and Dorie!
When you pick up some fresh apple cider, here are some recipes to try with it: