Tinkering with more than just the vintage distilling equipment it uses, the Cordtz father-son duo at Sonoma Cider infuses decades of industry know-how in its innovative cider production techniques. The combined experience and dynamic business perspective of the duo drives the Healdsburg, Calif.-based beverage company. From selective ingredient sourcing to food pairing recommendations, the company is staking an organic claim in the market.

Founded in 2013 by David and Robert Cordtz, Sonoma Cider has been making a name for itself in the growing hard cider category, which has almost doubled its share of sales year after year, according to experts in BI’s 2015 Beer Report special coverage.

The Cordtz family has an appreciation for the business and processes just as much as it does for sales. With a keen interest in the mechanical and creative side of craft beverage production, the father-son team is building on a model similar to the craft beer experience. The two prefer to grow with small-batch variety, staying true to their locally sourced roots and expanding thoughtfully where
it makes sense.

“We’ve been at the beverage game and in the industry since 1973,” David says, referring to his previous experience in the wine business. Starting at age 14, David’s son Robert showed an immediate aptitude for working with machinery and over the years developed engineering skills to support his experimentation with the processes, equipment and ingredients he uses today. Robert also experiments with spirits, which is evident in the bourbon flavor profile available in its
The Anvil cider.

Robert built his own stills, models and art to show at events like the Nevada- based Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert each year.

The filler used by the veteran cidermaster is the centerpiece of the operation and an example of their joint ingenuity.

 “I found an old filler at an auction and we ripped it apart and put a lot of new parts into it from the early days,” Robert recalls. “Now it’s a trophy and heart of Sonoma Cider.”

The cider segment experienced $400 million in dollar sales in 2014, up 75.4 percent from 2013 in Nielsen-measured channels, according to BI’s report. But many brands in the cider category are not made from fermented fruit but are malt beverages flavored with apple like Sonoma Cider. Options with 100-percent juice concentrates may not offer the fruit notes present in freshly squeezed juice, the pair contends. David says that locally sourced apples also impact the taste of Sonoma’s cider.

“We use single-strength juice from crushed [organic] apples,” David says. “That commitment to organic fresh-squeezed juice matters to Sonoma Cider customers.”

“We appeal to people… who turn the labels on all products and look at ingredient panels,” he says. “They are interested in how [beverages] are made, as well as flavors.”

Proof is in the juice

Sonoma Cider’s more intense flavor originates from freshly squeezed organic apple juice and other natural, gluten-free ingredients. As a former winemaker, David intimately understands the value of fruit in the cider-making process, which parallels wine production. Using apples instead of grapes and adapting craft brewing techniques to infuse flavor is what makes the company’s cider unique.

Robert’s maker mentality and experimentation with exotic roots and herbs adds variety. For example, The Washboard, the first cider launched in the latest Limited Run cider series, is infused with organic vanilla and real sarsaparilla root.

“We grind 50 pounds of sarsaparilla root in a kitchen blender and steep it in cider to create the tea that is blended with a larger amount of cider,” Robert says. The root beer-like brew is unlike any other the team has produced, it says.

Approximately 2,300 cases of The Washboard will be available on draft and in 12-ounce four-bottle packs in California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin. Existing Sonoma Cider lines are currently distributed in 24 states.

 The Cordtz team also added ordering technology to its sales efforts of the Limited Run series release. In San Francisco, Sonoma Cider has partnered with Minibar and Thirstie. These home delivery services take orders from a smartphone using delivery apps similar to Drizly, which recently launched in the Boston market.  

Sonoma Cider Selections

The Washboard

Flavor profile: Organic sarsaparilla root from India and organic Fuji and Granny Smith apples from Washington
ABV: 5.5 percent
12-ounce 4 pack: $8.99
22-ounce single bottle: $5.99
Also available in draft in available markets.

The Hatchet (Apple)

Flavor profile: Unique blend of sweet and tart organic apple varieties
ABV: 6 percent
12-ounce 4-packs: $9.99
22-ounce single bottles: $5.99

The Anvil (Bourbon)

Flavor profile: Blend of locally grown organic apples and proprietary organic bourbon flavor
ABV: 6 percent
12-ounce four-packs: $9.99
22-ounce single bottles $5.99

The Pitchfork (Pear)

Flavor profile: Blend of locally grown apples infused with essence of pear
ABV: 6 percent
12-ounce 4-packs: $9.99
22-ounce single bottles: $5.99