Kether Smith knows what most people think when they hear of fruit wine and cider. They expect a cloying sweetness, or, at best, an effervescence more suggestive of sugary soda than fruit.
“We meet people all the time at the farmers markets who say, ‘No, thanks, I don’t like sweet wines,’ ” says Smith, who operates Botanist and Barrel in a converted warehouse on the family-owned Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm in Orange County. “Once we get them to try it, they love the crisp, clean flavors.”
Those flavors, many of which are created from farm-grown blueberries and hand-picked heritage apples, are starting to find an appreciative audience. Since Botanist and Barrel launched its tasting room in July, its small-batch wines and ciders have become available in shops from the Triangle to Asheville. Selections recently were added to the menu at Durham’s Black Twig Cider House and will be featured in the new Our State Public House at the NC State Fair, which runs Oct. 12 through Oct. 22.
Botanist and Barrel, launched with funds from a successful crowd-sourcing campaign, is run by Smith and her brother, Lyndon Smith, an internet marketer and wine distributor who lives in Asheville.
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“He sees fruit and thinks wine,” she says. “He’s a natural entrepreneur, which I think he gets from my dad. He wanted the full vertical of running a business like this from field to bottle.”
Kether Smith’s passion for producing wine and cider grew from a casual interest in making fermented kombucha to earning a certificate in cider making from Cornell University. This technical know-how enables her to collaborate effectively with head winemaker Rob Sievert, who lives near the blueberry farm.
Botanist and Barrel received its license in February 2017, becoming the first certified wine producer in Orange County. Its production room is outfitted with five 1,000-liter stainless steel tanks, a relatively small size that allows for big creativity.
With a style defined by minimal intervention, Botanist and Barrel lets peak-season fruit work its magic without unnecessary additives. Because of this, for example, you’ll get a summery floral aroma from its peach wine without the sweet punch of juicy fruit, since the sugars were surrendered to the fermentation process.
Smith says blueberries, in particular, give up their essence to fermentation, producing a sip with balanced acids and tannins that easily could be confused with wines made from grapes.
To encourage more people to give Botanist and Barrel a try, they recently experimented with adding a short infusion of beer-friendly hops.
“Ours ciders are more wine-like, so we had this idea of producing a sort of beer-like, gluten-free cider,” says Smith, noting her brother Lyndon steered this line. “The hops help take it naturally in that direction. It adds just a bit of complexity, an ‘otherness’ that plays into the botanist part of our name.”
After participating in Asheville’s CiderFestNC, Botanist and Barrel debuted its first hopped cider, Apples on the Hops, in its Cedar Grove tasting room Oct. 8. It is made with Zeus hops sourced from Wendell Hops Farm.
On Oct. 22, Botanist and Barrel will introduce its first hopped wine. For this one, Lyndon chose citrusy Citra hops from an out-of-state provider to transform Fusion Blueberry Wine into Blueberry on the Hops.
The hopped wine, produced as a limited edition, will be available for a short time only in the Botanist and Barrel tasting room and select farmers markets. Look for a non-hopped fruit blend that the team introduced in Asheville, Fusion Rhubarb Blueberry Grape Cider, and the new Fusion Cranberry Maple, aged in a maple syrup barrel, which will be unveiled on Oct.14.
More flavors are set for late fall release, including Blackberries on the Hops, which is aged in rum and brandy barrels, and Fusion Blueberry Wine, which is aged in a brandy barrel.
Kether Smith also is toying with the idea of a hibiscus-infused product, which will be made from dried blooms sourced from trees at the blueberry farm, and more plucked from the yard of her mother’s Orange County home.
“I love the mad-scientist aspect of making ciders and wines,” she says. “We want to keep things interesting and roll out our new line gradually. It’s our way of keeping our fans on the edge of their seats.”
Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer from Raleigh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @jwlucasnc.
Where to find Botanist and Barrel
▪ Products are available at Triangle bottle shops and the Eno River, South Durham and Chapel Hill farmers markets. They will be among the North Carolina beers and wines featured in the new Our State Public House at the N.C. State Fair.
Tasting room events
These events are free and family friendly.
▪ Oct. 14, 1 to 5 p.m. Fusion Cranberry Maple Syrup Barrel Aged Cider Release
▪ Oct. 22, 1 to 5 p.m. Blueberries on the Hops Release
▪ Oct. 29, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pancake Brunch, Plant Sale, Pop-Up Market and Wine Releases