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Farm in a glass – young entrepreneurs taste success after using FCC Starter Loan

Mar 10, 2021

“At the end of the day, we sit down and look at each other and say ‘wow, we didn’t expect this’.”  – Alicia Hardman, Shale Ridge Estate Winery and Cidery

They may not have expected it but Garren and Alicia Hardman have worked for it. The dynamo husband and wife team have built their business, Shale Ridge Estate Winery and Cidery, from the ground, or should we say the shale rock, up. Not even a pandemic slowed them down; in fact, their business has boomed in its opening year.

Their dream started to come together five years ago when the Hardmans purchased 13 acres of land down the road from Alicia’s parents’ fruit and vegetable farm (Juicy Fruit Orchards) near Thedford, Ontario. After much consideration, they decided to grow grapes to make wine and use some of Alicia’s parents’ apple crop to make cider.

“We did the research, got our licenses and started making small batches of cider in our two-car garage,” explained Alicia. “As for the wine, the grapes love the shale rock, they are thriving. It takes two or three years to harvest grapes so our wine will be ready this year.”

As the cider product line debuted in the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and, like many businesses, Alicia and Garren had to adjust.

“COVID hit, but we opened anyway and started doing deliveries and curbside sales. We gave it 100%. The summer was extremely busy and we ended up tripling our production.”

They attribute their success to many things, including hard work and a business plan that fit their local community.

“Being young, driven, starting from the bottom, and working our way up in an industry that’s not always easy to get into. We are positive, hardworking and provide great customer service. We get so many positive reviews on that.”

They also say turning their dream into a reality was made possible by their partnership with FCC and the FCC Starter Loan.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do it if FCC didn’t support us. As you can imagine, there are a lot of capital and start-up costs involved. The RM we talked to liked us and understood our vision. We wouldn’t be where we are today without FCC.

“When we told FCC our story and how we wanted to do value added ag, we knew it wasn’t traditional, but they believed in us. They are a part of the family now. They check in on us and we work together.”

When it comes to teamwork, Alicia, 26, and Garren, 27, set the bar high. They both grew up on farms and each bring their own strengths to Shale Ridge Estate. Alicia runs the store and manages their social media and marketing. Garren works with vendors and sources different products and supplies. They make the cider together. Their operation is an incredible blend of ambition and talent that’s paying off.  

“Garren is very entrepreneurial and we are both hard working. When we do something, we want to do it to the best of our ability, and we are driven to be successful. We decided we would do something as a team and it’s become big.”

Alicia says their journey has included a lot of research and talking to the right people.

“We have neighbours who own a cidery, they are pioneers in the industry. When you want to learn, it comes naturally. Friends call Garren ‘the sponge’, when he wants to learn something, he reaches out to people and does a lot of internet research. He’s a fast learner.”

One surprise in their business journey was that, during the summer, customers wanted to visit their winery and cidery in person. Between social media, word of mouth and perhaps a pandemic-induced interest in stay-cations, visitors came to enjoy the unique rural experience with some tremendous country views.

“We didn’t expect so many people to come down our little side road in the country. Perhaps we were naïve. Now we know what to expect after going through the first summer and fall. We didn’t know where they were coming from, but they came.”

“We thought we would slowly grow, but it turned out to be better than we could have imagined. We are excited that people are responding so well to our products and the entire experience. We’re up on a ridge and people can sit outside, relax and enjoy themselves. We provide a unique rural experience.”

It’s a story that has captured the attention of people in their area. Customers are fond of supporting a young, local couple living their dream and offering something new to the area. All the encouragement has Alicia and Garren’s entrepreneurial minds thinking ahead.

“We are working on our wine and will start releasing it shortly. We would like to expand. Our storefront is small so we have plans for a new building with an underground cellar that will be environmentally friendly to keep things cool. We also want to offer food like wood-fired pizza and eventually maybe host weddings and work in agritourism.”

Shale Ridge Estate Winery and Cidery launched nine products in their first year, including seasonal products like cranberry spiced cider at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We stick with fruits we can source locally, everything you can grow in Ontario. We emphasize farm in a glass. Quality."

“It’s better to support local. People want to know where their food comes from, and the story behind what you’re eating and what you’re putting into your body. People care about that more than ever.”