We could hardly believe our eyes. After tripping along pretty Cowichan Valley back-country roads, passing the entrance sign for Merridale Estate Cidery and wending our way along a gently curving gravel drive that left us with very minimal expectations, we found ourselves in the midst of a beehive of activity that left us, just a little, dumbfounded. And delighted.
Although we didn’t really know what we would find at the end of that unassuming country lane the appearance of a rustic collection of buildings hosting everything from a bustling bistro to a distillery was certainly way above and beyond our wildest dreams. Once we met owner Janet Docherty, however, it wasn’t really any surprise at all – she is a little dynamo bursting with energy, ideas and plans, many of which are embodied in the surroundings at Merridale.
In just over 13 years Janet and her husband Rick Pipes have transformed what had been a small, struggling cider-producing operation into a thriving business that, while full of activity, still manages to offer rural charm and a wide range of unique experiences. We were lucky enough to enjoy a number of those options during our short visit, and left vowing to return.
Merridale is best known, of course, for its wide variety of award-winning artisan ciders, produced from its own apples and other local fruits. We partook of a really delightful cider flight with our delicious lunch, served in the bistro overlooking the orchard. While my husband dug in to what he declared the best chicken pot pie he had ever consumed (made with Scrumpy, a traditional English cider), I worked my way through one of the specials of the day, a beautiful smoked-on-site chicken dish complimented by an exceptional blueberry mustard, served on a bed of fresh beans and flavourful chickpeas. Clearly, Merridale’s dedication to utilizing fresh, local products is paying off – the 140 – seat bistro, with a variety of indoor and outdoor dining options, proved a great attraction for those in search of a casual-but-good meal.
During the warm months of the year all of the restaurant meals are produced in a lively covered open-air kitchen, complete with brick ovens that produce artisan baked goods and pizza featuring natural cider yeast in the crusts. A covered outdoor patio allows diners to watch the geniuses in the kitchen at work while enjoying the rustic ambiance.
Aside from the interesting and very good food and drink, there are a number of other experiences on offer at Merridale, many of them family-friendly. There is a free self-guided 1.5 km (one mile) orchard walk, complete with apple blossom faeries that will enchant kids of all ages. Several low-cost guided tours include tastings of the Merridale products. If you choose to stick around and enjoy the pastoral ambiance for more than an hour or two, you can take up residence in one of the estate’s two beautiful and totally-calming yurts, which overlook a tranquil pond.
My only regret about visiting Merridale is that we didn’t have more time there to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, great atmosphere and most interesting and varied aspects of the place. Next time we will plan to stay overnight, take it all in and enjoy more of those innovative and flavourful menu offerings. A happy thought for the future!
Further information on Merridale Estate Cidery and all it has to offer (and there is lots) can be found at their website:
Merridale is located at 1230 Merridale Road in Cobble Hill in the beautiful Cowichan Valley
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 48.66450805827518 Long. -123.58670175075531
N 48 39.87 W 123 35.202