Windfall’s Nathaly Nairn on Crafting the BC Cider Renaissance, One Pairing at a Time

Nathaly Nairn is one half of the Vancouver’s Windfall Cider, which she co-founded with her partner, Jeff Nairn.

We got the lowdown on Windfall and the burgeoning local cider scene in advance of the (now sold out) third annual BC Cider Festival, happening at North Van’s Pipe Shop venue on Sunday, May 5th, as part of BC Cider Week (April 27th to May 5th).

The local cider industry seems to have really boomed in the past year or so with a whole new wave of cideries…What do you think inspired this? To be fair, cider has been experiencing strong and steady growth in North America for the last 10 years with a 50% annualized growth mostly from the craft sector. In comparison, Canada has seen a more conservative spike with about 25% growth in the category. I think the renaissance of cider has a lot to do with the boom of craft beer in BC. The bold new flavours and experimentation that these brewers have brought to the market have made people a lot more adventurous and open with their choices.

On a health note, craft cider (when made with only apple juice) is naturally gluten-free, making cider a great alternative for people that subscribe to a gluten-free lifestyle.

What makes Windfall stand out among all of the other cideries in BC? Windfall is unapologetically an urban cidery. Our whole approach and our ethos is very non-rural, which is fairly predominant in the category. We work closely with local farmers to not only secure our apple supply but also to ensure that they are properly compensated and reviving the heritage apple crops that we lost in BC due to both our amazing wine industry and much longer ago, Prohibition. Our ciders are also Seriously Dry, and we strive to make them food friendly. We want people to start thinking about pairing cider with their meals. Cider can be such a compliment to most meals and, when chosen properly, it can rival any traditional wine pairing.

What are some of the unique challenges of running an Urban Cidery, versus a more traditional one? We’re not smack dab in farm country, so relationship building with our orchardist partners requires a lot more work, time and mileage on the vehicles.

What are some of the advantages of being a Vancouver based operation? Basically the reverse of the above answer. We can nurture relationships with a lot of very cool food and beverage outlets very quickly. The city has such a dynamic scene in that arena that it certainly helps to be on the ground here in Vancouver.

“I think the renaissance of cider has a lot to do with the boom of craft beer in BC. The bold new flavours and experimentation that these brewers have brought to the market have made people a lot more adventurous and open with their choices.”

Your brand seems to be very narrative, from its backstory to its beautiful imagery. Can you tell me a bit more about the latter? Who does your artwork and what inspired the overall brand look? The branding process was one of the hardest things we have ever done. I was honestly very anxious about the final product… I did not know if I was going to be able to verbalize the vision I had for the brand.

That all changed with a flashback to my childhood home and a cheap reproduction of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” that hung in our living room for years…That memory cracked the brand open. I wanted to take people on a journey through not just cider but our growth as a company and individuals.

For that, we hired an amazing illustrator out of Philadelphia called Armando Veve. When we connected with him he was just starting his work with commercial illustrations. He loved the project and the approach we wanted to take, and ran with it. I could not imagine this cornerstone of our brand being brought to life by anyone else…he took the vision I had in my brain and made it even better. Since our project, he has worked with Absolut on an amazing campaign that showed in Tribeca last year; as well as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and so many other iconic magazines…he is likely out of budget now!

I also need to mention our amazing branding agency, 123w Communications. They are very different than most communications companies. Their business model is “Low Overhead, High Talent”. Every bit of money they can spend is spent on high quality talent. They did and amazing job at walking us through the process of not only creating a brand but growing it with purpose. To this day they are the biggest ambassadors of our the Windfall journey.

What is the biggest challenge of sharing a business with your life partner? So far the biggest challenge has been to assess which arguments/disagreements are marriage ones and which ones are business. There is no balance or boundaries when you are in the founder stage with your partner. You are there in the trenches together and now spending more time together than ever before… it’s very easy for the lines to get blurry and to neglect certain aspects of life. As we put year one behind us we feel a little better prepared to take on what’s to come.

What does each of you individually bring to the business that the other doesn’t? This one is easy: Jeff brings an incredible sales discipline. And he’s become a pretty good cider maker…I (Nathaly) bring the creative vision. I think that makes us a pretty great team.

How do your individual backgrounds influence your cider and your business, do you think? I started working in hospitality pretty soon after immigrating to Canada from Venezuela 17 years ago. I have worked in great places with great people, many of whom now own their own thriving restaurants or helm them. This knowledge of how it all works has been very invaluable in building meaningful and long-lasting relationships in the restaurant world. I think it influences our cider because I keep my ear to ground, I listen to what pro bartenders have to say about what people want and what they are not getting. I also know that people love a story!

Jeff’s financial background has helped with the more boring but key stuff, like share structures, legalities etc. I think also that being a couple gives us a unique longterm strategy aproach to building this company…

“I have worked in great places with great people, many of whom now own their own thriving restaurants or helm them…I keep my ear to ground, I listen to what pro bartenders have to say about what people want and what they are not getting. I also know that people love a story!”

You recently launched a new Rosè Cider with berries. What other sorts of experiments in style and flavours are you interested in trying in the future? From the beginning, we wanted Windfall to be about experimenting with ingredients and techniques. Crafting Hail Mary was a lot of fun but our intuition paid off… it seems to be the year of the Rosè! We really want to work with hops and get them right…they are very tricky with cider. We are currently growing our barreling program with the addition of Woodinville Rye and Bourbon barrels, as well as fermenting some single varietal batches.

What do you think is the next big thing/trend in cider? I think we are going to see more cider pairings in restaurants, low ABV ciders and lots of collabs between the wine, beer, and cider worlds.

You mention pairing a few times in your responses and I was wondering what your favourite Windfall Cider and food pairing is, currently? I would say currently for Jackpot I love pairing it with a salmon or tuna tartare. My all time favourite has to be Thai food and Jackpot! The Pad Thai from Kin Kao paired with Jackpot is a Saturday favourite.

Hail Mary is proving to be the BBQ darling in our home…pairing beautifully with BBQ chicken, ribs or any Mediterranean seasoning.

What has been your proudest moment with Windfall so far? Pouring our first ciders at the 2018 BC Cider Fest. If I told you how under the gun we were to make it there, you wouldn’t believe it…

Which other Cideries are you most excited to try at this year’s BC Cider Fest? Anything that either NOMAD or Cedar Cider does gives us so much inspiration but we’re especially pleased to see Northyards Cider from Squamish there this year. We have shared our cider journey with them. They’re very cool ladies!

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