Minnesota native Rob Fisk’s life has always been driven by local, growing up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and studying how to make that land beautiful. After experimenting with homebrewing in college, a fervor for fermentation led him to graduate school for horticulture and eventually to pursuing his hobby-turned-dream as a orchard-based cidermaker, opening in 2014 as Wyndfall Cyder.
“I took a lot of classes in fruit production and orchard management, I was trying to figure out ways to do that professionally but also to combine my hobbies and something that I was very interested in doing,” Fisk says of starting a cidery. “So I kind of merge the two. That was where the seed was planted.”
Throughout Fisk’s master’s program at the University of Minnesota, he spent summers working on Kodiak Island in Alaska and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State for the USDA. Conducting hands-on research and working in the field was a passion but, upon graduation, he found himself at a desk job in Jordan, Minnesota, for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. To fulfill his intrinsic needs, Fisk attended orcharding conferences on the side and, during one particular meeting, an orchardist from La Crescent, Minnesota, approached him in hopes of launching a cider endeavor. Within six months, Fisk had opened Wyndfall Cyder with the orchard, working toward his cidermaking dreams.
“They just proposed to me to start doing it, so I did,” Fisk says. “My five-, or 10-, year plan turned into a six-month plan overnight. So I quit my job, sold my house and moved down to this orchard, bought a bunch of stainless steel tanks and started doing it. It was a crazy, almost rash, decision.”
Although there are no regrets, Fisk began reconsidering his location for cider production. Moving 45 minutes outside of the Twin Cities back to Jordan, Fisk rooted his brand last year at Sponsel’s Minnesota Harvest Orchard where he presses, fermented and bottles his product today, with a new logo rolling out this winter.
For Fisk, Wyndfall harks back to the ciders of yore. “It is kind of a throwback to Old English Style cidermaking, which uses a lot of windfall apples picked off the ground to harvest that way, rather than picking them from the trees,” he says, explaining that the use of ‘y’ in the name is a nod to the British spelling variant of “cyder.” “It’s just to give a connotation of a drier, higher quality cider.
Wyndfall produces three small-batch ciders, including the semi-sweet raspberry-infused Root River, the semi-dry, hopped Homesteader and Driftless Dry, a farmhouse cider fermented by wild yeast.
Over the course of two years, Fisk’s life changed drastically and his horticulture-curated dream became a cidermaking reality. With his expertise in fruit production, sustainability and love of fermentation, he managed to create a brand that pays tribute to cider history and its future.