Nashi Orchards Stays True to Itself

by | Jul 18, 2022

From an alcohol-free perry to a new orchard in Hood River, big changes are on the horizon for the Vashon Island–based grower

Vashon Island’s Nashi Orchards is ripe with change. Owners Jim Gerlach and Cheryl Lubbert — married for 26 years and counting — are always on the lookout for ways to diversify their Washington-based business. In creating award-winning hard ciders and perries (the pear equivalent of a hard apple cider), they’ve won over the hearts of a growing community of artisan connoisseurs.

In turning their 27-acre farm into an event venue during years past, they won over the senses of brides and grooms who walked down a cherry blossom–dotted aisle. 

A Zero-Alcohol Perry

Most recently, Nashi has sought to win over the growing number of non-alcoholic beverage drinkers with the launch of an alcohol-free perry called Korean Giant

The inspiration to create a luxurious alcohol-free perry first came not with market trends, but simply after Gerlach and Lubbert noticed individual lifestyle changes among their friends.

“I think there’s a little bit of a post-COVID moment where people sort of went through, probably, a little more drinking than they normally do. I think there’s a little bit of a generational shift as well,” says Gerlach. 

He went on to add that the non-alcoholic trend is likely here to stay, serving as a great modification to cocktail culture that allows drinkers to stay sharp during the work week, while continuing to cheers to life’s moments — both big and small.

What’s the difference between a non-alcoholic perry and a sparkling pear juice with no added sugar? Nothing, says Gerlach, who is involved in the development of each batch himself.

The decision to promote Korean Giant as a non-alcoholic perry, thus, was an important marketing distinction for the company.

“It’s a bit more elevated [and] a bit more focused on adult drinkers who want to reduce alcohol in their lives, or want something a little bit more sophisticated,” says Gerlach.

Expanding in Oregon’s Hood River

What’s next for Nashi? In 2021, the couple purchased a 22-acre farm adjacent to Oregon’s Hood River, which they will use to expand their operations and host guests from around the region with a bed-and-breakfast lodge called Sakura Ridge, named after the Japanese word for “cherry blossom,” which used to grow in abundance on the Hood River property.

The lodge will be housed in a building that operated as a B&B under previous owners for two decades. For guests who frequented the former B&B at the foothills of Mt. Hood, fear not: breakfast will still be served at Sakura Ridge. Who’s in the kitchen? Julian Vera, a Le Cordon Bleu–trained chef, says Cheryl Lubbert, the driving force behind the new Sakura Ridge accommodations.

“There is a room style that will suit each guest, from a stone soaking tub with views of Mt. Hood, to a balcony overlooking the orchard and valley,” said Lubbert. The setting is what she calls a combination of log cabin charm and Japanese country estate, which serendipitously married effortlessly with the atmosphere of the couple’s pre-existing estate on Vashon Island.

Nashi’s namesake was the result of exploring the orchard’s history on Vashon. The original builder of the house was from New Zealand and, upon rifling through old blueprints, Gerlach and Lubbert discovered that the orchards had been penciled in as “Nashi” orchards, nashi being the word for Asian pears in New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Korea, among other places.

“We try to be very careful about not co-opting someone else’s culture and being respectful of it, so we sort of try to give a nod to it,” said Gerlach.

Leaving an Eco-Friendly Footprint

Just as Nashi Orchards toes the delicate line of celebrating and respecting cultural influences, the company also looks to instill balance in how they interact with the land. Awarded with a Salmon-Safe certification, the business underwent a rigorous evaluation process to verify its compliance with what has been called the nation’s leading eco-label.

Gerlach and Lubbert have approached their acquisition of the Sakura Ridge property similarly, with a light ecological footprint and appreciation for what already exists on the Oregon property.

Already thriving at Sakura is eight acres of established red and green Anjou and Starkrimson pear trees, as well as about two acres of apple orchards with Newtown Pippin and Cox’s Orange Pippin varieties.

Gerlach sees the company using a custom crush model — the process of making cider, perry or wine using equipment owned by other entities to save on overhead costs — on the Oregon property and transporting the juice, rather than transporting produce and compromising freshness. 

“I think we’re definitely going to use some of our organic pears from Sakura. That’s an organic orchard and I think we’re going to move toward having a fully organic [process],” says Gerlach. 

Evidently, a vineyard isn’t off the table for Gerlach and Lubbert, either.

“We’re probably going to think about planting some grapes down there,” says Gerlach, adding that Sakura’s south-facing land, volcanic soil and 1,500-foot elevation makes the prospect of growing grapes hard to pass up.

Gerlach and Lubbert’s inspiration for Nashi Orchards is global and their goals for Nashi are abundant. Their sourcing and connections, however, are overwhelmingly local. Stay at Sakura Ridge and you’ll feel deeply tethered to the Pacific Northwest — whether by sleeping on a sustainably-sourced cherry bed made in Oregon or eating breakfast made from the farm’s fresh eggs. Guests can expect all these things and more soon, as the Sakura Ridge B&B is set to open in September 2022.

Through it all, Nashi Orchards has stayed true to itself and its eco-conscious, simple-living values, while winning over the Pacific Northwest by celebrating the finer things in life. Whether the glass you’re raising holds Nashi’s Royal Perry (19.5% ABV), or the new and refreshing Korean Giant (0.0% ABV), Gerlach and Lubbert believe there’s always something worth toasting to. 

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