By Peter Holmstrom
The East Wentachee, Washington-based producer puts perry on a pedestal.
“It started with an identification of a market opening,” says co-founder of Neigel Vintners NV Ciders Kevin Van Reenen. “We wanted an alternative that really wasn’t on the market.”
This indication led to the opening of one of the few exclusively perry producers in the United States in April of last year. Neigel Vintners, out of East Wenatchee, Washington, began as a hobby project involving the brothers Kevin and Mark Van Reenen, and their great-grandfather’s 100-year-old pear orchard.
“Our oldest trees are around 106-years-old, with the majority close to 60 [-years-old],” Kevin Van Reenen says. The estate orchard sits only a few blocks away from the City Hall, making it one of the last holdouts in an era of urban expansion and development. But what they may lack in isolated scenic beauty, they more then make up for in flavor. “The characteristics of the fruit we have on our property are exactly what we’re looking for in flavor profile,” says Van Reenen. “I don’t know if its our soil type, or virtue of their age, but we get first dibs on making the crush for the fall.”
When the two brothers first decided to develop some of their great-grandfather’s pears into perry five years ago, they admit it was just a passion project that may or may not have turned into something. They found themselves experimenting with recipes, and trying out different combinations filled the time, in between their hours at their jobs. After four years of trial and strife, they were ready to unveil their product in April 2014.
“What we found in our ability to ferment pears was that the non-fermentables leave a really flavorful non-fermentable sugar afterwards,” says Van Reenen. “So we get a fruit forwardness that we get without adding any sugar, which is unlike anything we’ve found.”
Currently, Neigel Vintners has five different flavors of perry available on tap, ranging from the Perfect Pie, a perry more reminiscent of cinnamon pear pie, to the Half-Past Prudent, so named for the 112-year-old apple press that needed to be hand-cranked with a four-by-four, that they pressed their first batches of pears on for just “a half turn more.”
The success Neigel Vintners have found has been beyond their wildest imagination, with orders coming in from states before they’re even licensed to sell there. The “sweet, but not sugary” flavors to Neigel’s perrys have caught on throughout the state in a big way. The five perrys will soon have to make room for a few more, with new blends and even a hopped cider currently in the works. Neigel Vintners NV Cider can be found throughout the state of Washington (and soon Oregon) in taprooms and in a bottle—look for the standout green aluminum bottle you’ll not want to throw out.